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.

The Wind and the River

The section of the Mount Vernon Trail between Gravelly Point Park and Roosevelt Island runs in-between the Potomac river and the George Washington Parkway, and provides open and changing views of Washington, DC, on the other side of the river. There are many weeping willow trees to be seen in the meadows beside the trail in this section. Even though they look very nice and distinctive, I have not stopped recently to take pictures of these trees. This is probably because I am usually focused on the final destination by the time I get to the section, which may also be because I tend to take long breaks at Gravelly Point park to watch the aircraft taking off and landing at National Airport just before getting to this section.

But this ride was a little different since I was consciously making an effort to take it easy. The wind was also blowing stiffly from across the river and slowing down my progress.

And then I had this photo opportunity at the bridge where the George Washington Parkway and the Mount Vernon trail cross the Boundary Channel. I was compelled to get off the bike to get a picture of the weeping willows as they faced off against the fierce wind coming off the Potomac river.

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Some day, I will be in an even more relaxed mood as I ride by this section of the trail, and I will ride down to the bench seen in the picture. I will sit at the bench for a while, have a refreshment or two, and soak in the view of the Potomac river and Washington, DC. And it will be a good day for the soul.

PS. You can see the top of the Navy – Merchant Marine Memorial off to the left of this picture. This memorial is a part of the Lady Bird Johnson Park.

Remember, Heal and Reconcile

I had just started making my way back after riding into Washington DC from Pennyfield Lock.  I was stopped in my tracks by this wreath of beautiful roses next to the Potomac river in the Georgetown Waterfront Park.P8290066.jpg The first line on the white ribbon that lay diagonally across the wreath read “Remember, Heal and Reconcile”.  The second line read “400th Year Commemoration 2019”.  I could not figure out what it was all about until today.  And I spent a lot of time this morning trying to get a better grip on this story and really get into it.  You can read an article about it here.   I found this audio clip related to this story also interesting.

Just to give you a high level background, 20 or so slaves arrived from Africa for the first time on an English ship at Jamestown in August 1619.  This notable event was a part of the beginnings of a complete moral disaster that has its impacts even today.  Unfortunately, there are people who still wish to rewrite this piece of history even today.

I also saw this.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn light of the shenanigans going on in government today, and especially at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it was somewhat ironic to see this on the plaque below the sculpture.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd this was posted in the same neighborhood next to the river.P8290048.jpgYuk!

Lest somebody thinks that I am a grouch, I really did enjoy the morning and did have a good ride.  Here are some other pictures from the park.

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View of Rosslyn (in Arlington), and the Key Bridge

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Georgetown Waterfront Park

And here is a picture of Swains Lock taken in the early morn.P8290047.jpgLife goes on!

The Chair

Walking along the Potomac river, between Taylor’s Landing and Dam 4 on the C&O Canal towpath, we came across this somewhat strange sight on the West Virginia side of the river.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWas this chair placed there so that somebody could spend the day fishing, or simply watching the flow of the river?

Was this chair placed there by a kind soul for the benefit of other people – so that they too could enjoy their day and time sitting by the riverside?

Considering that the chair was in a location that seemed to be hard to get to, at a place that you had to drive down a steep dirt road to reach,  at a spot beside the river where the surface seems to be unsuitable for a comfortable walk, is it even possible that the chair was simply swept down the river to land upright in this location and position?P3310030.jpg

You can let your imagination wander, see whatever you wish to see, and make up your own stories, as you walk down the towpath on a Sunday morning.

Harpers Ferry Forever

Some of you who may have read my previous blogs could be wondering about the motivation behind this trilogy of blogs on Harpers Ferry.  My first inclination had been to write only this particular blog that I am about to pen, and this was based on a trip that we had made to the town very recently. But then I realized that I have been experiencing Harpers Ferry and writing about it for some time.  Some history in this regard was needed before proceeding.  The earlier blogs on the topic of Harpers Ferry, and the background material needed for them, flowed quite naturally from this realization.

If you are a regular reader of my blog,  you know by now that Harpers Ferry has been a part of my weekend runs for several years on the C&O Canal, although more frequently in the past than in current times.   But one does also occasionally wander into the town itself from across the river, either when one decides to cross over the river to the tip of Harpers Ferry, to the confluence of the Potomac and the Shenandoah, or when one goes into town for tourism purposes when we have visitors from other parts of the world.

Thus is was that we found ourselves recently visiting the place twice this year, in quick succession, accompanying visitors. You would think that such visits into town would tend to become monotonous, but the amazing thing is that I am finding new things about this place called Harpers Ferry.  I am actually beginning to get a better sense for what life must have been for people living here in times past, starting from when Robert Harper moved to the area in the 1760s.  I am now also more fascinated by the history of the town in the simplest sense of the word, i.e., in terms of how people lived there rather than in the sense of its place in history, about how the town grew and even prospered before the inevitable impact of the passage of time, and even about simple things like how the layout of the town changed over the years (there were actually even a few canals that flowed through town at one time or the other).  Perhaps a day can come when I can even get a sense for how people generally felt about their lives in Harpers Ferry.

So what is it that has roused my enthusiasm about the place you ask!  As background for getting a better insight into my frame of mind and my thinking about this subject, I will note that one of the first things worth knowing about current Harpers Ferry is that the National Park Service (NPS) has done a bang-up job bringing the town back to life, both physically and virtually, after its having been destroyed over and over again by floods, something that almost led to abandonment.  Today, people only live in the upper parts of town above the flood lines.  The lower part of the town is dedicated to the tourists.  Besides the mom-and-pop shops and restaurants, there are still many previously abandoned buildings of the old town that remain in this lower part of town.  In spite of having been to Harpers Ferry many times, this was the first time I discovered that many of these abandoned buildings have been converted to museums.   Each building addresses a different aspect of the town’s history and background.  This is a work in progress, but the NPS have already done an excellent job.  There is an attempt to cover all aspects of life in a little town over the entire period of its existence in a systematic way.  Of course, significant turning points in history, like John Brown’s insurrection, and the important battle that took place in and around the town during the civil war, are prominent subjects for presentation, but one also learns about the life of ordinary people, including the experience of blacks at that time in history,  or the commercial story of the town (as noted, it was once a prosperous town), the functioning of the armory that the town came to be identified with, and the impact of the railroad and the floods on the town over the years.  You can feel like you are living the experience.

With more and more trips to the town, I might actually begin to remember what I see and read in the museums and be able to relive those times in my mind rather than just remember the experience of being in the town!   This year was the first time we walked through the ruins of Virginius, a little island on the west side of town that at one time was Harpers Ferry’s center of commerce.  They made good use of the power of the waters of the Shenandoah to fuel the commerce and help the place flourish, by diverting some of the water into tunnels under town in order to use its power. But ultimately the river was not controllable!

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Site of water inlet from the Shenandoah into Virginius
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Waterways below the ruins at Virginius

For the first time, we found the original site of John Brown’s fort, originally a guard and fire house.  The site is on top of an embankment that once used to carry a railroad line into town.  (The remains of the railroad track can still be seen under the sand in places.)  The embankment runs parallel to Potomac street.

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Marker at the original site of John Brown’s Fort

John Brown’s fort has itself been moved around quite a bit over time, even to places outside of Harpers Ferry. It has come to rest in its current location near the confluence of the rivers most recently.

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John Brown’s Fort

And then we discovered the site of the original buildings of The Armory behind the embankment I mentioned earlier.  None of the armory buildings still  remain, having been razed to the ground to support a railroad yard more recently in time.  But you can walk in the area and get a sense for the place.    There are markers that tell you a little more about the place itself.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Picture of buildings on Potomac Street taken from across the armory site and beside the Potomac river

It turns out that after all these years I am still learning new things about Harpers Ferry.  I even have a better appreciation for how the place must have looked in different times.   I will be back, and hopefully I will continue to have my curiosity piqued, and I will actually remember some of things I read, and I will also continue to learn.  Maybe Harpers Ferry will remain with me forever!

Harpers Ferry Over The Years

My regular exposure to Harpers Ferry over the years has primarily been because of my weekend runs along the C&O Canal towpath.  It has been mainly about the connection between the town, the Potomac river, and the railroad line that crosses the river and passes through the town. I run past the town on the other side of the river, under the railroad tracks that cross over the Potomac into Harpers Ferry in West Virginia after emerging from the Harpers Ferry tunnel on the Maryland side of the river.  Often I even experience the rush of the trains while running in this area – trains that are crossing the river with their horns blaring, or those on the tracks on my side of the river south of Harpers Ferry, and those on the tracks on the far shore of the Potomac north of Harpers Ferry.

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Winter view of Harpers Ferry from the C&O canal (January 2008)
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Sunrise behind the hills at the bridges of Harpers Ferry (October 2007)
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Early morning freight traffic moves through Harpers Ferry (January 2008)
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Blasting out of the tunnel on to the bridge across the Potomac (January 2009)
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Racing across the river on a winter morning (December 2013)
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Train crossing over the Potomac (July 2015)

There are the pictures taken from the tip of Harpers Ferry where the Potomac and the Shenandoah meet.

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Maryland Heights in the background as a freight train crosses the Potomac (July 2015)
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Maryland Heights, the railroad bridges, and Route 340 road bridge over the Potomac (May 2012)

Then there are the pictures taken from across the Potomac river, from Maryland Heights.

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The town of Harpers Ferry nestled between the two rivers (September 2008)
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Harpers Ferry from Maryland Heights (April 2010)
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The Amtrak Capitol Limited stopped at Harpers Ferry (April 2010)

When we have guests visiting, a view of the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac is a must.April 2005OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is picture of the river flowing in the direction of Washington, DC, taken from high up on a hill in the Harpers Ferry cemetery .April 2005 2This picture was taken in 2005.

It has been a while since I ran on the C&O canal across from Harpers Ferry, and this is primarily because the weekend exercise routine has changed in recent times.  But I do miss the experience, and the connection still remains.  I still hold a hope that I will be able to return to the activities of my past years.