Getting Up Close In Spring

We started our walk last weekend from the parking lot at Riley’s Lock. Instead of walking beside the river and canal on the towpath, we decided to head out on the Seneca Creek Greenway trail this time. This trail parallels Seneca Creek, and ends at the towpath next to the Potomac river – beside the pond just beyond the aqueduct (just north of Rileys Lock).

It felt nice to be in a somewhat different space from the wide and well paved towpath that we usually walk on. The trail was narrow, wending its way through the woods, now green with the coming of Spring.The sunshine felt good on the shoulders. There were also very few people on the trail.

There was the occasional creek to be crossed,and a few rolling hillsides of Montgomery County to be traversed. This particular hill provided us with a good view of Seneca Creek flowing below us.

The flowers of Spring, some that I have yet to identify, were in abundance around us. The white flowers on the dogwood trees were notable. Butterflies were also beginning to make their appearance.

Our progress on the trail was finally halted in the neighborhood of Berryville Road by the presence of a stream that needed to be crossed. We could not figure out how to get across without getting our feet wet.I had, unwisely it turned out, decided that we did not need trekking poles for this walk. (I was so unprepared that I was actually also wearing my trail running shoes instead of hiking boots for this walk.)

I had the opportunity to take a couple of closeup pictures during the tail end of our walk. The first time was on Tschiffely Road, the section of the Greenway trail that runs between the Potomac river and River Road. This turtle was sitting in the middle of the gravel road.Fortunately for the turtle, there is usually no traffic on this particular road. It terminates at a dead end close to the ruins of an old mill next to the pond I mentioned earlier in this blog.

I was able to bring my camera quite close to the turtle in order to take its picture. It did not flinch. It did not blink, neither did it withdraw into its shell.

The other close encounter we had was with a frog (I think it is a frog and not a toad!) that had parked itself in the middle of the trail on a stretch of the towpath just north of Rileys Lock.Once again, the frog did not seem to mind the camera being this close to it!

We had found the frog enjoying the sunshine at a location that was particularly dangerous for it. The trail was quite busy on a Sunday morning, and there was no shortage of bikers who were speeding along, many of them lost in their own mental space. They could easily run over the frog without even realizing it. I tried to encourage the frog to the side of the trail but it refused to move. It merely raised itself on its haunches as if it were deciding whether it really should jump forward, but it never followed through. We continued our walk thinking that there was a chance we could find the frog completely squashed on the trail during our return. We were happy to see it alive and well, sitting at the edge of the trail. We pointed out the frog to a little child passing by with his parents. He was sitting in a stroller. The child promptly fell out of his stroller when leaning over to look at the frog, then started crying, and eventually lost interest completely. At least we tried….

People Get Ready

It snowed on Saturday, March 12th, 2022. It is rare that we have snow storms this late in the season, but it does happen once in a while.

It was cold enough that day the snow stuck to the ground. Prudence led me to set out on a simple walk along the canal the next day, on Sunday, rather than a real hike that would involve the conquest of mountain peaks (hahaha!). I am glad that I did this.

I did not realize how much I missed this place – the towpath. I walked from Rileys Lock to Pennyfield Lock and back. The temperature was about 20°F when I started. Fortunately, there was no wind. There was not a cloud in the blue sky. And the blue waters of Potomac matched the sky in its brilliance.

What I had really missed while I had been away from this trail for quite a while were the little birds that you always find hanging around. They create their own unique sense of atmosphere. Their background noise accompanies you in your time of solitude. Perhaps it helps soothe the soul. It is not as if these birds are even all spectacular looking to the eye. The simple sparrow is my companion on the trail. There they are, all of these different kinds of birds, just going about their business of living, hopping from one branch to another, singing, hanging around on the trail, hanging out with the squirrels, swimming in the water…. There is pleasure to be found in just observing ordinary life on the trail!

And then there was the fox that was running away from the trail in the snow near Pennyfield Lock when I first saw it. It stopped to look at me – to make sure I was not going to pose a danger to it. One look at my camera as it came up to my face and it bounded away even though I was too far away from it to do any kind of damage.

I had concluded in the past that pictures taken of snow are usually not very effective. It can be difficult to capture the proper spirit of winter when you are just seeing white everywhere in the picture. But, it has also been a long time since I visited the canal after a snowfall. The novelty of the experience must be acknowledged. I got a few pictures that I liked that morning.

The bridge over Seneca Creek at Riley’s Lock has been reopened. There is a brand new metal span over the water. I was able to cross over to the northern side of the trail and explore the area near the pond and the Seneca Quarry and Mill.

The cold did not really bother me, but I did notice when I returned to the car after the walk that the skin on different parts of my face had turned red from the exposure. It had warmed up to about 30°F by then.

One of the songs that went through my head during the walk was this one.

Eva Cassidy was a great singer who died young and never achieved the recognition that she deserved. An earlier version of this song sung by Curtis Mayfield was another classic.

The Doldrums of January

A winter storm came through on Sunday. I was determined to get back to the towpath before the storm hit. Too many weekends had passed without my having had the experience. I would go in spite of the very cold morning that was predicted. And I was prepared to go by myself if that was the only way to make it happen.

It was about 15°F (-9.44°C) when I arrived at Rileys Lock very early in the morning.

Because of the cold, I took the concept of layering of clothes to an extreme for this outing. Four layers of clothing protected the chest and the family jewels. Two layers of socks and gloves, and a skullcap and a hoodie protected the extremities.

The first thing I noticed was the new bridge over Seneca Creek at Rileys Lock. A closer look revealed that the bridge was still under construction and was closed off.

I had no option but to head south towards Pennyfield Lock.

It was a dull and grey morning. The sun struggled from behind a thick layer of clouds that portended the coming of the storm later in the day.The water in the canal was freezing in sections because of the cold.The river still flowed freely on the other side of the trail.

The conditions were such that even the little birds flying around the trail did little to raise my level of enthusiasm. Only the colorful cardinals, now clearly visible against the brown of the deleaved plants and trees, managed to draw my attention for an extended period of time. I was not motivated to take pictures, let alone take off my thick outer later of gloves to fiddle with the camera to try to optimize any picture being taken.

Regardless of all my caution, my fingers and toes began to freeze up.

I kept walking along trying to quieten my mind. I only saw one person on the trail during the early part of the walk. His jacket was a shade of blue that caught your attention from far away, especially in the dull brown background. He turned around as I was approaching him and went back the way he had come. I was very surprised to encounter a bicyclist. He came up from behind very quietly when I thought was the only one on the trail. I might have been singing before he warned me of his presence and passed me by.

I was able to eventually internalize and mentally adapt to the cold. I reached Pennyfield Lock and kept walking past the landmark. The place could have served as a milestone to use to turn back to return to my car. My thought when I had left home that morning was that I would see how it felt walking in the cold, and turn back the moment I felt that I was on a fool’s errand and was putting myself in some danger. At that point many of my fingers were still partially numb. Some had reached an intermediate state of pain which I think had to do with the pressure on the blood vessels as they attempted to open up in my fingers. It was actually usually a good sign. I could manage, even if my extremities were not in a completely good state. I had experience with the situation and knew how bad it would get. It also helped that there was no breeze at that point. I still could feel my nose.

It was a little bit after I passed Pennyfield lock that I decided that I would try to cover about 8 miles. It felt doable. I was comfortable.

I turned back at the point where the trail ran next to the cliffs before Swains Lock. I began to encounter more people on the way back to Rileys Lock. As I was not getting good opportunities for taking pictures, the camera went back into the backpack. I decided to start jogging. It was simply something that I felt like doing at that moment. There was no planning involved.

It was a different experience once I started jogging. First of all, the movement and the rhythm of the breathing came easy even though I had not run on the trail for probably a few years. I could keep going, and the going was easy. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I had done some jogging on the treadmill earlier in the week.

And then something magical began to happen. The blood began to flow through to my extremities more freely. I could feel it. The frozen feeling began to vanish slowly, although painfully. Before long, my fingers and toes were feeling fine and I had found a rhythm on the trail. It was a rhythm that I thought I could manage forever. The miles were passing by effortlessly.

It was about 19°F by the time I got back to the car. I was not feeling the cold in the least bit!

It started snowing in the afternoon.

https://www.gocomics.com/barneyandclyde/2022/01/16

Sweating The Computer Stuff

I have not been in the state of mind to write a blog for a little while now. You can blame technology for this. I finally got a new computer. I ended up spending a lot of time getting the new machine up and running. I found myself in a frame of mind not conducive to writing anything.

My old laptop computer has had a few issues with it for a long time, but I tried to manage without a replacement for as long as I could. One of the buttons on the touchpad has been sticky for a while, which sometimes led to unexpected responses when it was pressed. The plastic casing of the computer had cracked and separated an even longer while back – at the location on the side where the power cord got plugged in, to the extent that the connector for the power cord inside the computer was not firmly connected to anything within the computer itself. When the lid of the computer was lifted to the certain level, the broken plastic on the bottom of the computer would separate, and the connector would become free to move. The only way to ensure that the connector was stable was to push the top and the bottom elements of the casing together and to try to keep them together using some force. The engineer in me had to try to come up with a solution to the problem. Super-strong adhesives would not work since the force pulling the broken pieces apart was too much. I was using a sticky tape instead as a temporary solution, and had been trying to limit the actions of opening and closing of the lid of the computer. That careful approach had its limits, and mitigated the issue for only so long. It was time for a new computer!

I got a new laptop computer with much more memory than I had before, with the hope that it would make it easier for me to support multitasking, and also speed up running of my photo editing app, a piece of software that is a complete memory hog. I also upgraded to a Solid State Drive (SSD) instead of the traditional Hard Disk Drive (HDD) in order to eliminate a moving part in the computer.

Laptop technology has advanced significantly since my last upgrade about 6 to 7 years ago. The newer units are far more compact (smaller in overall size for the same screen size), significantly thinner, and much lighter. This is in spite of the fact that the new machines are much more capable than the older ones. The core chipset technology has advanced significantly.

The effort involved in bringing up the new machine to a configuration of familiarity to me, so that I could do all the stuff that I used to do on the old machine, was what disrupted my past week completely. This process should not have taken a lot of time. But one of the key apps on the old machine that I use for image processing would not install on the new one. I spent a few days trying to get past this issue, even spending a significant amount of time with representatives of the company that made the app – on the phone and on my computer – trying to figure out what was going on. I even gave the company reps temporary access to my computer for hours on end. (I was very nervous for the duration of the remote sessions when they were running.) In the end, they were unsuccessful in figuring out what was going on. And, in the end, they also dropped the ball on solving the problem. They had promised a call back from their experts within 24 hours. A few days have passed since then…. But, fortunately, I had also been trying to troubleshoot the problem on my own, and finally found out the source of the issues I was having. It was due to the existence of a use case that they were not likely to see too often – one that they were not familiar with. But shame of them for not following up! If they had stayed on the case, the information that I have found could have been helpful to them in the future. Too bad that they gave up!

Changing gear……
Changing topics…..

We went out to pick fruits at a farm last weekend. It was my first such experience. It was a fun couple of hours. The fruits available on this farm for picking at this time of year were nectarines, peaches, and blackberries. It turned out to be a very pleasant day to be outside. It was good exercise to walk across the fields to the locations of the best pickings. I was quite surprised by how engaging the process of trying to find good fruit to pick actually turned out to be. One becomes adept at making out the level of ripeness of the hanging fruit. And, of course, you are sampling some of the fruit you have just picked as you go along. There we a lot of families out there having fun. In the end we ended up picking more fruit than we really needed.

The farm had other activities to keep the families engaged, including places to pet the animals, and a flower garden where people could cut flowers for themselves.

It was a good day!

We were also able to go to the canal for our Sunday walk last weekend. It was good to be out again after a short break. We went to a familiar section of the trail – between Sycamore Landing and Rileys Lock. The parking lot was unusually full because of the people who had come to see the garden of sunflowers next to the lot.There are very few flowers along the trail itself at this point in the season in this section of the towpath. There were the dying Wild Sweet William that I had seen in full bloom while biking a couple of weeks back. The underbrush is also very thick at this time, with the various tall grasses and shrubs pushing up against you from the sides in the sections of the trail that have not been cleared out yet. It is green everywhere.I did see some leftover Bee Balm, Coneflower and Touch-Me-Nots. There seemed to be fewer than usual birds around. We noticed the occasional cardinal. The woodpeckers were scarce.

There was the one Zebra Swallowtail that we saw feeding. It did not seem to notice us.

Fortunately, there were very few gnats, probably because it was a unusually cool and cloudy morning.

It is possible that the reader will get the impression that the experience of the towpath must have been diminished because of what I have written above. Banish the thought! That certainly was not the case. There is nothing like being out in the quiet of the woods to rebuild one’s spirits – in order to carry you through the rest of the week. Thus it was last weekend!

Riding For The First Time This Year

I rode my bicycle last week – for the first time this year. It has been a late start. I was going to start writing about the reason why this has happened, but then realized that I had a late start, for almost the same reasons, last year also. So my mindset in this regard, and the preparation for this first ride, mirror what happened last year. I wrote about it in the first section of this blog.

Truth of the matter is that I had gotten my bike cleaned up for a ride a couple of weeks earlier, but had never gotten around to actually taking the bike to the trail. This year, I am finding that the heat outside is discouraging me more than I expected from my efforts to exercise. I have become better at making excuses. Years are catching up.

There were three distinct stages to the ride last week.

The first stage was getting used to the feeling of being in the saddle once again after a very long time. When I am on a bike, the distances and the scenery pass by more quickly and smoothly than I am used to when on foot. I cannot pay as much attention as I usually do to things beside the trail. Nevertheless, it was difficult to miss the large number of birds at the pond at Riley’s lock. I had to stop to take pictures. There were an unusual number of egrets at this location.

There were also a few Great Blue Herons to be seen all along the trail. We have not seen them for quite a while, and their sight, for some reason, brings a feeling of comfort.

The second part of the ride was when I was transported into a world of happy fantasy, where my mind wandered away into some other space. The act of biking itself became completely instinctive. I even recited a nursery rhyme loudly when I went past a section with a lot of blackbirds. My song for the morning included the words – “I want to fly like an eagle, let my spirit carry me“! And then, there I was, chasing the butterfly, and the bird, and the rabbit, as they showed me the way ahead, each for a short distance – as they fluttered all over the place in the air in front of the moving bike, or skipped along in the grass beside the trail, or hopped for a while on the trail, all while staying in front of me. This was my Alice in Wonderland moment, and there were no magic mushrooms involved.

The last stage of the ride was the slog. This happened primarily because I am not fully in shape. (Thankfully, I had decided to do a shorter ride than I normally would have pushed myself to do.) If I had been in shape, I would have been in the zone by this point. This stage of the ride is usually notable because one can end up speeding without even realizing what is going on. But I had to slow down. I was feeling the effort. There were also a few distractions along the way, including having to deal with the hordes of people who had descended on the trail by this time.

I hope I can keep myself motivated to do more rides this year. The bicycle rack remains mounted on the car.

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 Old Stones

The thermometer in the car indicated that it was 37° F outside. We had just arrived at the park,at Rileys Lock, and were stepping out of the car for our first Sunday walk along the towpath after returning from Massachusetts. This was the first time we were going to be experiencing these kinds of temperatures along the canal this season. Although we are likely to face colder mornings going forward, I was expecting that this one was going to be a particular mental challenge for me.

This was also the first outing after the return from Massachusetts a week ago. It was an attempt to try to return to some kind of an exercise routine once again after another long break.

I was bundled up more cautiously that usual – with several layers of clothing, two layers of gloves, and extra warm pair of thick fleece socks (donated by Philip). The cold hit me initially when we stepped out of the car, but I got past the “shock” of it very quickly. It did not feel too bad since there was little wind. The only extremity that took extra time to warm up was one of my fingers. Raynaud syndrome made its presence felt selectively!The morning sun was struggling to escape from behind the early morning clouds during the initial part of the walk, creating scenes like this.

One moment it would look like this,and the next moment our surroundings would be lit up brightly.

The brand new surface of the trail was a welcome change from the potholed, and often muddy, dirt track that used to cover this section of the towpath for all of the years that I have been visiting. (I had even complained directly to the NPS a few years ago and received no response!) The towpath is being upgraded in sections. We reached a point during our walk where the new trail came to an end. We saw some work vehicles beside the trail, and saw signs that the trail work was continuing further north in the direction of Edwards Ferry. The trail north of Edwards Ferry has already been repaved.

By the time we finished our walk it was only 39° F, but we felt warm and very, very, comfortable. There were others out in the park who did not seem to have any issue with the cold weather.

I might have even attempted to run in this kind of weather in the kind of attire the person in the picture below was wearing when I was younger!

The title of the blog refers to the stones in the picture below.For some reason, they caught my attention as we were walking by. These stones are part of the canal wall that used to exist just beyond the pond near Seneca Creek. There was more water in this section of the canal than usual that day, probably due to recent rains.

My thoughts drifted towards what these stones represented – the work of human beings from more than a century and a half before. The rocks probably came from the nearby quarry, and were most likely cut at the nearby Seneca Stone Mill. Rocks from this quarry were used in many places, including for locks and lock houses along the canal, and in the construction of buildings in Washington, DC, including the Smithsonian Castle.

The human beings who lived in these parts, the ones who dug up the stones and shaped them, and who built all of these things, including the canal wall we were looking at, had their own lives and stories even if they might not have been famous and well-known. They were probably categorized as “simple” people. They probably had their own daily routines, their struggles, their successes, their good and bad times, and their happy and sad days. They lived and died quietly, and they were hopefully content with their life experiences. They were probably remembered only by their immediate families, and even that, for perhaps only a generation or two. They were people like us.

My Continuing Search for Autumn Colors

The weather turned wet on Sunday after an extended period of sunshine, a period of time that had left me wondering whether the solar panel system on our roof would end up generating a record amount of energy for the month. I now do not think this will happen. There is a concept called the law of averages that will probably even things out over the the month. (Note that the law of averages more of a common sense statement rather than a mathematical statement of probability. But that is a discussion of another day!)

Anyway, it was a sunny morning last Thursday when I did a bike ride, heading towards Washington, DC. The experience of this bike ride left me with the feeling that I could be reaching the tail-end of the riding season – or that my strategy of starting a bike ride early in the morning – in order to ensure that I was back home at a reasonable time – was not going to work for the rest of the year. It was much too cold! It was cold enough that I went off-trail to visit the fully-equipped restroom at Great Falls after about eight miles of riding – to turn on the dryer in the facility in order to warm my hands and get sensation back to my fingers. It being early in the morning, I was riding in the shadows of the woods, and I could not even depend on the touch of the sun to warm me up.

I was still feeling the cold when I got to the end point of the ride, a spot beside the trail between the mile 7 and 8 markers of the towpath, just beyond the footbridge across the canal.In order to keep myself warm (while I refreshed myself with a Clif bar and some water), I parked the bike next to a bench that happened to be in the sun.

It had warmed up nicely by the time I started making my way back to Rileys Lock, to the extent that I encountered many more riders headed the other way during this stretch of pedaling.

As you can see from the pictures above, and also from the pictures below that I took at the start of the ride at Rileys Lock, the leaves on the trees were still generally green that day,but there were also signs that they had begun to drop!

I did not feel too tired at the end of this ride. I am sure the outside temperature had something to do with it.

We went for a walk on the towpath last Sunday starting at Pennyfield Lock and heading north towards Rileys Lock. Because of the threat of rain later in the day hanging over us, we decided to get a very early start. We did not even have breakfast before heading out!

You observe more things around you when walking than when biking. There were the early signs of the coming change to the foliage, and there was at least one point at which we also got a glimpse of how extraordinary the Autumn view can become as the season progresses towards its peak.

In any case, a walk along the canal is beautiful and therapeutic in so many different ways.

Unfortunately, we were also reminded of how busy, and sometimes unpleasant, this section of the trail can get during the weekends, with hordes of inexperienced bikers and walkers taking over the towpath. We had to be on our toes and aware of traffic in both directions while walking. We encountered large groups of people who were unfamiliar with the protocols and courtesies of the trail, people who created a danger to themselves and others. What to do? I made the mistake of trying to let people know in one instance even though I am not good in situations like this.

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.