The Young Lady from San Francisco

The sun was out for a change and it was the perfect weather for a walk after a week of constant downpours.  The river and the creek were running high. The puddles along the trail did little to dampen the spirit, perhaps they added a positive element to the experience in spite of our complaints.

We met her on the trail while walking north of Riley’s Lock on the C&O canal towpath.  She overtook us on her bicycle shortly into our walk.  The panniers on the bike were loaded with stuff, and I remember thinking to myself that she must be riding a long way.  She seemed to be riding at a very relaxed pace.

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We found her again when we reached the Horsepen Branch Hiker/Biker campsite where she had stopped for a break.

It was just coincidence that we had decided to leave the trail to try to find a way down to the river side from this campsite. As we were walking by I asked her where she was going.  She informed us that she was headed for Pittsburgh.  We got to talking.

She was from San Francisco and she was doing this ride on her own.  She thought she might complete the ride in 8 days, but she really was not stuck on a schedule.  She was camping out at the Hiker/Biker sites along the towpath during the nights.  She was not clear yet on where she was going to stay along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP).   Her bike could be folded and she figured that she could pack it up and take a bus if anything went wrong anywhere along the way.  When I spoke about the possible challenge crossing the mountains after Cumberland, she informed us that she covered those kinds of elevations when biking to work in the mornings.  This ride should not be a problem!

We heard that she had just biked from Washington DC to Richmond and Williamsburg in Virginia.  She was really enjoying the experience of riding the trail after having been on the roads during that ride.

We thought she was pretty gutsy to do this kind of a ride on her own, and her mindset in tackling something like this was quite refreshing.  She did not appear to be naive about the kind of risks involved in this kind of an endeavor, but I could not be sure.  In the end we wished her good luck and parted ways.

This encounter was a bonus to the wonderful walk that we had.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Half-Light

“Morning Has Broken” as performed by Cat Stevens
Eleanor Farjeon

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for the springing fresh from the world
Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dew fall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass
Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day

 

A farm in the countryside beside the C&O Canal towpath trail.

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Early morning light on the Potomac

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Boat goes out into the bay early in the morning at Paihia, New Zealand.

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Daybreak at Rotorua, New Zealand.

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“The End”
The Beatles

Oh yeah, all right
Are you going to be in my dreams
Tonight?

 

And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love
You make

The sun sets over LAX.

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Other entries for the challenge here.

Continue reading Weekly Photo Challenge: Half-Light

Weekly Photo Challenge: Season

Unless I focus on the above topic from the perspective of the seasons in one’s life, I could end up going back to a familiar place and repeating myself in response to the weekly challenge since I have addressed the subject of the seasons in other photo challenges. (You can check our my submissions the past under the topics of Change, and also Happy Place.)

But I have no interest today in really saying anything about myself. Instead I will simply focus on this season of Winter up here in the northeast United States, and our experience of it during a walk we took last weekend on the C&O Canal towpath beside the Potomac.  We drove up to a section near Hagerstown, MD.

We ended up on a section of the trail in the area of Dam 4.
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The swiftly flowing river appears to be clear of ice in these parts.
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There is a still a layer of snow and ice on the trail.
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I suspect that some of the snow on the ground is from the blizzard a few weeks back.  The consistency of the white stuff has turned somewhat hard. There are larger ice crystals on the ground that catch the sunlight, and  we found that the surface was mostly capable of supporting our weight without giving in.  The traffic on the trail has been light before our arrival, and the snow has not compressed to ice (which would have made it a more slippery and dangerous path to traverse).  That having been said, it is still more difficult to walk on the snow than on the dirt.

The surface of the trail is not characterless.  There are the fallen branches that pop out of the ice.
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The dried leaves that have fallen on the ice can stand out.  I thought some of these even looked pretty.
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The leaves can even start a melting process since they seem to absorb the heat of the sun faster than the ice around them.
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The bladdernut pod has even created a cavity in the surface of the ice.
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And there is plenty of other life around.

The snow flies (are they also called stone flies?) are everywhere over the ice.
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There are plenty of bird sounds to be heard all around, from the cry of soaring hawks, to the loud “wuk, wuk” call of the pileated woodpecker.  There are many small birds in the bushes all around the trail.  These are difficult to spot unless one is looking carefully, but this little thrush was very cooperative.  It sat around while I took my time to change lenses to take its picture.
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Winter in our parts can certainly be more challenging than our other seasons, but there is still much to celebrate and enjoy if only you set you mind to it.

It is somewhat interesting to see the varied responses to this challenge.  Some of you in lower hemisphere are in the midst of summer (and a hot one in some places), while others in the northern hemisphere seem to be experiencing weather indicating that spring is on its way.  We are still in the throes of the winter season in our part of the world!

Into The Morning

It was still dark when I left home at about 6:30am on Sunday morning to head out for the C&O Canal towpath trail at Brunswick, MD.  The morning star and the crescent moon were still visible above the darkened homes, while a faint glow was beginning to show up in the sky just above the  horizon.

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I was about to get back to doing something that I had not been able to do for over a year.   I was heading out to a distant location on the towpath all by myself for a very early morning run.  And I had not been to Brunswick specifically for a much longer time.  And at this point I was actually missing the experience.  The change from my older weekend routine was made so that others could come out with me for walks in the parks on Sunday mornings. It was all for a good cause and a greater good, and something that I was (and still am) happy to be able to do.

It was 29° Fahrenheit when, following my old habits, I drove out to the nearby Starbucks for a breakfast sandwich and coffee.  Surprisingly, they still served the spinach and egg white sandwich that had been my staple in the past.  I picked up my food and drink and headed back to the car.  It was a familiar routine.

In the distance, from the parking lot, one could see the faint outlines of the sunrise.  The colors were beginning to change on the horizon.  I got into my car and on the road to the highway as the diffused light from the sun began the process of gradually replacing the darkness with light.

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The sun was rising behind me as I headed north and west on Interstate 270 towards Frederick.  I had this strange feeling of familiarity, of going back to to an old place in my mind, and it felt good.   I first stopped at the scenic overlook outside of Frederick to observe the colorful sky over the still shaded valley as the sun attempted to climb above the hills behind me.

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Heading west out of Frederick, I continued to enjoy the experience of the sun rising into the heavens – as it lit up the sides of the houses with a golden light, a light that invited people to wake up and pay homage to a new day. I was lost in a pleasantly blissful state of mind when I made a mistake and took a wrong exit from the highway, and got on the road towards Point of Rocks, another location on the towpath.  Feeling quite unperturbed by this unexpected turn of events, I exited this new road at a random intersection with country road whose name I did not even attempt to read, and then proceeded west along this local byway.  After all, how lost could one get with the Potomac river to one side of me and the original highway that I had been traveling on to the other side.  The winding road took me up a hill from which I got an unexpectedly grand view of a broad valley below me partially lit up the sun.  This was the valley through which the Potomac flowed.  I could see a distant water tower, perhaps at Brunswick, my destination by car; and also a hint of my ultimate destination on the trail,  Harpers Ferry, the place where the Shenandoah river joins the Potomac to become a single flow, cutting though and creating a gap in the ridges of the Appalachian mountain range.  It was an unexpected treat, but I could not stop to take pictures on the narrow road.  Before I knew it the road descended the hill and I had found my way back to the road to Brunswick.

Crossing the railroad tracks at the train station at Brunswick the sun appeared to be struggling to rise above the treeline, but the railroad station was lit up in a weird shade of red.

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A coal train stood in the shadows, waiting for clearance to head onward towards Point of Rocks and perhaps the power generating plant at Dickerson.

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The view of the Potomac from the parking lot at the boat ramp below the bridge across the river was gorgeous.

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I made my way from the parking lot on to the towpath and headed west towards Harper’s Ferry.  The cold and brisk air, and the tall misshapen trunks of the leafless trees reaching for the skies all around me, triggered something in the brain.  I was once again in my happy place.

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Before long I heard the lonesome whistle of a freight train from further out west, probably miles away in the area of Harpers Ferry.  I was quite sure it was headed my way.  Within a few minutes the twin engines of the freight train appeared through the trees on my right as the sun lit up the trees beyond the railroad track.

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The sun began to light up the trail as it rose, while my body began to react to the exercise by building up a sweat in spite of the cold.  The numb feeling in the extremities began to vanish.

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After about 3 miles, the lock house at Weverton appeared to my right, still partially in the shadows.

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As I ran through this section of the trail, I peered through the trees on my left, the side of the trail where the river flowed, searching for the remains of the old town of Weverton  that had been washed away by floods in times past.  I did not see anything remarkable. I then passed through a section of the trail that was still completely shaded by the tall hills that rose across the river in Virginia.  The birds were still waiting for the sunrise.  I eventually broke out into an section of the trail lit up by bright sunshine.  The bridge for the highway across the Potomac appeared in front of me in the distance through the trees.

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Approaching Harper’s Ferry, I noticed that the steeple of St. Peters Catholic church was still in the shadows while other parts of the town were beginning to experience the direct rays of the sun.  The Shenandoah river still lay in the shadows of the hills on one side of the town, while the Potomac flowed on its other side in bright sunlight, reflecting the clear blue of the cloudless sky above it.

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As I turned to head back towards Brunswick, the sun had ascended high enough into the sky to be able to light up the entire area, including the trail.  While it was still cold, and I was occasionally passing people who were all bundled up for protection, I was not feeling any of it.  It was time now for me to focus on the “running” aspect of this outing. I needed to try to put my camera away into the backpack and set a more regular pace for the the trip back.

Having not run this kind of distance in quite a while, I was also beginning to feel the effects of the effort on the system.  My heart indicated that it was still fine with the pace I was setting (which for some reason was becoming faster and faster according to my GPS device), but the muscles in my legs were beginning to complain.  “Dude, we need some more oxygen, and why the heck did you leave the water behind in the car?!”  My tracksuit was soaked in sweat. But I was also getting into a rhythm as my feet beat a tattoo on the towpath. I picked up steam heading east.  I was in the zone!

I huffed and puffed my way back into Brunswick where the coal trail was still waiting to depart.

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The tiredness did not matter at this point as the mind was in a very different place from the sore muscles.  I got into my car and was soon heading back home after my Sunday morning visit to the Church of the C&O Canal.  Alleluia anybody?!

The Call of the Cardinal (1/15/2006)

No, I am not talking about a religious leader – I am talking about the bird!

It was bitterly cold this morning, in the low 20s (Fahrenheit, that is), and the wind was howling. I somehow managed to drive to the Monocacy Aqueduct.  The local road was covered with broken tree limbs, and I had to navigate around the bigger ones, listening to the thumping of the broken branches against the bottom of the car.  There was nobody around.  The wind hit me the moment I got out the car bringing tears to my eyes. Having navigated cold mornings in the past, I was determined to go on.  But this was different.  About a half mile down the trail, I began to lose sensation in my toes and fingers completely.  What little feeling of pleasure I had about getting back on the trail after more than a month of absence vanished.   I may push things to the limit, but I am not foolish.  I returned to the car and quickly turned on the heat.  My fingers hurt.

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I could have turned and returned home after this experience, but I still felt the urge to do something.  So I headed north.  I discovered the road to the parking lot at Nolands Ferry.  The road was in as bad a shape as that to the Monocacy Aqueduct.  The wind had done a number on the trees the previous night.  The cold front had come roaring through on Saturday, and in our part of the world this is usually accompanied by the icy Canadian winds from the north.  I stepped out of the car to think about running once again, but changed my mind quickly.  I then drove further north to Point of Rocks.

I had just parked the car beside the trail when the Cardinal landed on the side-view mirror on the passenger side and looked at me.  “What are you doing in there?” it seemed to be asking in a curious sort of manner. “Why don’t you join me out here?”  I was furiously trying to extract my camera from its cover while the bird was sitting there pecking at the mirror.  This one was sneaky.  The moment I got the camera in my hands, it flew away to a branch on a tree and I had to be content taking a picture from a distance.

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Anyway, this was my encouragement.  I stepped out onto the trail once again.  This time I made it a few 100 feet north before I was hit by a gust of icy wind that almost stopped me in my tracks.  The impact of the wind being channeled over the trail by the cliffs next to the river was tremendous.  I turned around and headed back on the trail, this time towards Nolands Ferry.  This I could do!  The space was more open and the wind did not seem to affect me too much, although I could still hear it howling through the branches up above me.  Gradually, I got back into my pace, remembering the way things were before I went on vacation.  It felt nice.

It was when I turned to head back towards Point of Rocks that I felt the effect of the wind once again. It was blowing into my face, but it was not as bad as before.  The sun had come up by now and its warming effect helped things.  In any case, I had no choice but to make it back to the car.  There had been a few other people in the park at Point of Rocks, but there was nobody to be seen on the trail at that point.  I think the wind had something to do with this.

So I completed the run, covering my normal distances, and got back into the comfort of the car.  I was disturbed by a banging on the back window as soon as I sat down in the driver’s seat.  It was the cardinal once again, furiously pecking at something on the back of the car!  Once again I tried to get my camera ready for a picture but the bird flew away.  As I settled into the seat to eat a donut, the creature performed its act once more, this time banging against the side window, looking at me all the time, and then flying away when I got my camera up.  I then decided to get out the car and back into the cold, and tried to follow the bird to get a close-up picture of it.  I managed to take a picture better than the one I had gotten during my previous visit to the trail, but it was certainly not as good as one I could have gotten if the bird were against the car itself.

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The bird would keep reappearing the moment I laid my camera down, and then it would fly away.  It was playing games!  So I decided to sit for a while with camera in hand, just waiting.  The bird came back, but this time it settled on the side-view mirror of another vehicle across the road.  It then started pecking at the mirror of that car.  I think what was happening was that it was seeing its reflection in the mirror and pecking at it.  (Does anybody have an explanation for this kind of a behavior?)  The bird never came back on to my car again. I had waited for about 10 minutes.  I then drove home.

I could have given up at the Monocacy Aqueduct and gone home when I first got started, but I am glad I persisted.  It felt good to do this once again, and I can thank my friend the cardinal for motivating me to get out there and brave the cold and the wind.  By the way, both the side-view mirrors on the car have scratch marks on them that do not look like they will come off. The cardinal must have a very sharp beak.

The country celebrates Martin Luther King Day tomorrow.  Lona Alias was playing excerpts from the “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” speech that Dr. King gave in Memphis on the radio.  This was the speech given just before he was murdered. He had a premonition about what was going to happen to him. What a great speaker!  His words moved people during his time, and they continue to be a source of inspiration.  Dr. King was not a perfect person, but he managed to influence the life of many people in a positive way.  We have to admit that we are also imperfect people ourselves.  If we find a way to leave a positive and lasting impact on people in spite of our weaknesses, then I think we have done well.

Enough preaching for today.

A Walk on a Foggy Morning

The fog began to increase in intensity as we approached the parking lot at Carderock next to the Potomac river and the C&O canal.  The temperature was below freezing as we bundled up and stepped out of the car and on to the trail.  The sun began to rise into the sky through the  trees behind us as we started our walk at a brisk pace, trying to get rid of the cold in our extremities.  The fog began to lift slowly, creating a unique and somewhat surreal lighting over the still waters and in-between the trees.  There was some kind of magic happening!

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The sky had completely cleared up by the time we finished our walk and returned to the parking lot a couple of hours later.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Autumn Treats

Something crazy happens to me every autumn season.  It usually happens when the colors of the leaves on the trees are changing, when the leaves begin to fall to the ground.  I am so taken in by the change that is going on that I start taking plenty of of pictures.  It does not matter that I have gone through a similar experience of autumn many times over many years. It does not matter that I have taken pictures of the changing scene almost every year.  It does not matter that I am actually seeing all of this change in the area around my home, so that it is more than likely not a new experience.  It does not matter that I tell myself that I have seen and done this stuff before, and that there is probably nothing new for me to record.

The craziness manifests itself in ways that are unique to the season.  I end up placing my camera in the car where ever I happen to be going during the daytime, regardless of the purpose of my trip.  I end up taking trips into the countryside and driving the lightly traveled country roads around me for hours looking for the fall colors.  I end up stopping the car in potentially dangerous spots beside the roads and stepping out to take pictures, perhaps even stepping into the center of the road if the probabilities seems to be in my favor.  I end up making U-turns in my car to return to the spot on the roadway where I saw something that caught my attention.  I end up walking around trying to find just the right angle so that the sun lights up the trees in a manner that accentuates the colors of the leaves that are dying.  I end up waiting patiently for the clouds that are drifting past the sun to get out of the way so that the trees are lit up just right.  And all of this happened to me once again this year!

And it turns out that I still continue to enjoy looking at the new pictures I am taking. But even among these pictures there are some that present a special treat to me.  There is something about the way these pictures effect my state of mind.  Take a look at some examples.

I was driving out of my neighborhood when I came upon a scene that caused me to stop the car right there on the road.  I had to step out of the car and wait for just the right moment for the swiftly moving clouds behind me to get out of the way before I was able to take this picture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI usually run my loops from home beside Seneca lake with the minimum load I can carry.  But knowing that the time was right, I had carried my camera in my backpack while running on this particular day even though the added weight increased the level of effort needed.  I was rewarded by this sight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen this was what I saw while I was driving to different points on the C&O canal to experience the fall colors.  I wonder if she was using water colors!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinally, this one was closer to home on the road leading out of the neighborhood.  The splash of color caught my immediate attention.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Happy Place

This is perhaps the place where I am best able to recover my sense of balance.

This is the place you will find me on most weekends, early on Sunday mornings.

A misty sunrise over the Potomac at Seneca Creek

Great blue heron gliding over the water at Widewater

Brilliant sunlight over the trail near Taylor’s Landing

On the trail beside the dry canal bed near Shepherdstown, WV

Fall morning at Riley’s Lock

Cold misty morning over the Potomac near Glen Echo, MD

Sunrise near Harper’s Ferry on a Winter morning

Trail near Antietam Creek in winter

Sunlight spotlights the trail in Spring

Springtime on the trail closer to Williamsport, MD

Summer time near Pearre, MD

This place is not defined by a single destination or a single moment in time.  It spans many miles and many seasons over many years.

This is the C&O Canal National Park that runs between Washington, DC, and Cumberland, MD, along the Potomac river.

I think this qualifies as one of my happy places.

To find more about this week’s photo challenge, visit this site.

Chasing Damselflies over the Potomac

It was cloudy yesterday morning at Pennyfield lock as we set out north towards Riley’s lock.  My old routine of early morning runs along the river on Sunday mornings has changed. I have company these days.  It has become a family affair. My wife and I are by ourselves on some of the Sundays, but on many other Sundays this also turns into a group event with other families joining us, the other families having been convinced that the outdoor activity is indeed a good thing for them.  In order to accommodate the larger group, this event has become a walk rather than a run, and it takes place a little later in the morning than I have gotten used to for many years.  But it is all for a good cause!

The cool of the cloudy morning, the early signs of changing color on the trees, and the dry leaves already on the ground informed us that the Fall season is on its way.

There are still flowers on some of the plants along the trail, but I could see that these would also be soon gone.

There were no herons to be seen on the canal this day, but I did sight an egret in the distance in the middle of the river.  What was it up to? Was it catching fish, or simply enjoying the feeling of standing in the flowing water while listening to the sounds of the river around it.

The waters of the river were low and at some point we decided to go down to the river from the towpath to see how far we could get walking towards the middle of the river by stepping over the exposed rocks.

We encountered plenty of damselflies along the way. (Yes, these exist, and they are not the same as dragonflies.)  Some of us tried to catch them as they hovered around, but they were too quick for us.  I stuck to using my camera.

The water was clear and you could see the fish and other little creatures of the water swimming around.  There were dry leaves already floating in the water, a sure a sign of the start of the Fall season, .

As we walked along the towpath we came upon the squirrel sitting on the branch of a tree chewing on something or the other.  It cooperated long enough for its picture to be taken.

It was a very pleasant walk on a day that also happened to be my birthday. I think this was the appropriate way to celebrate an event like this, and the way to also try to celebrate every day of my life.

Cheers everybody!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Change

It took me just a little while to realize that I had the perfect subject matter for the topic of this week’s challenge.  This is because I have been wandering over the C&O canal towpath over many years taking pictures through all seasons.  Here are some pictures that capture one aspect of change as I have observed it.

The first target for my observations is the Pennyfield lock house.  Here is a picture from early spring.

and here is one from a month later.

Here is the same lock house in winter.

Then take a look a Swains lock on a Fall day,

and then in winter.

Taking a look at the aqueducts of the C&O canal, the Catoctin Aqueduct was destroyed by Hurricane Agnes in 1972.  It was replaced by a temporary bailey bridge for many years.

April 2006Here is what it looked like when they started reconstruction.

and here is what it looks like after the work was complete in 2011.  They did a great job!

I will end with a picture of the bridge near Anglers Inn that was taken in the Fall.

Here is another picture of the same bridge taken in winter.

Feb 2010I find it hard to resist the temptation to dig up more pictures of this wonderful place I visit, but I must stop lest I be accused of obsessive behavior!