Beyond Our Species

Even though I know that all of this will go away eventually, with or without my presence, I get more and more discouraged with time as the scourge of the coronavirus continues to keep us in its stranglehold.

Even as we see acts of humanity and kindness, of cooperation, of people coming together, of heroism, in our midst, I find that, as a race, we are extremely discordant in our collective approach to tackling the global issue of the pandemic that has been unleashed on us.  Generally speaking, we are on our own.  Led by the example by the world’s wealthiest nation, we are not interested in a common strategy to minimize the impact of this contagion.  The impact on less well-off people and nations with less resources is not for us to worry about.  And some leaders – some political strongmen – are even taking advantage of the situation carry out other destructive agendas of their own, in other ways, while all of this is going on. Many of our leaders have blood on their hands for sure.

But, as is very obvious to me, life is still also going on outside of our selfishness and incompetence.  I only have to look around my neighborhood.  Spring is here!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe deer seem to enjoy the spring growth that falls to the ground from the maple trees.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe cherry blossom tree in our backyard has blossomed.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe encountered this little snake while walking in the neighborhood.  It appeared to be basking on the pavement. I think that it is a juvenile that has not yet gotten its markings.  (You can see the beginnings of some markings on the face.)   The snake did not seem to know enough to get out of the way of the walkers on the pavement.  I had to gently encourage it to get off the pathway.   Whether one has really helped, one never knows.IMG_20200402_165010731And then, the Sunday walk in the park only served to further confirm to me our own insignificance in the scheme of things.  Life and death can go on in its own way without our interference, and this is very obvious in Spring.  There is no need for human intelligence to get in the way.

You can make out the green beginning to reappear on the trees on the towpath.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Common Starling in the picture below was dancing in front of a hole in the trunk of a tree in a very odd way.    It could have been the location of a nest.   This is the time for many birds to mate.  We saw two bald eagles flying around on the Virginia side of the Potomac.  There could have been a nest in this area.  Then, there was the Canada Goose that had parked itself on the trail.  I was worried that there was a nest close by that the bird was protecting.  Fortunately, the bird was not aggressive, and simply went into canal as we approached.  I had a stick in my hand – just in case!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe early morning reflections in the ever-so-still waters of the canal were uplifting.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOther curious and noisy birds were everywhere.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Virginia Bluebells were in full bloom.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is one of the many different kinds of woodpeckers in the park.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI did not expect to see as many turtles are we did.  This section of the canal contains water that is somewhat warm because of the runoff from the Dickerson Power Plant that is next to it.  That might have been the reason.

These turtles seemed to be lining up to climb to the top of the branch that had fallen in the canal. To the eyes of this human, it looked like they were trying to conquer a peak.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis turtle simply watched me as I took its picture.  Many others slid into the waters at our approach.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe even saw butterflies, including this swallowtail. It is a little early in the season for them.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Spring Beauty flowers had actually opened out to face the sun.  Last week they were all folded up because of the cloudy weather.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALife goes on!

Getting back to the ways of the rest of us residents of this planet, a wise man who shall remain anonymous came up with the following prayer:

Dear God,
Trump and corona at the same time on Earth???
Why???
Let me know if you need advice on timing your challenges for us in the future….
Just saying…..
Peace be with you,
Amen

I think we all have to find our own way to keep the faith.  Humor helps!

Busting Out

It was only a temporary relief from the worries of our lives, but it was well worth it.  It was a reminder that there is a whole different world that exists out there beyond human beings and their existential concerns.  It was a stark reminder that the world, and life, will go on even without us.  (Thankfully, this time, there seems to be no obvious damage to the other things in nature because of what is happening to us.  We are the only ones getting hurt.  Hopefully it remains that way.)

For the first time in months,  we were able to return to the C&O Canal towpath for our weekend walk.  Hopefully we can get back to our old routine from now on.  I had not realized how much I missed the place – the undisturbed surroundings, now beginning to turn green with the coming of Spring; the non-stop chatter and music of the birds; the flowers of Spring; the peace; nature itself.

Your earthly cares fade away when you are out there.  In spite of the cloudy and somewhat dreary conditions, it was a morning for rejuvenation.

This is the entrance to the trail at Sycamore Landing.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was fortunate to see a bald eagle.  Two of these birds flew across the road that led to the boat landing as I was walking down to the river at Edwards Ferry.  This particular one landed on one of the trees close by.  I managed to approach it quietly through the woods.  It was difficult to find a good place to take its picture because of the branches of the trees in-between.  The eagle kept its sight on me, and at some point decided that it had had enough of my nosiness.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail was wide enough for people to cross each other safely.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese racemes are a sign every year of the coming of Spring to the towpath.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI kept looking around the trail, and into the woods, for interesting things big and small.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe wet leaves.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Dutchman’s Breeches.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe woodpecker.  We saw different kinds of woodpeckers, and so many of them!  They stand out because of their colors.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Mayapple plants.  The flowers actually appear under the leaves later in Spring.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese are purple dead-nettles, an invasive plant.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fields of Gold (9/11/2005)

I wrote this email in 2005. I had just started visiting the C&O canal towpath the previous year,  and was still in the process of regularizing my weekend exercise routine beside the Potomac river.  Some of the places that I visited along the canal were not as familiar to me then as they are now.

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I was up early this morning and headed for Point of Rocks for my morning run. These morning runs have become less frequent with the efforts to get the rest of the family involved in the C&O canal activities. Last weekend Teresa and I biked 16 miles on the trail. (That is certainly an great achievement for a first-timer!) I have biked with Angela on other occasions, and, a couple of times, also run on the trail while the others have biked along. However, as I realized this morning, while getting the family involved is a good thing, you still need your own time to rejuvenate and recuperate. There is nothing like the silence of the woods in the cool of the early morning to sooth your soul and bring your internal temperature back to normal. Come what may, I need to find a way to continue my travels and meditations.

As I was driving towards Point of Rocks this morning, I was struck by the sight of the fields of gold. Yes, the leaves in some of the fields are beginning to turn golden yellow. These fields alternated with the neighboring cornfields where the stocks of corn stood tall, some of them turning brown due to the coming of Fall. It was a sight to see, and I stopped by the roadside to take pictures. It immediately brightened my mood. Lona Alias, my favorite Sunday morning DJ on the radio, provided some reminders of events in the real world, including the anniversary of 9/11, and happenings down in New Orleans. She played some nice songs. If you have not done so already, you should find a way to listen to the song “Louisiana 1927” by Randy Newman. Although it is going to take up some space, I am going to include the words for the entire song here. Hope you don’t mind.

“What has happened down here is the winds have changed
Clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain
Rained real hard and it rained for a real long time
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

The river rose all day
The river rose all night
Some people got lost in the flood
Some people got away alright
The river have busted through clear down to Plaquemines
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangelne

Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tyrin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away

President Coolidge came down in a railroad train
With a little fat man with a note-pad in his hand
The President say, “Little fat man isn’t it a shame what the river has done
To this poor crackers land.”

Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away”

Apparently, the 1927 flooding of Louisiana resulted in widespread death and destruction, and very poor response from the authorities. History is repeating itself. Enough said.

I ran from Point of Rocks to the Monocacy Aqueduct and back today. The morning was cool, portending the coming of Fall. All the people I encountered on the trail were cheery and greeted me with smiles. The kids were packing materials from the campsites that they were vacating after overnight stays, and carrying the stuff to their cars. Other kids rode their bikes in disorderly columns, with adults trying to provide supervision and prevent them from running people over. As I jogged by, one gentleman even wished me well on my efforts to complete the 12 miles. I did not even feel too tired after the run and my muscles did not give out on me during the run. I still feel great!

One incident to note. After I finished the run, I walked up to the railroad tracks to take some pictures. I walked along the tracks with my camera, trying to find spots with some interesting shots. When I returned, I observed a vehicle belonging to the Park Police in the parking lot facing my car. I walked by the officer trying to act nonchalant, wondering if I was in some kind of trouble, especially since I had been trespassing on the railroad tracks a couple of minutes back. (Think Al Qaeda!) “Good morning” I said to the policemen. “How is it going?” he responded cheerily. As I opened the driver’s door and got into the car, he got out of his vehicle and started walking towards me, at least that was what I thought. As he got closer, he angled away towards the car besides mine. It was an old beaten-up wreck, parked further away into the woods. He inspected the car carefully and started talking into his radio. He then turned and walked back to his vehicle, taking a glance a me as I sat in the front seat of my car eating a donut as he went by. He then drove away. I wonder if he also checked out my license number in my absence, and if I am now on some kind of a watch list. Of course I am paranoid! Anyway, that was my adventure for day.

Enough for now.
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The above letter was written shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.   This hurricane devastated the city.  It never fully recovered to its old self.

You can listen to the song I talk about here.

Here are some pictures taken that day.100_0936100_0937100_0947100_0950100_0956The parking area at Point of Rocks has changed significantly since 2005, the time I first started visiting.  It used to be real rough.  There were just a few spots off a dirt road, and you parked in whatever random space you found.  You could also drive beyond the lot to a space under the bridge carrying US Highway 15 across the Potomac. You could find dicier parking (if the water in the river was not too high) there.  All of this has now been replaced by a real parking lot, and a very big one at that! Also, you can no longer drive beyond this lot to the space under the bridge.  The space on the other side of the canal, between the railroad tracks and the main road (MD Route 28),  has also now been converted into a well-maintained park.  And a lot more people visit these days.

A Water Bottle on the Trail

Lo and behold, there stands the water bottle on the trail,
Looking completely out of place, and close enough to see detail,
It was left there on purpose, of that I do assure,
The reason why shall remain a mystery one has to endure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(With apologies to the purists of poetry.)

The picture was taken during one of our Sunday walks.  The trail has been completely redone in this particular section of the C&O Canal towpath.  The park service is working piece-by-piece on the entire 184.5 miles of trail that exists.  I suspect it will be a few years before it is all done.

Ishmael, and the March of Civilization (2/17/2013)

Have any of you read the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn?  Christina had come upon the book in Guinee, and had suggested that we also read it so that we could talk about it.  It is a fascinating book, with a neat premise, but it does take some discipline to get through.  Anyway, why did I bring this up?  It was because my mind wandered into the realm of the absurdness of what our civilization is all about while I was on the trail this morning.  I am not going to get into the book any more, except to say that it explores the concept of takers and leavers. If you have not read the book and the subject intrigues you, please do give it a read and give me your impression..OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut why have I opened up this subject?  Fortunately or unfortunately, this is the sort of thing that happens to me on the trail.  After my body adjusted itself to the the freezing cold of the morning, the mind essentially wandered into this topic.  The initial phase of mental activity is usually a cleansing of all the bad things that happened during the week, during which I allow myself to literally scream at the emptiness around me, where nobody can hear me.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGetting past this phase can take varying amounts of time depending on what actually happened during the week, and then this is replaced by an emptiness of the mind that allows it to wander wherever else it chooses to do so.  So here I am, a mad mind let loose.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnto the subject of this random monologue…    To start with, I think there is no counter-argument to the fact that over the centuries human beings have made significant advancements in many different areas and facets of life.   We have a gained immense knowledge about things around us and even within us.  We are capable of exploration everywhere, from the smallest scale of things, right down to subatomic particles, all the way to the largeness of the universe and the cosmos around us, with limitations placed only by the current technology and the costs of indulging in such explorations.  As humans, we are also capable today doing a lot of things, some of which would have been considered unthinkable even a few years ago.  We tend to take a lot of this for granted today.  For example, flying through the air at great speeds in extremely complicated machines would have been unimaginable even a century ago.  We have instant communications today literally in the palm of our hands, by transmitting invisible waveforms through the air and by even connecting everybody and everything through the Internet.  We explore space using powerful machines and clever technologies that allows devices to operate by themselves on far away planets. Interventions to extend human life that include fixing of all kinds of internal plumbing and even mechanical replacements are commonplace today. Improvements to our capabilities to provide food and nourish human growth have resulted in major extensions to human life.  It is all like magic!

So what happens as a result of all this wonderful capability.  While there is much more to learn and become more aware of of the world around us today, more of the people who have access to all kinds of resources have stopped thinking.  You have the mindlessness of the societies that are supposedly doing well, that are completely self-absorbed, that are immersed in entertainment based pastimes using the new “toys” that the technical advancements have brought, and I will say that people have become dumber and less capable of learning and understanding things, and thinking and surviving.  I was reading the news about the “suffering” of the folks who were on a cruise last week when the they lost power on the ship and the engines gave up, and they had to survive for a few days in this condition before they reached shore.  Oh, the horror!  And I was thinking about the living conditions in a country like Guinee and how those folks (including the Peace Corp Volunteers) would probably look at the complaints of the the well-to-do Americans and laugh.  Who is the better off, who is the happier, who is the person closer to reality?

We have made so many medical and nutritional advancements on earth that life expectancy has increased over time.  But are we going overboard by keeping people alive regardless of circumstances just because the technology allows us to do so?  At what cost do we do this?  Are the people affected really happy about this?  Under what conditions do they live their extended lives?  Populations are also increasing and we are using more and more of the resources around us to keep this up.  We have introduced genetics into the process of food consumption so that we can be more efficient, and pretty soon we will be using this kind of capability in various other ways to extend our lives even further.  We will even mess with our DNA.  At the same time there is immense waste of food on a massive scale, and there is so much inequality that while we are growing stupid super-humans in one part of the world, people are still starving in other parts of it and living by the seat of their pants.  And we are slowly destroying the world we live in while we are about it. Are we even stopping to think about where we are heading?  We talk about progress, but there are consequences for the kind of progress that we are making that are too inconvenient and perhaps even difficult to grasp.

And then when we do not understand things, or we need some sort of justification for what we do, we can look to the supernatural to try and answer our questions and give things “purpose”.  Yes, there has to be a meaning to everything that exists, and everything has been put into place for a reason, and we are the  focus for everything that goes on in the cosmos. Is this not some form of arrogance?

This is all too absurd!

Who are we – takers and leavers?  My hats off to those of you who are actually trying to make a difference in other people’s lives in very direct ways.  To me that is what life should be all about.

And enough of this nonsense for the time being.  Sorry folks to subject you to my madness….OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

kuria

Agkistrodon Contortrix Mokasen

It happened last week as I was biking back from Bethesda on the Capital Crescent Trail.  I had just crossed the trestle bridge over the C&O canal as I descended towards the level of the towpath.

I passed something colorful on the trail.  It was long and had some patterns on it.  I was pretty sure it was a snake.  I got off the bike and pulled out my camera, making sure I had the zoom lens on it.  I confirmed that it was indeed a snake, and it was one that I was seeing for the first time.  That was exciting! The snake was a few feet long, and somewhat “fat” in the middle. It had colorful patterns across its back.  It looked like it had started crossing the trail, but now it lay still as I got closer, clicking away on the camera.  There was nobody else around as I took my pictures.  The reptile did not move.

I managed to get all the pictures I wanted. As I was getting ready to leave, a bicyclist approached, charging down the path towards the location of the snake.  I called out that there was a snake in front of him.  He ignored me completely.  He barely acknowledged me the second time I called out – as he sped past, not even bothering to look at what I was pointing to.  He was focused on a rider who was biking in the opposite direction since my bike was partially blocking the trail further downhill.  He did not really care about the snake.  I think he avoided it just because he was trying to avoid me. The biker going the other way also went by without spotting the snake.  Something that had grabbed my interest was of no significance to them.  We were traveling along the trail with completely different mindsets!

This is what I had spotted.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(The picture above has been cropped.  I did not dare get too close to the snake!)

Soon after all this activity, and perhaps because of it, the snake turned around retreated back to where it had come from.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince this was a snake I was unfamiliar with,  I was eager to upload the pictures to my computer when I got home to take a look at them on a bigger screen.  Some research followed on the Internet. It was leading me to a conclusion (somewhat exciting to me!) that I had seen a somewhat unique reptile.  But I needed confirmation for my finding.  That confirmation came in the form of an e-mail a few days later, including the following information.Identification of snake(The links in the image above are this and this.)

I had indeed had a close encounter with a Northern Copperhead snake, one of only two venomous snakes present in Maryland. (The other one is called a Timber Rattlesnake.)

As with a lot of people, for some reason or another, I do have an inbuilt fear of snakes.  I would like to believe that over the years this fear has become somewhat more rational.  The fear still does exist, but my reaction is not of instant panic.  I try to keep a healthy distance from a snake.  In this case, my caution was justified!

In any case, after events like the one above, one becomes more alert in the woods than usual.  It does not help when there are signs that say that venomous snakes have been seen recently, which was the case when we hiked Sugarloaf Mountain last weekend.  We did not see any snakes during that hike.

 

The Morning of the Black Rat Snakes

I have been seeing black rat snakes more regularly on the C&O canal towpath ever since I started bicycling there – which is only more recently.  I think I see more snakes when biking just because I cover a lot more distance on the trail than when on foot.  The black rat snake is actually a very common denizen of the woods in these parts.  They are easily recognizable from the color and the white patch underneath.  They can grow quite long.  They are supposed to be quite harmless but I have not tried to find out if this is true!  They get their name because they eat rats and other small creatures.

I had seen only one black rat snake on the trail this year until yesterday, which is somewhat unusual for a biking season.  But that changed yesterday.  There was something about the morning that seemed to bring them out into the open in larger numbers.

I am usually on the lookout for anything black that lies across the trail when I ride.  Many are the times that I have been fooled into thinking that a fallen branch from a tree lying across the trail looked like a snake!  And when you are on a bicycle, the distance between you and the “snake” tends to vanish very quickly. You do not want to ride over the snake.

But I did see a real snake a few miles into the ride yesterday.  At first I could not make out which direction is was headed in.  A closer look revealed that it was beginning to cross the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I think I disturbed it enough that it might have changed its mind about crossing the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI did not have time to take a picture the second time I ran across a snake.  There were two old ladies approaching from the other direction on their bikes, and the black snake was in the middle of the trail.  I stopped and noted that there was a snake in front of them.  They had not noticed it, and they did not understand me the first time I pointed out the snake.  Luckily, they grasped what I was saying in time to avoid riding over the reptile.  I think it was sufficiently disturbed by the traffic all around it.   “You scared the darned thing”, I said to the women as they rode off behind me.  Not very polite…  (In any case, I crossed paths with the women once again on my way back and we exchanged pleasantries.  No issues…)

As if these encounters were not enough, I saw yet another black rat snake by the side of the trail further along in the ride!  This time I stopped for pictures.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn all cases yesterday, the snakes actually stayed quite still while I approached them on the bike, and while I was scrambling around with my camera.  This was in contrast with what happened the one time I saw one of these snakes earlier this year, when it was making haste across the trail to slither away into the grass.

I did not not see any more snakes on the way back from Whites Ferry, which was my destination for the morning.

This is also the week that I am trying to jump start my running routine once again in order to get my regular exercise.  This is the first time after the Pittsburgh to Cumberland bike ride.  The once-a-week bike rides that I have been up to recently have not been doing too much for me.  I either need to bike more or add something different into the mix.

I am learning a few more things about the body in the quest to adapt my exercise routines.  The last time I shifted from biking to running (after my bike ride in 2016), I felt so much discomfort that I thought I was having an episode similar to the ones I had had in 2008 that led to the discovery of CAD.  This year, for the first time, I had a wristwatch that kept a track of the heartbeat while running.  It turned out that my heartbeat went up quite significantly the moment I started jogging, and it went up to a rate much higher than what it is when I am biking.  Pushing the muscles in any part of the body, even the heart, out of its usual comfort zone for the first time in a while is bound to create a reaction of some kind.  Best not to overdo it.  I expect that this discomfort will go away if I stick to the running routine.  In fact, I did not feel it once I had warmed up.  I also found myself quite rusty with regards to the running routine itself, tripping over the roots of trees that lie across the trail in the woods much more frequently than I am used to doing.  It is easy to lose touch with things.