The Music of The Birds, The Flowers, and Spring!

There were dark clouds in the sky, and it was threatening to rain, when we left home for our weekly walk in the park. We even considered carrying something extra to protect ourselves – just in case. Fortunately, the weather predictions by the experts turned out to be right, and the skies actually slowly cleared up over the course of the morning walk.

This was the view as we started our walk from the parking lot at the Monocacy Aqueduct.

This was the weekend of dramatic transformation of the woods.All of a sudden, everything has turned green around us! This was not the way it looked, or felt, even last weekend! What a glorious change! Everything in the woods has sprung to life. The combination of the wetness from the overnight rain and the rising sun attempting to penetrate and slowly vanquish the early morning clouds created some different and unique lighting conditions in these woods.

There were flowers everywhere. Different kinds of plants and flowers dominated different patches in the woods. There were the flowers we had seen in the earlier weeks of Spring, including Gill-over the-round, Periwinkle, Cutleaf Toothwort, Spring Beauty, Dutchmen’s Breeches and especially the Virginia Bluebells that were all over the place. And, then, there were other new flowers to be noticed, and even identified, including:

Violets,Squirrel Corn (which look very similar to Dutchmens Breeches),Nodding Star of Bethlehem,Yellow Violets (I think!),Purple Dead-nettle,and the super-invasive Garlic Mustard.

And the birds were everywhere, in many cases singing the sweet songs of the morning. During our walks, we usually find the birds only in certain sections of the trail. This was not the case last Sunday. Instead, we were entertained by birds everywhere, throughout the walk. We would stop and listen occsasionally, and look up into the branches of the trees to try to locate the source of the sounds. Most often, we would not see the birds. Here is a bird that I managed to spot:I think it may have been a Northern Flicker, but there is no way to be certain under the circumstances. We may be getting better at identifying some of these birds from the sounds they make – including the Northern Cardinal, the Carolina Wren, and the woodpeckers. Incidentally, the woodpeckers seem to make the least musical of sounds. They actually sound quite guttural.

Unfortunately, the conditions also caused a surfeit of millipedes to be present on the trail, and the danger of the regular squashing of these creatures underfoot. I grimaced every time I felt a crunch from my shoes. Thankfully, it was my imagination working overtime most of the time. There were also a lot of earthworms that had come out because of the rain.

We did see this tiny snail,and these unique mushrooms by the side of the trail.

The highlight of this particular outing was walking past the fields of bluebells. They have literally taken over the woods in some sections. There was a section where the trail was lined with these flowers. Unfortunately, my pictures may not serve the purpose of adequately informing the reader of the extraordinary impact of the sight of these flowers on the senses, and the sense of wonder that one feels in the midst of these fields of blue, but one must try!



The heartbeat and rhythm of the woods is unending. It is amazing.

The Visit to Big Pool

This was the song going through my head when I woke up this morning. And I felt like writing….

Springtime is here for sure, and this was more than obvious during our Sunday walk along the canal from the parking area at Fort Frederick State Park. There were newer Spring flowers to be seen all over the place:
Spring Beauty,Grape Hyacinth,Periwinkle,Trout Lily,Dandelions,probably Forsythia, and even a patch of Daffodils, most likely introduced by humans.We were even able to identify the plant that we had seen springing out of the side of the trail two weeks ago near Dargan Bend.They were Virginia Bluebell!

We started the walk rather late yesterday, closer to 11am, after going for the Easter service at the church. Having received our vaccinations, we have an additional degree of comfort/confidence about being in such gathering places. After mass, it was off on a long car ride to the area of Big Pool near Hancock. This section of the canal, next to Fort Frederick, opens out into a huge natural lake, an area where the boats plying the C&O canal in the days of old could even turn around if needed.An active railroad line that used to belong to the Western Maryland Railway, now operated by CSX, runs on the other side of the Pool, away from the towpath. At the western end of the pool, the line crosses over the towpath,and a bridge over the Potomac river, into West Virginia, joining the CSX mainline running on that side. Trains do not use this secondary line through Maryland (which runs to Hagerstown) very often, but we did happen to be there when a couple of them passed through.

The Western Maryland Railway originally used to continue westward on the Maryland side of the river towards Hancock and beyond instead of crossing over into West Virginia. The rails in this section are long gone, and the right-of-way has been converted into the Western Maryland Rail Trail. It is extremely popular with cyclists and walkers.

We had an extremely late lunch on our way back to the car, consuming PB&J sandwiches and apples while sitting on the rocks next to the remains of a spillway from Big Pool. There was a very pleasant and cool breeze blowing in our faces, making up for temperatures that has risen into the sixties by then.It was late in the afternoon by the time we were done, but we were in no hurry to get home. We even took another short walk to get down to the river since we had been unable to do that earlier.We checked out a beaver pond in the state park.It was a long drive home after all of that activity. We were tired!

Here is some more music to close out the blog with.

Peace out, and Happy Easter!

Songs From The Woods

Let me bring you songs from the wood:
To make you feel much better than you could know

Jethro Tull – from Songs From the Wood

The weather report indicated that it was going to rain that morning. But I was determined to make it to the towpath anyway. The irony was that we had had good weather earlier in the week, suitable for outdoor activities, but I had successfully made excuses for not going outdoors and doing my exercise. The weather turned out to be bad on the one day I was going to be making up for my laziness during the week. Rats!

It rained as we drove to Pennyfield Lock last Sunday, and it was raining as we began our walk.The rain was not too heavy, and I kept my camera under a poncho that I was wearing. We were comfortable. And the rain did peter out as the morning progressed – even though the skies continued to look threatening from time to time. The wet weather did nothing to dampen our enthusiasm for the walk.

When we arrived at Pennyfield lock, we were met by a steady background noise, the sound of some kind of an insect it seemed, emanating from the woods all around us. We stopped to listen, but we still could not make out the source of the sound. It seemed to be everywhere. You can listen to these sounds in the background of this recording that I made in a section that also happened to be full of birds. I am thinking of crickets, or maybe cicadas.

There were more Spring flowers to be seen this week along the trail, including the unique Dutchman’s Breeches!We also saw Cutleaf Toothwort, Gill over the Ground, and some small yellow flowers that I did not recognize.

We also encountered a few different birds. There were quite a few Great Blue Herons in this section this morning.The Canada geese were also plentiful. They seem to be somewhat ornery this time of year. I think it is nesting season. They were squawking at each other, and we even witnessed one loud fight going on on the river.We speculated that this was a situation of two males fighting over a female. We had no informed basis for coming to such a conclusion.

We saw a few of the musical Carolina Wren,and the colorful Northern Cardinal.They brightened up the place.

A Barred Owl also made an appearance.I even sighted a couple of Wood Ducks. They are not that common in these parts, and the only time you are likely to see them is in winter.

As usual, there were noisy sparrows in the bushes all over the place. I reacted to their presence by dismissing them, half jokingly, as “just sparrows”. I think it was an unfortunate response, and it happens a lot because we see a lot these birds. The truth of the matter is that they are also amazing creatures like all of the other birds – regardless of how often we get to see them. Perhaps people would tend to respond differently in places where there are fewer of them. I am sure any curious child would find them amazing. Can any of us even claim to be able to fly around effortlessly like these birds? How many of us really understand the phenomenon of bird flight? And yet we take it all for granted….

The lyrics of the song I noted at the beginning of this blog are worth listening to:

Dargan Bend

The day of the March Equinox (the Spring Equinox here in the northern hemisphere) finally arrived last Saturday in our part of the world. Daytime and nighttime are roughly of the same duration anywhere on the earth on that day. From now onward, until our autumnal equinox, the length of the days will be longer than the nights in the northern hemisphere. It feels like we have crossed some threshold in our seasonal expectations. It is all mental.

The temperature was at just about freezing point (32° F) when we started our walk at Dargan Bend, just north of Harpers Ferry, on Sunday. It felt quite cold as we waited for the sun to rise over the ridge behind the parking lot. Meanwhile the sun had already risen over the West Virginia shore of the Potomac. This picture was taken from the boat-ramp to the river at the parking lot.There was a cool breeze that was blowing in our faces as we walked in the long shadows of the tall trees that lined the trail. It actually created a wind-chill. I needed to put on an extra pair of gloves.We headed off north towards Antietam aqueduct.

Thankfully, it warmed up quickly. It was about 60° F by the time we finished our walk. We had worked up a sweat by that time. More than 8 miles of walking was undertaken, and we were actually not feeling too tired. We ended up not making it to the aqueduct, falling short by probably much less than a mile.

I have run past the parking lot for the boat-ramp at Dargan Bend in the past, but have never actually stopped to park a car here. I used to park in one of the parking areas right across from Harpers Ferry, just below Maryland Heights, when I used to visit the area. But these parking areas have now been blocked off for safety reasons. Dargan Bend happened to be one of the two parking spaces closest to Harpers Ferry. Hence the decision to check it out.

The last time I went through this area was in 2016, during my bike ride. It had been an even longer time since I covered this section of the trail on foot. That could have been as far back as 2011. It was nice to experience the resurfacing work that has been done recently to improve the trail.It is smooth all the way to Shepherdstown.

We saw Spring flowers for the first time this year along the canal during this walk. That experience in itself is uplifting to the spirit. There is the expectation of more to come. This particular growth is called Bloodroot.

We walked past an area where the trees were covered by what looked like English Ivy.It felt strange to see all the green here when the rest of the spaces we were walking through were completely brown. It even looked this way in the woods beside the trail!

There was one lock in this section of the towpath. You can actually drive to this location and park there before getting on the trail.

We were lucky to see a hawk’s nest. We located it by tracking a bird that was flying toward a tree with something in its beak. There was probably a young one in the nest.

Also of note in this section are the remains of the old Shinhan Limestone kilns. Apparently, this place used to operate until the 1960s.

This was a magnificent morning walking along the river – as usual!

A Change Is Gonna Come

We were not paying attention to the arrival of Daylight Savings Time last weekend. This led to a later start than we would have liked for our Sunday morning walk. It was a confusing situation – it was later than usual if you considered the time relative to other events planned for the day, but if you considered it in terms of absolute time, compared to the time the previous day (or weekend), it was actually an earlier start than usual because we tried to compensate for the time change by leaving home as quickly as possible. Make sense?! I hate these time-change events, especially when we jump forward in time.

The temperatures in our neck of the woods are generally going up. We had a 70° F day in the middle of the week. I went for a run outside and actually felt hot. But it has cooled since. The gusty winds got our attention as soon as we got out of the car at Sycamore Landing on Sunday. It felt cold in spite of the fact that the temperature was in the 40s. It was going to take a while to warm up!

But, we do know that the change is soon gonna come. We could see it in the shoots of green emerging from the ground in the woods. In a few months we will, once again, be complaining about the heat.

We could see the change that is coming in the growth emerging on the branches of the trees and shrubs beside the trail. Soon, the appearance of the woods is gonna change. It will feel different!

This growth of leaves and flowers on this tree trunk that was submerged in the waters of the canal was surprising.

And I do not remember ever seeing a black rat snake on the trail this early in the season. I wonder if they like the new trail surface.

Even this broken branch of a tree beside the trail reminded me of some kind of newfound life-form – maybe alien!

Hopefully, there is also a good change that is gonna come in the situation with the pandemic in the not too distant future. I get a general sense around these parts that more and more people are able to get their vaccinations these days. I have not felt this optimistic in a while. I am already thinking about being able to visit friends and places in the next few months. But, at the same time, there is also the message out there that we still need to be vigilant. It appears that there is a new wave of coronavirus spread happening in some other parts of the world at this time. We are not out of the woods yet, and truth be told, we will not really be completely out of the woods before herd immunity is established all over the world.

The title of this blog is the name of a song that a friend recently reminded me of.

Here’s hoping for positive changes!

The Sycamore Trees

I know I have already mentioned this – perhaps too many times – but the sight of the Sycamore trees in winter never ceases to generate a sense of wonder no matter how many times we see them during our walks along the river. Every time we visit the park it is as if we are experiencing the sight of these trees for the first time once again. They are majestic! They catch your attention. These trees tend to dominate the treeline wherever they are present, whether you are looking straight up, or whether you are looking at them along the shorelines of the river. The trees are very distinctive with their white trunks and branches in their upper reaches. The body of the tree looks robust, and the tree itself appears to tower over all others.

I tend to spend a lot of time during our walks looking around for stuff – birds mainly. Last weekend I spent a significant amount of time just trying to enjoy the sight of the Sycamore trees. I do not think I am able to take the kind of pictures that will do them full justice, but I tried anyway.

A Slice Of Heaven (6/27/2004)

My first hike along the C&O canal to Mile 0 in Washington, DC, happened in 2004. I had only started visiting the canal and the towpath regularly earlier that year. This is what I wrote at that time about that experience.

I have taken the liberty of adding scans of a few pictures that I took with a 35 mm film camera at that time into the narrative below. I did not have a digital camera then.
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A Slice Of Heaven – that was the title I thought I would give to this piece as I was jogging on the towpath, but, when I return home, the first thing I see in the newspaper are the headlines – “In Sudan, Death and Denial”. It appears that it there is a crisis of starvation going on in the Sudan, most likely because of the misdeeds of those in power. One feels an urge to do something concrete, just anything, but what? I have no answers, and if any of you have any, I am all ears – seriously. Meanwhile, I am keeping the title.

I wanted to write today about “How we saved a Sofa’s life” – I am not kidding. This would make sense to you if I told you that we moved furniture yesterday, and made one of our infrequent trips to the County dump (which is a very impressive building in itself). It was going to be a very short story about not throwing away things. I will leave it for another day, perhaps when I find time to write about my wonderful experiences with the furniture program. It is one of the most enriching things that I have done – shows you how little I have done!

But today was a day to forget everything else, the stupid sink hole in the backyard which is going to cost thousands of dollars to fix, the situation at work, etc.. Lets talk about my achievement for the day. Today, I can state that I have covered the first 27.2 miles of the canal towpath by foot – not all in one day, mind you, but over a period of a few weekends. Hurrah! Don’t hurt yourselves applauding. Actually, I can imagine Philip thinking to himself – what a wimp, I can do all of this in one day! If it makes any difference, I had a handicap. Since I had to leave the car in one spot, I actually covered twice the distance, and more – because I have been covering the same ground a number of times over the weekends.

I left home at 6:30 this morning. Started the hike from Glen Echo in Maryland at mile 7 and followed the canal to mile 0, in the middle of Georgetown, Washington DC. That’s right, you need not drive to Georgetown to get to the trendy restaurants. You can do it by foot! From the suburban greenery of the C&O canal in Montgomery County, to the narrow trails crowded against the backsides of the buildings of Georgetown University,into the sleepy small town atmosphere of Georgetown at 8:30 in the morning, the experience varies widely on this part of the canal.You know that you are in a big city when you see the homeless sleeping on the park benches with all their possessions in one traveling bag. You know you are in a big city when you get to the riverside and there are these bushes where the homeless rest, where no one else wants to go.You certainly know you are in a big city when you see that all this is happening just next to the expensive condominiums and restaurants of Georgetown that line the river. And you know what, human beings are so arrogant. They build these expensive structures right next to the river at water level – where it is prone to flooding. Whenever there is a danger of flooding, out come the flood walls that are placed in front of the condo complex to keep the water out. When you have money, you think you can contain nature. Fools! Why do they even indulge in such stupidity?

Coming back from Georgetown, I followed the Capitol Crescent Trail for the while that it parallels the canal towpath.This trail is built on an old railroad bed, and at mile 3.6 it takes off towards Bethesda – 12.6 miles in all. That is a project for another day. I had started the morning jogging, but my muscles began to protest after about 10 miles. I had to walk. Made it back to the car with not much left in my gas tank. In fact, with my destination in sight, I thought I would make a final push and jog the rest of the way. I could not make it since my muscles began to cramp.

It was a great day. Lots of people on the path – serious athletes, people out of shape, young folk, old folk, people of all colors, and, I suspect, people of all economic strata (just a guess). The outdoors may be the great unifier.

Only one story to tell – maybe not for the young ones, but then again it is a good lesson. You see, when you are in the outdoors and you have an urge to go, you just have to do it! I had written to our friends earlier about the importance of good toilet facilities when you spend a night in a cabin, but I can tell you that when you are desperate, it does not matter. Boys and girls, always remember to go to the bathroom before you go out. Yours truly did not. Jogging is certainly good for loosening things up – I would recommend it if you feel constipated. Those of you who are going “eeeewww”, don’t worry. Everything was taken care of in very hygienic way. A great many miles were traversed in great comfort after the incident.

I don’t know if I should try to explain why I picked the title, but the thought came to me when I was running. I was thinking about the fact that Philip and Lisa are big outdoors people and that this would be the ideal set of surroundings for them and the kids. One could use a little slice of heaven on a Sunday.

later
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As a postscript, this trip in 2004 was only the beginning. I have visited many other places along the towpath over the years, finally completing the entire length with high-school friends in 2016.

Textures On The Ice

We had not been able to go out for our weekend walk for three weeks in a row because of the weather and did not feel too good about it. We were determined to try to get out this last weekend in spite of the cold, and in spite of the fact that we had had sleet as precipitation just a few short days earlier.

The temperature was about 18°F when we awoke on Sunday. We decided that we would start our walk a little later in the morning than usual. Thankfully, all the roads on the way to the park had been cleared completely of snow and ice. But the parking lot at Riley’s Lock was a bit of a mess. We managed to find a section of the lot away from the lock house where there was a reduced amount of ice on the ground. The cars in the picture below are parked on ice. To the right side of this picture you can see the temporary bridge over Seneca Creek at the location of the Seneca Aqueduct. The aqueduct itself was badly damaged by major flooding in 1971. (I might have already mentioned in some earlier blog that this is the only aqueduct on the canal where there was a lock located on top of the aqueduct.)

The temperature was still below freezing when we started the walk. But, it was also a bright, sunny, morning. There was no breeze to be felt. Although it took a while for us to warm up, we felt no discomfort after that. Extra layers of covering were shed. We found ourselves in the walking zone once again. We covered our usual distance during the walk in spite of our initial concerns about the conditions. It had reached temperatures just above freezing by the time we finished our walk.

The trail was mostly covered by a sheet of ice,although there were a couple of short sections where the ice had melted to the water-soaked surface because of the sunshine.There were signs that many people had visited this section of this trail before us. The footprints in the snow and ice (in other sections of the trail) provided traction for us later arrivals. If you look carefully, you can see the faint markings of the Yaktrax that Teresa was wearing to provide traction while walking on the ice.

The sky was completely clear that morning. There was not a cloud to be seen.

The water in the canal had frozen,but the river was flowing freely.We even saw people in kayaks at one point during the walk.

The particular circumstances of the day allowed me to take a series of pictures under conditions that were unique and transitory. I just happened to be there at the right moment in time. The conditions were just right – the temperature, the state of the ice on the trail, the light that was falling on the trail, and finally, the simple things in nature that had fallen at the particular spots on the trail at that time without having been stepped on by either a human being or animal before we got there. Here are some of these pictures.

It was a unique opportunity that, thankfully, I did not miss!

The Next Blog

It is in the nature my blogging process that I am often not sure where the inspiration for the next blog will come from. There is definitely a theme that can run through a series of blogs when one is on a quest, or when something is happening. Not today. We have not been to new places on the canal recently, and there is also no new experience from the walks that seems worthy of sharing. The political scene that used to get me worked up in the recent past has gotten to a more tolerable level. We have also not traveled to new places in other parts of the world for over about a year at this point.

I have no interesting articles to point people to today. Also, I have not yet rummaged through my trove of old e-mails to gain some inspiration. There is not much other internal or external inspiration for thought either today. The mind is a blank – the thoughts that sometimes organize themselves in the brain organically to form a complete blog, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle coming together to create a complete picture, are not cooperating. The mind is not quiet enough for any of this to happen. I think I am also distracted because of having to deal with other practical matters. Perhaps, I will just post some pictures from our last weekend on the trail.

It was a cold morning on the towpath as far as we were concerned, but sensitivity to cold is a relative experience. There are some people (including some of those whose blogs I follow) who spend their winter outdoors, looking forward to their activities in the heights of the Rocky mountains in the middle of winter. Such folks might have laughed at us, and considered our reaction to the outside temperatures that morning “wimpy”. And we do not even have to go as far as the Rockies. There are others, even from our part of the world, who perhaps also laugh at our sensitivities – as they get out on their bikes on the roads and trails at these temperatures for recreation. Yes, we saw some of these people last weekend! I do not know how they do it, but I do know that even the little bit of additional airflow created by the forward motion on a bike would, at these temperatures, bring me to a stop quickly. Tears would run, my nose would turn red, and I would lose all sensation on my chin.

But, there we were, delaying our departure to the park to later in the morning since we thought that 24° F was far too cold for us. Not that it got that much warmer later in the morning when we reached the trail – but the sun was at least higher up in the sky. Here are some of the pictures from the outing.

These pictures were taken at the Monocacy Aqueduct. You can see where the Monocacy river meets the Potomac river in the second picture.The following pictures were taken at the parking lot for the Dickerson Conservation Center access point to the trail.These are all good sentiments on the poster, but I cannot see anybody attempting to barbecue at the kind of temperatures we are experiencing these days!

The Trees in Winter

The spirit is often moved while walking along the towpath among the leafless trees of winter on a sunny morning. There is so much character to behold, especially in the upper reaches of the towering sycamores. They are magnificent, and it is beneficial to the soul to take a moment to pause and contemplate this magnificent beauty. The woods can be a place of both mystery and healing.