One More Ride

Yesterday’s bike ride could end up being the last bike ride of the year. I am leaving on a long trip. Any long trip can be a bit of an adventure, and this one certainly falls into that category. You let go of the guardrails of your usual routines, you plan as much as you can, and then you take a chance and step out into the less known. Inshallah!

The trip that I am about to make has come together at the last minute, and thinking about its logistics has shifted my balance a little bit. There are particular challenges because of current circumstances.

I forced myself to go out for this ride. I needed to do something that was a part of my usual routine, a routine that had been disrupted even last week by the almost daily singing I had been doing at the fair. I needed to get the endorphins going. Biking has become that activity in the more recent past.

It was a warm and muggy morning when I headed out, but I got it done – covered the usual 30 miles on the towpath! Now, onward!

Here are pictures from the last couple of rides.

The inspiration for the title of this blog came from a song our chorus sings. Here is a version that I found online.

Stories From Lock 27

It was a hot day for a bike ride, and I had gotten a later start than usual due to a phone call earlier in the morning. The plan was to ride from Sycamore Landing to the Monocacy Aqueduct. I did make it, and I set a decent pace in spite of the heat. I could literally feel the heat on my shoulders through the openings in the green canopy of the forest during the later parts of the ride. Surprisingly, I saw more people on the trail as it got closer to noon, when it was beginning to feel really hot.

I could have finished the ride earlier than I actually did, but was delayed by an encounter at Lock 27. An older gentleman seemed to be eager for conversation. I indulged him.

As I was riding by Lock 27, I slowed down to look at a small black dog running around on the other side of the lock. A gentleman who was on the towpath noticed me and informed me that the dog was a work dog. Having heard something recently about the difference between pets and work dogs (specifically those that help to corral animals in the fields and pastures), I asked him if the dog worked on a farm. That was an excuse for me to stop and get off the bike, and for him to extend the conversation. It extended more than I was expecting.

As he walked up to me, he mentioned that his dog was was a search and rescue dog. She was trained to find people trapped in rubble from structures that have collapsed. He went on to inform me that he had been working for FEMA for 40 years. His job was as a search and rescue specialist, a task which he performed with his trained partner dog. He mentioned the recent condominium collapse in Florida as an example of where his work could take him. (He later mentioned that he had been a part of the team responding to the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.) He said that he was 75 years old. His dog was 7 years old, and her training started when she was 6 months old.

She was a small black dog. She seemed to be very mellow. She looked light on her feet, which is what is needed when she is walking on rubble that you do not want to collapse further. The dog was listening to everything that he was saying to it, and was responding to his instructions. He demonstrated this to me by asking her to go down into the bed of the lock to look around. This was a typical action that would be needed to go into destroyed buildings to try to rescue people. You might have noticed that I used the word “asking” rather than “ordering”. Yes, he actually talked to the dog using full sentences. It was quite clear that they are good friends. She was a very quiet dog. She responded every time he asked her something. She seemed to be happy.

He had had a stroke about a year ago. He is still recovering. He still had some physical issues to overcome (which I could also see), but he was hoping to go back into active service at FEMA. He lived on a farm near the aqueduct. He had his stroke when he was on his tractor working on the farm. He says that when the stroke happened he felt and knew what was coming. He stopped the tractor. Unfortunately, his mobile phone had died. When he got off his tractor, he fell and could not get up. There was nobody around other than his dog. He asked her to go to the neighbor’s farm to seek help. He said that the dog did not know the neighbor. The dog left and eventually came back with the neighbor, and he was able to get the help he needed. Apparently, the dog had appeared at the neighbor’s front door barking insistently, and succeeding in convincing her to open the door. When she opened the door, the dog would apparently try to convey what she wanted by running a short distance towards where he had fallen, and then coming back to the lady. She did this a few times. Apparently, her actions were enough to make the lady understand that the dog wanted her to follow her. And the dog led the lady to where he was lying in the field. The dog saved his life.

There were a few other directions that the conversation went off into once we got talking at Lock 27. He liked telling his life stories.

He had fought in the Vietnam war for 4 years. He had been a fighter pilot, flying F-100s. He named the five dogs that he has worked with at FEMA after military aircraft. His aircraft had been blown up out of the sky by anti-aircraft fire on two occasions. He mentioned how, all of a sudden, he had found himself in his ejector seat in the sky with no aircraft around him. He was fortunate to have been rescued on the ground after he had fallen behind enemy lines.

He says that he did not have ill-will for the Vietcong even in those days. (He differentiated between them and professional soldiers for some reason.) He mentioned that the Vietcong were usually young boys, 14 to 15 years old. They would come out to the base in the night with explosives to try to blow up the aircraft. The military had a process for confronting the kids, the last stage of which was to kill them if they did not respond to call-outs. He said that on several occasions he ended up taking the Kalashnikovs from the kids’ hands and sending them away without killing them. He was hoping to win them over. His approach was not popular with some of the other soldiers.

Without being asked, he admitted to having killed people. He sounded a little bit defensive when he said that. He said that he was following orders from his government. His job was not to question why. And finally, it became apparent to me that his current job at FEMA, trying to save lives, was partial atonement for some of what had happened during the war.

He asked me where I was from. He said that Indians were shady people. I was completely floored by his statement, especially because I, a person of Indian background, was the one having the conversation with him. Unfortunately, it turns out that his prior formative experiences with Indians have not been good. When he was in Vietnam, an Indian merchant tried to rip him off. There was a confrontation (with the use of all the threats available to military personnel being brought to bear) before the situation was resolved. The funny thing is that he seemed to be sympathetic to the circumstances of the person who had ripped him off and, in the end, ended up trying to help him. Most recently, he became a victim of a call-center scam where people from India remotely got control of his computer, locked it, and in the end got money off of him. I was trying to tell him that there are scammers everywhere in the world, and that we are not all like that. I did not do a good job. In any case, both he, and his dog, did not exhibit any suspicion of, or acrimony towards, me. In fact, they were downright friendly. The dog let me pet her and wagged her tail in delight when I scratched her neck. He said that dogs know whom to trust, and behave differently in the presence of different people. He also mentioned that although he cannot do it himself, it is possible to learn about people from their auras. He said that it was a skill that could be taught. I began to suspect that he might have Buddhist leanings.

When I mentioned my name and my background as a Christian from the State of Kerala, he sprung it on me that he was of the Mormon faith! I do not know why, but that caught me completely off-guard. But it did also make some sense. There is a big group of people who follow the Mormon faith in the area where we live, and he had actually grown up in Montgomery County. And I had learnt previously that the Mormons had fought in the past in wars for their country.

In the end, I had to stop asking questions lest I got him going off on yet another interesting topic or the other for an indefinite amount of time. I really had to get moving once again because I had not yet reached my intended destination at that point.

During the initial part of the ride I had been thinking about whether I would have anything interesting to blog about as a result of the ride. The only notable events so far in the ride had to do with birds that were not cooperating with me when I tried to take their pictures. They would seem settle down for the shot, but would fly away when I got off the bike and reached for my camera. I did not get even one picture of a bird! Fortunately, Bob and Raider came to the rescue!

Snakes In the Morning

Before proceeding further with this blog, I have to make a note related to my previous blog. There was a picture of a bird in that blog that I was not able to identify in a timely manner. I now know that the bird is a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. These birds breed in North America during this time of year and fly to South America during the non-breeding winter season. They are shy birds that apparently stay hidden most of the time. I am very thankful for having had the opportunity to see it! Incidents like this give our outdoor activities that extra zing!

I went for a bike ride last Friday, starting out from Rileys Lock, and heading north. I had not been on the trail too long before I came upon a lady who was stopped on the trail. She stopped me and told me that there was a snake on the trail. A somewhat smaller-sized northern copperhead lay in the middle the trail enjoying the cool of the early morning. In case one is not aware of it, these snakes are venomous and can be deadly.

The young lady wanted to proceed north with her travels, but was very nervous about the reaction the snake might have to her attempt to get by. The two of us stood for a while strategizing about how to get around the snake. I was thinking of riding past it on the bike. While we were standing around, a bald eagle landed on a tree nearby. I could not get a very good picture of the bird.I wonder if the eagle was attracted by the activity on the trail.

I eventually rode past the snake, right in front of it. It might have turned its head to keep an eye on me as I rode by, but I was not too sure. My focus was on my safety! I stopped after had I passed the snake to take a picture of the bald eagle that was still hanging around, but the bird took off before I was ready with the camera. The young woman finally decided that she was not going to risk moving past the snake.She turned to head back towards Rileys Lock.

Having seen one snake this early in the morning, I was prepared to see more of them as the ride progressed. And it happened! The reptile sightings actually took place only towards the end of the ride – on two occasions.

The first time was when a long and thin black rat snake crossed the trail.It was moving fast enough that I my attempt to frame a picture capturing the entire length of the snake in the picture was unsuccessful.

The second time was toward the end of the ride. I saw a big and fat black rat snake beside the trail. I think the snake was getting ready to cross the trail. It turned and quickly slithered back into the grass when I stopped to take the picture.

It was towards the end of the ride, a little bit after I stopped for the second black rat snake, that I realized that my lens cap had fallen off the camera somewhere along the way, probably after I had taken the picture of this last snake. Something like this was bound to happen some day because the Olympus lens caps are, in general, designed very poorly from the point of view of staying attached to the front of the lens. You have to make an extra effort to make sure they are locked into place after you put them back over the lens. They might seem to be securely attached even when they are not. There have been several occasions in this past where the lens caps on my lenses have fallen off, but I had always been fortunate thus far to have been able to find the piece that dropped off. Not this time! I returned home “capless” in spite of my effort to find the lens cap by riding back along the trail – back to the place where I thought I had taken the last picture.

Luckily, it is not too difficult to get a replacement lens cap.

I want to finish the blog with this picture of a swallow taken at Whites Ferry. This was one of many on a wire. I cannot figure out what kind of a swallow this is.

I will post more of these pictures on Pbase eventually.

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!

Walk, Bike, and Run

I felt good this morning. I was able to go for a run after a somewhat long break. The last couple of days have been a little cooler than usual, and the temperature was in the 60s when I started out. I thought that I would feel a little sluggish because of the break. That happened to not be the case. I got my mojo going pretty quickly, probably because of the cool temperatures. The running came easy. I was was able to maintain a decent pace throughout the run, and I actually felt wonderfully refreshed the rest of the morning.

We walked from Weverton to Harpers Ferry last Sunday. We were walking a section of this trail for the first time this year. Because of the location closer to Harper Ferry, there was more activity on the trail than one wishes and hopes for. But it was OK. We still had our extended periods of quiet. Here are some pictures from the walk.

The railroad line runs beside the canal all the way to Harpers Ferry.

This is the Route 340 bridge across the Potomac.

The river is very rough downstream of Harpers Ferry. The water is also very low in summer.

Harpers Ferry is across the river in West Virginia at the meeting point of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. The railroad line crosses over the river on the bridges to the right of the picture.

The newer flowers that we saw for the year during this walk include White Campion,

Buttonbush,

Queen Anne Lace (here in its early stage),

flowers that I was unsuccessful in identifying last year too,

Crown Vetch (distinguished from Red Clover because of the nature of the leaves),

Hedge Bindweed,

Wild Sweet William,

Rose of Sharon,

and Asiatic Dayflower.

My bike ride last Wednesday started once again at Pennyfield lock, but this time I headed towards Washington, DC. I rode up to Chain Bridge. It was a typical hot and humid Washington, DC, summer day. I covered more distance this time than I did during my first ride of the year last week. I put in a little more effort than during that first ride – keeping up a decent speed on the trail. There were quite a few people on the trail in spite of the heat. Thankfully, interactions with folks I encountered were generally pleasant, including a conversation with a couple who were in the early stages of an ambitious ride of over 60 miles! I hope they made it.

Here are a couple of pictures from my ride. The first one was taken at Widewater.

You can make out the typical haze of a Washington, DC, summer day in the second picture.

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.

The Heat of Summer – Once Again!

Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city…
…………..The Lovin’ Spoonful

The temperatures began its rise into the 90s last weekend. Knowing that it was going to get very hot, we started our walk earlier than usual on Sunday. We were on the trail at Swains Lock before 8 O’clock! In spite of the early start, it did not take too long before we began to feel the sweat collecting on our necks and back. It was going to be one of those days!

We walked towards Great Falls. Here is a picture of the tavern at Great Falls.

We continue to see flowers for the first time this year along the towpath. The numbers I am recording are staggering. These include Tall Meadow Rue,

Yarrow,


Trumpet Flower,


Pickerelweed,


Mullein,Thistle,what I believe is Bindweed of some kind,


Black Cohosh,


Day Lily,Basil Bee Balm,

and a couple of flowers that I could not identify.

We also found raspberryand pawpaw fruitalong the trail.

The heat of the summer also brings out the dragonflies and the butterflies. We saw a few skimmers, a zebra swallowtail, and even a Red Admiral and a Crescent butterfly. (I will post some of these and other pictures in my Pbase photo galleries.)

We took a detour on to the River Trail just north of Great Falls on our way back to Swains Lock. It was a delightful experience! We ended up walking on a narrow trail along the side of the river. There were very few people on the trail and we saw a lot of birds. There were so many herons on the other side of the river, with many of them standing on their own individual rocks!I have to believe that there is a park on the other side of the river that is attracting the herons.

We also saw a Indigo Bunting.At first I was not sure about the identity of this bird, being confused by a shaft of light falling on its breast, but I now feel more confident of my conclusion. (Of course, I am not an expert on this matter, and my process for identifying a bird is always subject to verification/confirmation by any knowledgeable birder or ornithologist who happens to come this way!)

Here is the video of the song that I mentioned at the beginning of the blog.

The Taste of Raw Onions (11/11/2008)

This is another oldie from the days when my work used to take me to Los Angeles regularly. The last time I posted something like this was earlier this year.
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“This is K-EARTH 101.1” said the voice of the announcer on the radio. I was in the process of turning my super-efficient Toyota Prius Hybrid car from Century Boulevard on to Aviation Boulevard, just before Century went under the railroad bridge on its way to LAX airport. It was around 7:00 am on a nice sunny Thursday morning, and I was joining the other Angelenos heading off to work. George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” started playing on the radio as I drove out towards the end of the airport runways on Aviation Boulevard. All of a sudden it hit me! This felt like a scene from some movie made in the 70s. I must be dreaming. This cannot be real! What am I doing here?

I worked somewhat late that day in the office in El Segundo and finished around 6:00pm. I decided to treat myself to a good dinner in a decent restaurant, but also decided to order a salad along with my beer so that I would be eating something healthy. My destination was Cozymels Restaurant that evening. The black and white Ahi Tuna salad that was shown on the menu sounded just right. When the food arrived I was in for a shock. The sliced pieces of tuna were all pink. It was basically a lot of raw fish with some kind of decoration of white and black spots on the surface of the tuna – with lettuce, mango pieces, raw pink onions and a few other things. I could not finish the food. The mango pieces were tasteless and I still had the taste of onions in my mouth the next morning. Yuk! This was my great treat during my last night in LA last week.

I also traveled to LA the week before. That was a longer trip that lasted the whole week, and I spent the days in Hollywood at a conference. The area around Hollywood Boulevard is a very strange place. The conference that I went to was in an upscale hotel next to the famous Chinese Theater and the Kodak Auditorium. From an open verandah on the fifth floor just next to the conference rooms one could see the famous Hollywood sign up on the hill, and if you looked down you saw all the high-end stores and restaurants located beside the hotel. But things were different away from the hotel. I took a walk along the street at lunchtime one day and noticed that, outside of where the conference was being held, it was a very rough and tough place. It looked really run down and the buildings looked their age. There were lots of cheap stores around – T-shirts for tourists, cheap electronics, smoke shops, cheap luggage, cheap food, etc.. There was the smell of urine in the air, there were people loitering around on the street that it seemed wise to avoid, and you came across the occasional homeless person sitting on the side-walk talking to himself. One person was looking into all the garbage cans trying to find stuff. It occurred to me that although I was a little uncomfortable during my walk this was home for a lot of people. Would I still have been uncomfortable if circumstances had been different, and I had to spend more time in that place. We develop our comfort zones, and our own limited sense of reality that we can deal with. That may not be the real world.

The trips back from LA the last two times have worn me out. It is not the flights that have done me in, but it is the drive back home from the airport. I leave LA early in the morning, and by the time I get on the highway at Dulles airport to go back home, it is already dark. I join the long lines of red tail-lights of barely moving traffic on the Washington Beltway and one wants to get stop the car, get out, and scream. It is then that one actually feels the complete sense of futility. You know, I have been in a situation for many years where I have wished that I could stop what I was doing, take an extended break, and try to do something more interesting and fulfilling. It looks like I am not going to get there for a number of reasons. But I still persist with what I am doing, and I wonder if there is a choice. Is this a trap? It is only when you are stuck on the highway of life behind the red tail-lights, with little sign of progress, that it all hits you like a ton of bricks.

Well, the trip back from Hollywood ended in a bad way. I was not in a good mood when I arrived at home and I declined to go for the Halloween party at a friend’s place. I stayed at home by myself and went to sleep, and promptly woke up the next day feeling sick. My throat felt like sandpaper and it was on fire. I recovered after a sleepless Saturday night, and a Sunday of high temperatures, only to have to head back to LA once again last Wednesday. Fortunately, this last trip ended in a better manner. I did not fall sick, and I was able to head out to the towpath on Sunday morning to recover.

What a beautiful day it was last Sunday! The colorful leaves of Autumn have almost all fallen by this time, but some of the sections of the park were still really quite pretty. The woods in the area near Carderock were a strange combination of yellow and orange. Dried leaves covered the towpath in most parts and lay on the waters of the canal like a carpet. Where most of the leaves have fallen off the taller trees, there were still some short trees left behind that were a very bright shade of yellow. Looked great! When the wind blew, you could see the leaves that were left of the trees come loose and fly away over the canal. There was this one large dried leaf that kept floating over the canal and refused to come down. There were beautiful reflections of some of the colorful trees in the waters of the canal. In a certain section, there was a deer that was running along beside me in the woods next to the river, behind the thinned out foliage. It looked like it was keeping me company. It was sunny out there and the temperature was just right. There were many folks enjoying a Sunday morning outing. Kids were on bikes. Kids were in little carriages that were being pushed along by the jogging adults. There was this young couple who were just thrilled about seeing a great blue heron for the first time. The guy had to tell me about it. I just smiled. I am now a veteran. I just kept going, in no hurry to get to the end of this outing. It was the perfect day. But I did tire out at the end….

By the next weekend there will be nothing left to see on the trees. Another cycle of life would have completed. One will have to await the rebirth in Spring.
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The Cicadas In Full Force

The Cicadas seem to have ramped up their numbers and activity these days. It got so loud one afternoon that we could not even follow the conversations on the TV show that we were watching in the living room with the patio door open. We had to close the door! The trees in the backyard and in the front are full of these creatures. This is how it sounded one afternoon from the deck.

If you look at a capture of the volume levels for the above audio recording (processed using an app called Audacity), it looks like this!There is a real pattern here. They are actually communicating in their own way.

There are dead cicadas all over the ground in the outdoors these days, anywhere you walk. It is difficult to avoid stepping on them. The birds must be having a feast. You can hear the cicadas buzzing in the air, and watch them flying all over the place. You may even get hit by a cicada every once in a while if you are outside for a long time. While there can be a somewhat panicky reaction when this happens, with some frenzied flapping of the hand(s) where you thought the insect made contact with you, they are actually quite harmless!

We continued to experience the presence of the cicadas during for our walk from Edwards Ferry last weekend. Here is a picture of one of them.This is also the time for dragonflies and butterflies. Here are some pictures. We saw a few different kinds of dragonflies, but I had a difficult time getting them in a position where they could be photographed properly. I was successful with this Common Whitetail male.

You can see two Cabbage White butterflies in the picture below.

This is a a Question Mark butterfly. As you can see, I had to be happy with getting a picture from a significant distance away.

The picture below is of a Northern Pearly Eye butterfly on the trail. It might be sitting on the remains of a dead field mouse. That was the conclusion I drew when looking at the rest of what lay around it. Interestingly enough, we saw a couple of dead frogs on on the trail. The sight was surprising enough for me to give a yelp and leap into the air on one occasion to avoid stepping on it.

Here are a few of the newer flowers this year.

This is the flower of what seems to be a somewhat common weed. It is easy to miss because the plant is very small, and I did not realize how common it was until looked around more carefully this year. I have seen it in other, very different, locations. I have also seen it in the past years but have been unsuccessful in identifying it so far. The flower looks like a sombrero to me.This one is called Deptford Pink. It is a real tiny plant.

And this is Chicory. We will be seeing much more of this all around us from now on – as the weather heats up.

I thought these mushrooms on the trail were quite pretty. They were tiny. You may be able to make the size out from the size of the stones around them.

Another week passes by as we quickly head towards the Summer Solstice and the official start of summer in these parts. Outdoor activities, including the barbecues, the lazing around swimming pools, the visits to the beaches, etc.., have already begun since Memorial day. The increased vaccination rates have made it possible for people to gather together in a safer manner than was possible last year.

Unfortunately, there are still many who do not want to be vaccinated in our country. Some do not “believe” in the vaccines. Some talk about their “freedoms”. Perhaps there are also some who still even refuse to acknowledge the reality of the pandemic. It is a pity that people do not understand the concept of living in a society where we all need to pull together and look out for each other. It is also a pity that there are people living in an “advanced nation” who do not even recognize that the science and the technology that was responsible for providing us these vaccines is the same thing that is allowing us to exist and also enjoy our current lifestyles at the current moment in time in the earth’s history. It is especially a pity when people in our country do not realize how fortunate they are to have vaccines freely available. They still do not want the vaccines, even while other countries are suffering because they do not have enough, or any.

The Scent of Honeysuckle

There were a few suggestions being generated for the title of this blog even as we were walking along the towpath last Sunday. I settled on using this one.

The weather turned cold and somewhat nasty over the weekend. There was also the threat of rain. None of this impacted our plans for the weekend walk. One motivation was the fact that the rest of the week had been a disaster with regards to doing any form of exercise. It has been quite hot outside, and there were also the persistent distractions of the mind on a few fronts that affected the motivation in this regard. In fact, the weather had been hot enough during the week that we had to turn on the air-conditioner one day. And now it was cold enough that we had turned on the heat once again.

Thankfully, it did not rain while we were walking. Also, thankfully, the weather is back to normal temperatures for this time of the year once again.

The decision to go to Brunswick, MD, was made even as we were driving towards Point Of Rocks, our originally intended destination for the start of the walk. There was a sudden realization that we had actually visited Point of Rocks quite recently, and we really felt like going to some place new. We indulged ourselves! We changed our destination while en route. Because of this very late decision, the route we took to Brunswick was not one that I would normally have taken. We drove on the more beautiful back roads between Point of Rocks and Brunswick, arguably taking a little more time to get there than we would have done otherwise.

We walked north from Brunswick in the direction of Harpers Ferry. We did not make it to Harpers Ferry, but turned back more than half way there, less than a mile beyond the entrance to the trail at Weverton. Weverton used to be a mill town on the Potomac river. Water power from the river drove its development back in the day. The town was eventually destroyed by flooding from the river. All that is left behind today are the thick woods. You can apparently find the remains of some of the old buildings – a surviving foundation wall or a chimney – if you wander off the main trail. I have made such efforts in the past to find the lost town. This was when I used to run along the towpath by myself. I had no success. I only found this one trashed car during one of my explorations. (The car was most certainly from a time well after the original town’s existence.) We did not make any such attempt to discover the remains of the town during this walk, though we kept peering every now and then into the woods, hoping to get a some glimpse of the remains of foundation stones for buildings – without success!

As we were starting our walk from the parking lot in Brunswick, we came upon a creature that looked like a nutria (or a beaver, I cannot tell the difference!) with its little one. They were just a short distance away from the restroom located next to the parking lot. It held its place, not attempting to get any further away from us humans.As I walked towards the restroom, another small creature emerged from the ground beside the restroom.This little one was so engrossed in what it was doing – probably looking for food in the grass – that it did not attempt to get away from me until I was almost on it. I had some fear of being charged by a parent beaver (one could imagine it even being rabid!) that was obviously waiting for its young one, but, thankfully, it stood by calmly. The little one eventually noticed me and ran towards the parent, and the whole family vanished into the tall greenery next to the water. Just FYI, Canada Geese react very differently in situations like these!

Talking about encounters between animals and people, here is another one that took place during the later part of our walk. The deer had been staring at us from a distance while standing on the trail before these bikers appeared.

It was another beautiful walk,including the subject matter of the title of this blog. The sides of the trail closer to Brunswick had been mowed. These sides were covered all along the way by mock strawberry plants that had fruited.

We saw a plant with a flower that looked like a rose,and this is other new flower that I also could not identify.

I believe these are blackberries!

We passed Lock 31 and its unique lock house as we approached the entrance to the trail at Weverton.You can see Weverton Cliff in the background of this picture. We have climbed Weverton Cliff in the past. You get there by getting on the section of the Appalachian Trail (AT) at Weverton going north (in the general direction of Maine). Of note is the fact that the Appalachian trail and the towpath share a common pathway between Weverton and Harpers Ferry. At Harpers Ferry, the AT crosses over into West Virginia on one of the railroad bridges across the Potomac (at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers). From Harpers Ferry onward, the AT heads south in the general direction of Georgia.

There were some interesting signs on the trail at the location in Weverton where the AT diverges from the towpath and heads off north on its own. The white blazes on the brown post in the picture below are the general markings for the AT. You will find these all along the approximately 2,200 mile long trail to guide you on your way. The double blaze on the post indicates that this is a place where there is a change in direction of the trail. You find it here since this is where the AT makes an abrupt left turn and diverges from the towpath. The unique element in the picture above are the road signs for bicycle routes. I do not recall seeing these anywhere else on the towpath. Some extended research has revealed the existence of a U.S. Bicycle Route System that covers the entire US. Interesting!

Brunswick has a massive railroad yard that is operated by the freight railroad company CSX. There is also a separate section in this railroad yard where the suburban MARC trains are parked when not in use. During the stretch of our walk closer to Brunswick, we walked next to a line of closed auto-carrier rail cars (also called autoracks) that seemed to stretch at least a couple of miles, more than half way to Weverton! I am not used to seeing such long trains. This is a picture of a coal train passing by the parked auto-carriers just outside of Brunswick.

We did see a couple of new birds for the first time this year. There was the goldfinch, and the other bird was a female wood duck with its little ones.I had seen the same kind of ducks in the same area around the same time of year many years ago.

The graffiti in the picture below was the source of one of the other suggestions for a title for this blog. It was difficult decision at game time! The location of this piece of graffiti was one of the supports for the Route 17 bridge across the Potomac river at Brunswick.You can barely make out the remains of lock 31 of the canal in front of the bridge support in the picture above. Our car was parked under one of the other supports for the bridge closer to the river itself.We took the back roads once again when returning home. I think this is the route we will be taking from now on to go to Brunswick. It avoids the stress of the highway traffic and lets us enjoy a scenic ride through the more peaceful back roads of rural Maryland. Why rush?!