The River Runs Brown at Cohill Station (5/19/2014)

It is a strange process of the mind that has gotten me to post this particular blog.  I actually started out wanting to bring Christina’s blog from her Peace Corps days back to life (at least temporarily).  The final blog, before she leaves Guinea, is a classic.  But, then, I thought that the circumstances of my referral to that blog in my original e-mail in 2014 were also interesting enough.  I post my original e-mail in full.  I do this in spite of the fact that we are heading into the season of Winter at this time, and not Summer.  In fact, the temperature outside right now is about 20°F.

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It rained cats and dogs, and squirrels and gerbils, last Thursday.  The wind rattled the blinds of the open window in the bedroom waking me up in the middle of the night from my solitary slumber.  Teresa is in Bangalore with her dad, Angela is in school taking her final exams, and Christina is wandering around the country, taking a break after returning from her Peace Corps adventures. The wind blew hard enough that night that I had to get out of bed to close the open windows. A little bit of water even got into the bathroom through a skylight that was apparently not sealed adequately on the roof.  Our region also experienced a significant amount of flooding and road closures in the aftermath of the storm.  We have been seeing an unusual number of similar storms this Spring.  Is it the impact of global warming?

Since I was alone at home, I decided to head out as far west as I could this Sunday morning in order to extend my coverage of the 184.5 mile C&O canal trail.  Two weeks ago I had started my run at the Cohill Station traiI access point at near mile 130.  Today I started my run from the end of the WMRT at Pearre, MD, near mile 136.  I  managed to get all the way to mile 139 today.  Some day I will get to the end of this trail.  (KJ note – I did get to the end of the trail finally in 2016.)

Very few people live in this part of Maryland these days. The ridges of the Appalachian mountains run north to south, and in these parts they provide natural barriers that cause the Potomac to turn left at the Cacapon mountain and actually flow north for a few miles before the river turns east and south again to head towards the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.   Further to the west lie the Paw Paw bends of the river that cause the it to meander in S-shapes through the hills. I wondered about the processes that caused this section of the river to actually be created.  Was the Potomac formed because of erosion by glaciers during an ice age?  As you make your way to the trailheads on roads off of Interstate 68, you will find yourself traveling along the valley or the crest of the little known Tonoloway ridge . You see abandoned homes along the road.  When you get to your destination, you also notice the many abandoned trailer homes beside the trail.  I wonder if this used to be a poorer part of Maryland.  How did people survive?  Did their source of living vanish due due to changing times?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThree weeks ago one could make out the new leaves of Spring on the trees along the trail.  Today the area looked lush and green.  Change can happen quite quickly!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut the thing that caught my particular attention was the high level of water in the river and the nature of its swift flow.  When there is flooding, the initial impacts are usually felt in the local streams and creeks, but all of this water eventually flows into the rivers, and the river can actually crest a few days later, after the storms have long gone by.  The Potomac only crested in certain sections on Saturday, the day before my run.  The river looked browner than usual.  Imagine the massive quantity of mud that was being swept down the river because of erosion in our backyards, the mud that was causing it to look different.   There is no way to reclaim this sediment and to reverse the process.  Material that was in a certain location at one time is gone forever from that location.  This change is irreversible.  It reminds me that we human beings have difficulty adjusting to change, while in the grand scheme of things irreversible change is inevitable.   To what extent does it make sense to put up a fight?   No other species has done as much as humans to put up a fight, and with knowledge and technology we have brought tremendous sophistication to this endeavor, and quite often we do not care about the secondary consequences.  When does it make sense to accept nature’s reality gracefully without trying to fight it?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe solitude of the trail (and perhaps even the quiet of the empty home) actually soothes the mind.  Such conditions provide moments of clarity that would otherwise not be possible with the constant interactions and distractions of daily life.  The trail is perhaps one of the very few circumstances when I am capable of trying to ponder if there is a bigger picture considering how inconsequential our existence is on the grand scale of things.  The trail provides perspective.  You are aware that everything else that is going on around you is for the most part independent of the human factor.  The world can actually exist without us humans.   Why do some of us think there is an overall purpose that is to benefit our species to the detriment of others?  Why does it seem that the progress of human society appears to be a process of positive feedback that is leading to increasing inequality in almost all dimensions, while the ultimate result is inevitable?  What does a human really need beyond food, clothing and shelter, and what happens when you get beyond that? All things considered, what should I be trying to do?  Should I even spend my time thinking about things like this?  You might actually get some answers that work for you under the right conditions.

So, what about Cohill Station?  It used to be a real railroad station on the Western Maryland Railroad in the old days when the population in this part of Maryland used to be more significant.  Nothing remains at the former site of the station.  Dust to dust!  I wonder how things were for people who used to live along the river, especially when it ran brown.

Things change.

Returning Home at Journey’s End

Heading back after a morning out on the river.

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A man and his dog
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The couple and their dog
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The paddleboarder

These pictures were taken at the location where Seneca Creek meets the Potomac river in Montgomery County in Maryland.  Many people start their travels on the river from the creek.  This is also the location of Riley’s Lock on the C&O Canal.

Chasing the Deer

The scene unfolded during our Sunday morning walk along the C&O Canal.

We were headed back from Swains Lock to Pennyfield Lock along the towpath (the trail).  The canal, which happens to have water flowing in it in these parts, was to our right, and to our left was vegetation and a somewhat sharp drop off to the Potomac river.  The only people on the trail in front of us were a middle aged couple who walking towards us from the distance.

We heard a commotion behind us.  After initially ignoring it, I turned back to see that there were two deer running on the towpath in our direction, being followed by two bicyclists.  One of the deer was bigger than then other, probably a parent.  Even though the deer had seen us, they keep coming, veering neither left or right.  They were scared by the cyclists, and also of what lay on both sides of the trail.

We turned to face the deer.  I feared a possible collision and I moved to protect my broken ribs.  The deer finally stopped not too far from us.  The bigger one then jumped into the trees and bushes on its left, towards the river, and the young one followed.  The bicyclists went by.

As the people coming towards us got closer, the bigger deer crashed out of the bushes beside the river and ran across the trail into the canal.  It swam across to the other side of the canal and climbed up the hill beside the canal.  You could barely see it behind the trees. There was no sign of the smaller deer, but we knew that it was still on the other side of the trail, separated from the deer that was probably its parent.

As the folks approaching us went by, the little deer jumped out of the bushes beside the river in front of them.  It saw the people approaching.  It took off in the opposite direction along the trail, heading back towards where it had originally come from, and away from the other deer.  The folks who are now walking behind the sprinting deer are pantomiming and trying signal to the deer to cross the canal to be with the other one.  The deer is in a panic, neither can it understand human communications.  Go back and get your young one, we ourselves say to the bigger deer who is on the other side of the canal.  Of course, we are not speaking the deer’s language.

We did not wait to see how the drama of the lost deer finally played out.  I would not be surprised if the two deer eventually found each other.  While they might be considered creatures without intelligence by some human beings, animals have capabilities that would surprise many of us.  They are not necessarily limited by the kinds of senses that we human beings normally use.  (Check this out!)

The places that we frequent during the weekends allow us to experience things that may be considered out of the ordinary, things that we do not see during the normal course of the day in our usual surroundings.  It may simply be that the turtles are hanging out on the logs, or the great blue heron are fishing, or that the wren is singing on a tree as you pass by.  You just need to keep your senses open and a different world opens up to you. But our experience last Sunday was unique even by those standards.

Thanks be to Gravity (9/14/2008)

This is a highly edited version of something I wrote many years ago.  These days, I am also more comfortable with adding pictures and links directly to the narrative.  Ain’t technology da bomb!

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If you take the exit to Keep Tryst Road from US Route 340, (it comes up close to Harpers Ferry, just before you cross the bridge over the Potomac from Maryland into Virginia), and then follow the road all the way to the the bottom of a hill, it ends up next to tracks for the CSX railroad.  At this point the road makes a U-turn and heads back up the hill to rejoin Route 340.  This place next to the railroad tracks is where people park their cars to head out on hikes.  The place is called Weverton.  From this location you can follow the Appalachian trail (or the AT as it is fondly known) up to Weverton Cliffs, or you can cross the tracks and head down to the towpath towards either Brunswick or Harpers Ferry.

Weverton used to be real town many years ago.  Very few people live in the area today. Back then an intrepid developer decided that he could harness the power of the waters of the Potomac for energy in order to develop commerce in this area.  The concept did not work and one of the reasons for failure was the regular flooding of the river.  I have read that you can see the remains of the old town of Weverton if you leave the towpath and head towards the river.  I have not been successful in finding these ruins so far.  Weverton is also a switching yard for the railroad, and the location from which a spur line used to branch off towards Hagerstown.  You can still see the remains of the railroad bridge for this spur line under the bridge for Route 340.

I arrived at Weverton early in the morning before the fog had lifted to do a hike to towards Harpers Ferry and Maryland Heights. My timing for the start of the hike was perfect.  As I walked towards the railroad tracks to cross over to the towpath, I sighted the headlights of the freight train through the fog.  It was heading in my direction. IMG_6132At the point where the path crosses the railroad the tracks curve away from you and as  a result you get a head-on view of the approaching train.  I got a lot of pictures of the train in the fog as it switched tracks and approached rapidly. IMG_6134And before I knew it the engineer was blowing the horn to make sure that I did not step on to the tracks,IMG_6136and the train was rushing by shaking the ground under me.IMG_6137It was moving quite fast and even picking up speed as the freight cars thundered by, with the hundreds of metal wheels screeching like a thousand banshees as the rail cars pushed against the rails and struggled to stay on the tracks as they rounded the curve and accelerated at the same time.IMG_6138I stood by just next to the carriages, which seemed to be much bigger and higher than what I imagined them to be when I had seen them from a distance, and felt a rush.  I was screaming but nobody could hear me.

The objective for this trip was to climb Maryland Heights on the Maryland side of the Potomac river next to Harpers Ferry.  From the lookout point on Maryland Heights one gets a nice view of the town of Harpers Ferry.  This hike turned out  to be an unexpected mental challenge for me.  I began to feel tired even as I started up the steep slope from beside the main road.  Perhaps I was really not in good shape.  The early part of the climb was quite strenuous and the last time I had done this was when family had visited from India, when we had walked halfway up the hill.  I walked up slowly, stopping frequently, and stopping by the meadows along the way to enjoy the sight of the many white butterflies fluttering around.IMG_6174It was a humid morning and pretty soon I was sweating quite profusely.  I did not really feel any pain but I was feeling nervous because this was the first time in a while I had pushed myself in this manner since the big event.  I almost turned back at one point.

But in the end I persevered.  I was going to reach my destination one way or the other, whichever destination it happened to be – the Pearly Gates (being the eternal optimist that I am) or the Scenic Overlook over the river!  I made it to the latter destination feeling a sense of achievement.  I spent some time taking pictures of the river and the valley below.IMG_6175IMG_6176IMG_6192 There was a butterfly sitting in the sun on a rock that did not move even as I approached and took close-up pictures of its eyes!  (There are some wonderful experiences waiting out there for you if you are willing to relax and  pay attention to what is going on around you.)IMG_6199IMG_6206I ran all the way down the hill on my way back to the towpath.  I wanted to sing a song – He’ll be running down the mountain when he comes!  It was a nice outing and I got some pictures of some flowers and creatures that I had not seen before. IMG_6155IMG_6157A woodpecker also obliged me by landing on a tree trunk next to the trail and staying put while I took its picture.IMG_6214I also got some nice pictures of the fog.IMG_6145IMG_6162IMG_6163IMG_6165IMG_6169IMG_6171All in all, another excellent outing to the river!

If You Drive Slow, You Can Get There Faster (4/29/2013)

And the three men I admire most:,
The father, son, and the holy ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died


(In case you are curious, the song from which these lines are taken is not about religion.  It is about three well regarded musicians who lost their lives in a plane accident in the 60s – Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and JP Richardson.)

I had just stopped under a tree after I got on the trail at Williamsport on the C&O Canal this morning.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sun was out and a bird was singing away to glory, hidden in one of the branches.  As I was looking up, searching for it, a older lady, all wrapped up in warm clothes, came walking by and wished me good morning.  I gave up on the bird and started walking along with her.  She seemed to be grateful for the company.  She said that she usually walked a couple of miles, and she thanked me for walking with her.  She said that she was over 80 years old, and at that age, two miles was a good distance.  She looked fit and she was very chatty.  She had come across the river from West Virginia.  Apparently, her husband has big strides, and the two of them do not walk well together. So he goes in one direction while she goes in the other.  She informed me about the “happenings” along that section of the canal and about the work going on at the lock.  She only walked a short distance with me to the place where the woods began, and then turned back.  Sweet person!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI saw a homeless person on the trail today.  It is the first time in many years that this has happened.  The lady I had walked with had told me about him, and so I was not completely surprised.  Apparently he is from the town of Williamsport.  He was sitting on a branch beside the trail eating what looked like a donut.   He appeared to have all his belongings on a trailer that was attached to his bicycle.  He seemed to be OK.  I was wondering if he was perhaps happier in his own way than some of us who have more material belongings.

I listened to an interview on the radio this morning as I was heading to the canal.  The person being interviewed was a poet, and she happened to mention the line in the subject line of this posting during that interview.  It was apparently uttered by her young daughter while on a drive, when their car was overtaken by another.   It was a moment of Zen…  Eventually, they overtook the other car when they were both stuck at a toll-booth.  But it did get me thinking, not specifically about driving slow, but about driving in the wrong direction, or driving towards an destination that does not make too much sense in the big picture, or even getting distracted and focusing on the wrong destination.  All of these get you to your destination later than you intended.

There was another interesting point made during the radio conversation, where the poet talked about asking some kids a simple question – can you talk about something in particular that you observed this morning?  Apparently, this question stumps the kids, and it can take some time to engage them properly in conversation on this topic.   This is because their senses are not totally engaged in what they are doing.  They are not paying attention. Perhaps it is true for adults also….

I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away
….

Weekly Photo Challenge: H2O

This looks like a very broad category to me.  I have so many pictures that cover so many different aspects of H2O!  I remember the early morning scenes with the mist and fog over the river, reflections of the fall colors over the waters of a lake, the beauty of snow and ice of winter, the sea at sunrise or sunrise from a beach, the storms with the heavy rains and even flooding, and even the pollution of the H2O caused by humanity.  And that is not a complete list….

But this time I am going back to my recently completed bike ride from Pittsburgh, PA, to Whites Ferry in Maryland to address the theme.  It seems to be a good fit, because the ride, for the most part, took place beside rivers.  ( Read on and you might also get a short lesson in geography!) The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) rail-trail that we followed from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, MD, essentially followed some of the tributaries of the Ohio River (which itself is a tributary of the great Mississippi that empties itself in the Gulf of Mexico).  From Cumberland onward, we rode the C&O Canal towpath which runs along the Potomac river. This river runs east, the opposite direction to the rivers we rode beside up to that point, and it empties into the Chesapeake Bay and the mighty Atlantic Ocean.  The Potomac and the Ohio and its tributaries flow into two distinct watershed areas on the two different sides of the Eastern Continental Divide and the Appalachian mountains that we rode over.

The Ohio river forms in Pittsburgh at the confluence of Monongahela and the Allegheny rivers and flows in a northwesterly direction out of the city.  We began our trip by riding upstream along the Monongahela river  (in a southeasterly direction).  We crossed the river over a former railroad bridge at one point.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We got to McKeesport, PA, where the Youghiogheny River joins the Monongahela.  From then onward it was further upstream and continuing southeasterly along the Yough. The skies were clear on the first day. We crossed under the Banning Railroad bridge.  (I found a video of this bridge in use in 2011.  I don’t know if it is still in use.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The river was extremely muddy on the morning of the second day of the ride due to overnight rain.  You can see the mud from the abandoned railroad bridge below.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sediment had cleared up by the time we crossed the Ohiopyle low bridge over the Yough into Ohiopyle, PA.

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The Casselman River meets up with the Yough at Confluence, PA, and from that point on the GAP followed the Casselman on its way upstream. It was misty early in the day when we left Confluence.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This is view of the town of Confluence from a bridge over the Casselman.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The skies had cleared by the time we got to Rockwood, PA.  The Casselman river looked more like a gentle stream at this point.

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We crossed the Eastern Continental Divide on the GAP and descended into Cumberland, MD. The rest of the ride up to the final destination of Whites Ferry followed the C&O canal along the Potomac river. This was what the canal looked like in the area near Lock 75.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a section near Hancock.

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The Paw Paw tunnel burrowed under a mountain to allow the canal a more direct route  that avoided the bends in a meandering section of the river.

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We saw many aqueducts over the canal along the way. The remains of the Licking Creek Aqueduct are shown below.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The river itself was quite peaceful for the most part.

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We also saw a couple of dams that were used to supply water from the river to the canal.

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And there there were some other H2O related experiences during the trip that I remember. This picture was taken on a pedestrian bridge over the Casselman river in Confluence early in the morning.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The following picture is of the house at Fallingwater built by Frank Lloyd Wright.  The house is built over a waterfall.  You can take steps down from your living room directly to the water that flowed under the house.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe red waterfall shown below is the acid mine drainage (AMD) from a former mine along a section of the GAP closer to Pittsburgh.  We did (and continue to do) a lot of damage to our environment!

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We experienced H2O everywhere during our trip (and hopefully H2O is also seen in all of the pictures I selected for this blog!).  And I should not fail to mention that without large quantities of H2O to drink, we would not have survived the long hot days during our bicycle ride!

 

 

The Passage of Time (10/5/2009)

Not sure if this fits into the weekly category, but since life is a quest for something or the other, I decided to post this old letter from 2009 with a few pictures I took at that time…

img_1612The leaf dropped out of the tree and was caught by the gentle Autumn breeze as it fell from the sky.   I swung my arm lazily as I ran by, as the leaf drifted across the trail.  Amazingly I made contact and the leaf ended up in my hand.  Alright!, I said to myself. At least that is what I thought I was doing.   But these days I am sometimes not sure if I am speaking to myself, or if I have said something out aloud without realizing it.  But it did not matter in this instance since I was all by myself.   I could behave like an happy two year old without having to worry about somebody looking at me in a strange way because I was not “acting my age”.
img_1602img_1652Perhaps, this is one reason I enjoy being out there on the trail.  I can scream out loud with a sense of wonder every time the heavy locomotives of the freight trains power past me.  I can even sing loudly to myself with only the flowers, the birds, and the occasional curious squirrel hanging around to hear the cacophony.  I can drop the burden of “expected” behavior and be myself.  I can take unplanned diversions from the trails into the unmarked woods if I want.  I can follow the butterfly or dragonfly as it flitters from flower to flower, hoping it settles down long enough at one location without flying away at my approach, so that I can take its picture.  (It does require a lot of patience!)  It is truly a healing process to get away from “civilization”.  Maybe I have a stupid smile on my face when I am out in the woods, and this why the few people I encounter seem to respond to me with a pleasant Good Morning.  Maybe they are all as crazy as I am.

The heat of summer is behind us and the cooler days of Autumn have arrived.  There are the cool and crisp Fall mornings – with the clear and bright blue skies, with the occasional fluffy wisps of clouds floating by – looking like light cotton balls that are being gently pulled apart by some unseen hand in the sky.  There are the cold and gloomy mornings, when the clammy feeling penetrates your jacket, and even your skin, when the heavens are filled with dark ominous clouds that block the sun and scurry across the sky, as if in a hurry, eager to get somewhere.
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The leaves are just beginning drop from the trees and there are already a few spots of reds and yellows in our neighborhood and on the trail.  The Frittilary that I saw in large numbers at the beginning of summer in Black Hill park have long since gone, and so have the somewhat rarer Monarchs.  There is still the occasional Tiger Swallowtail to be seen, but other than a few Skippers, this really seems to be the season for the Sulphurs.
img_1587The unidentified dragonflies and damselflies are still around in smaller numbers, occasionally flying around in pairs as if they were indulging in some sort of mating ritual (perhaps they are!), but they will also disappear as surely as the butterflies and the leaves on the trees.

The various types of ducks that I used to observe at Black Hill have long since gone, and I am looking forward to Spring when I hope to see the somewhat rarer migratory species once again.  The Canada Geese that are supposed to be migratory never left, and they dominate the lake and the river these days.   The cardinals are still around, but the robin will only return in spring.  My good friends, the blue heron, can very frequently be seen in certain sections of the canal fishing.  (Yesterday I saw a whole bunch of cormorants perched on some rocks in the middle of the Potomac near Harpers Ferry.  I was even fortunate to capture the picture of a raptor, perhaps it was an eagle or a osprey, diving into the waters of the Potomac to come up with a fish that it had caught!)
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The last flowers of summer can still be seen in the woods of Black Hill and along the towpath – the purple chicory, some white and purple fleabane, some asters, a few goldenrods, and some others that I still cannot identify.  I wish I had more time!img_1597
img_1649img_1668I cannot wait to experience the vast expanses of the fields of Virginia bluebell on the towpath in Spring.

And thus the days, the seasons, and the years go by, and one finds that one has survived to reach the age of 50!  (Teresa had arranged a great surprise Birthday party!  Thanks to John from arranging his trip from Bangalore so that he could spend the evening with us.)  The times seem to rush by in a hurry, and before I knew it, over 20 years of marriage have gone by and the kids have all grown up.   In just a few years the next generation will be ready to take over the reins from us, and eventually we will also be consigned to the dust.  The cycle of life will continue. I have to remind myself constantly that we need to do our best while we are here, and that we also need to make the best of what we have without being greedy.  In tough times I have to try to remember that I am one of the fortunate ones, and that the present will eventually become the past.  In the short time that we have here on Planet Earth, perhaps we can try to leave our mark by doing something positive for others, and we can also try to leave the world in a better shape than we found it.  Maybe, just maybe, this could be The Meaning of Human Life.

Life goes on.   Keep on Truckin…
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