About Me

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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 63 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Loving Mahomes, But Still Being a Chief's Fan

The cannon is loaded.
© 2018 Chiefs.com

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

Being a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs means you by necessity wear a thick callous around your heart.  In 1967 and again in 1970, they appeared in two Super Bowls (although technically, the first one was just called the AFL-NFL Championship), winning one.  The years since have been a long journey punctuated by some of the worst football ever interspersed with moments of regular season glee followed by truly epic playoff collapses.  Sad events like blowing a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter against the Dolphins in 1991, an injury-ridden loss to the Pats in 2016, a loss to the Steelers greatly assisted by several very questionable penalty calls, the 2003 "no punt game" against the Manning-led Colts, when the defense failed to generate one single stop.  Blowing an 18-point lead against the Titans, blowing another 28-point lead against the the Luck-led Colts, and the agonizing 3-point loss against the Colts when the Chief's "Kicker who shall never be named" missed three easy field goals, two in the fourth quarter.

Among those gut-punching losses are other games that should have been won, usually in the first round of the playoffs.  

It is a long history of utter heartbreak, and perhaps even emotional abuse.  This year, however, there is a refreshing breeze wafting through the Chief's Kingdom generated by the other-worldly talent of Patrick Mahomes.  What was hope is gradually evolving into confidence that this team could go all the way to the Big Dance, even taking into account the massive rock of salt levied by the playoff history of this franchise.

I won't bury you with numbers and tales of Mahomes' prowess; there are plenty of eye-bulging websites which will accommodate even the most OCD'd stat freak.  What is different now is the feeling -- the growing sense that this may not just be THE year, but the first of several championship seasons to come.  This is rarefied air for Chiefs fans.  By week ten, we are generally beginning to prepare ourselves for the annual post-season collapse.  And while there remains a persistent whisper in our ears that assuredly states ,"This is the Chiefs; they'll find a way to blow it," that sibilant utterance is becoming ever harder to detect amidst the roar of jubilation.  

In the ten games thus far, we have seen plays that could only have been created by CGI, throws that defy belief and human anatomy.  But we've also seen consecutive three-and-outs, and an inability to get late first downs to put games away.  We've seen a defense that allows 400 to 500 yards of offense each game, although they have gotten better as late.  In the glaring light of the spectacular, these are the things that create that doubt, that hint of disquiet, things that could spell all-too-familiar doom in the post season.

I had a friend once tell me that Chiefs fans reminded him of the Pooh character Eeyore.  No matter how bright the silver lining, all we could see was the black cloud.  There's some truth to that statement.  But I'd like to think we've earned that cynicism, or rather that past events have thrust it upon us.  No matter how brightly the Chiefs shine now, there's a part of us that grimly awaits the darkness.

As I mentioned earlier, the good news in all of this is that this is only the first year of the Mahomes era.  Even if they fall short this year, next year promises to be even better, and the years after.  The defense is an entirely different unit with Eric Berry on the field, and it is assumed that at some point his heel will permit him to play.  Also, the draft will bring in young talent, shoring up a weak defense.  This season is the first stage of ascent for a team that could dominate over the next two decades in the same way the Patriots have over the last two decades.  But for any of this to have validation, a Super Bowl must be achieved, and must be won.  After so many years of close calls and near misses, nothing else will suffice.

There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, of a young man who stole a very expensive high-performance car and took it on a high-speed run.  In his post-arrest interview, he readily admitted stealing the car.  Said he, "I knew I'd be caught, I knew I'd be arrested and convicted.  But I was determined to enjoy the car and the ride for as long as I could."  This tale may come as close as possible to describing our raging passions right now.  We're riding a race car at blinding speed, and even if it ends in a blazing crash, we will at least have had the ride.  Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, that's us.  But even the most stubbornly cynical Chief's fan will admit that maybe -- just maybe -- this IS the year.

And maybe this time around, January won't be so dark.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Looking Outward and Learning

The Summer Triangle
By Tomruen at en.wikipedia - Own workTransferred from en.wikipedia, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11126314

Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey
Except cited references and images

Cheryl and I have started to spend an evening here and there at Ala Moana Beach Park as a way of decompressing from the pressures of our daily responsibilities.  It's a nice place from which to watch the sunset, as our Facebook friends have noted recently.  Usually by that time, the tourists have largely cleared out, so we end up with a relatively empty stretch of sand.  One of the delights is an unobstructed view of the sky as it darkens, and the appearance of stars, one by one as Earth's great beacon moves below the horizon.

I have been sitting in the back yard doing this for a few weeks and while it is peaceful and relatively cool, I don't get a huge sky view because of houses and trees.  Also, recently I acquired a free app on my phone called, appropriately enough, Skyview.  It's easy to use.  Activate it, point the phone at a particular star, and the app identifies it for you.  Granted, it's a bit cumbersome, but still, it is a great educational tool for those taking their first tours of the sky.

So, this week I learned about the asterism called "The Summer Triangle."  It consists of three of the brightest stars in the sky, Deneb, Altair, and Vega, the brightest, or Alpha stars of their respective constellations.  (An asterism, by the way, is a stationary pattern of stars in the sky smaller than a constellation.)  Never satisfied with simple answers, I undertook the task of educating myself about these bright points of light.

This grouping has been recognized by humans for at least 2,600 years.  Because the nature of those stars provides a method by which humans can find their place on this planet, they have also been known as the "Navigator's Triangle."

Deneb is the brightest star in the constellation Cygnus the Swan.  It is characterized as a blue-white supergiant and is rated the 19th most luminous object in the sky.  It's distance from here is a matter of some debate, the nuts and bolts of which I won't attempt to explain.  The current estimates run from about 1500 to 2600 light years away.  What is known is that Deneb is around 200,000 times more luminous than Earth's star, and 200 times larger.  Like all giant stars, it's lifespan is far shorter than our star, and in fact has already begun to cool and expand as it has used up it's supply of hydrogen in the core.  Deneb's fate is uncertain, but it may become a red supergiant, finally exploding into a supernova a few million years from now.


Altair is the alpha star in the constellation Aquila the Eagle.  This constellation is also home to the famous, evocative, and stunningly beautiful "Pillars of Creation" captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.  Altair is a relatively close 16.7 light years distant from Earth.  One of the unusual aspects of this star is it's very high rotational speed, about 180 miles per second.  By comparison, Earth's sun rotates at a comparatively sedate 1.2 miles per second.  Because of this, the star is not round, but oblate in appearance, confirmed when Altair became the first star ever directly imaged.  It is about 2 times the sun's size and mass, and eleven times brighter.  Also a short-lived star, Altair will last only about a billion years before it's outer layers begin to puff away, eventually leaving a small but incredibly dense white dwarf.

Altair, the first direct image of an extra-solar star.
By Altair_PR_image6.jpg: Ming Zhao, John Monnierderivative work: [[User:Omnidom 999|Omnidoom 999]] [[User Talk:Omnidom 999|'''ⁿسالكانⁿ''']] (talk) - Altair_PR_image6.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6026702

A dust disk has been detected around the star, but is thought to be leftover debris from the star's formation and not a nursery for planets.

The third partner in this trio is Vega, the brightest star in the constellation Lyra the Harp.  It is a blue-tinged white main-sequence star, about 25 light years from Earth.  Like Altair, the star has an extremely high rotational speed, 170 miles per second and is therefore also oblate in shape.  It is twice the sun's mass, about 2.7 times the sun's circumference, and 40 times brighter.  Again a short-lived star, Vega, like Altair, is halfway through it's billion-year lifespan and will eventually become a red giant.  When the outer layers are finally shed, a small white dwarf will remain.

Vega in near infrared light, showing the dust disk.
By Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona - Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=651561

Vega has been called the most important star in the sky except the sun.  In 1850, it was the first star to be photographed, the first star to have it's EM spectra measured, and the first star to have an orbiting dust disk discovered.  Modern analysis strongly suggests the presence of several Neptune or Jupiter-sized planets orbiting the star.  Because of known wobbles in Earth's polar axis (called precession) Vega was the northern pole star 12,000 years ago, and will be again about 13,000 years hence.  The current pole star, the one aligned along Earth's axis, is the star known as Polaris.  Interestingly, because of the alignments, Earth's sun is Vega's pole star.  Vega has held a prominent place in the legends and histories of every human culture, and still fascinates today.

This kind of information fascinates me, although excessively boring to others.  When I look up at the night sky, my mind is filled with questions, most of which are unanswerable.  I understand that I am not looking at a static image, but thousands of objects that are evolving, changing, being born, and dying.  From here, those points of light appear to be placidly beautiful.  But up close they are often very violent and deadly places.  With the continuing gains in sensor capability, our knowledge and understanding of the universe will continue to increase.  But like many such inquiries, the discovery of one answer will generate a hundred new questions, and the quest begins anew.

Does the knowledge  of that vast unknown make me feel small and insignificant?  Sometimes.  But more and more often, I understand so much more clearly how precious life is, how short a life can be, and the absolute need not to waste either.

It is, you might say, my responsibility to the universe.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Walking My World

The Appalachian Trail in Autumn.
One of the most beautiful places and times in the world.

Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

Sam Mellinger is a sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, and a regular weekly feature of his is what is known as "Mellinger's Minutes," a weekly Q&A with his readers.  Like all writers, aspiring and otherwise, I have those I read assiduously.  Sam is, hands-down, my favorite, not only because he's really, really good, but also because reading his stuff is for me a humbling experience.  I love to write, and have been a columnist in the past.  But to read his words is both to recognize the gulf of ability that exists between a piker like me and a full-blown professional writer like him, and also to continue to inspire me to elevate my own writing to a higher and more lyrical plane.

In this week's column, he discussed various aspects of the Chief's recent hard-fought loss against New England.  But he was asked by one reader to describe his favorite places to run.  That question and his response sent me into one of those treasured spaces of introspection from which good writing hopefully springs forth.

In the summer of 2012, after a precipitous weight loss following lap band surgery the year before, I started running again.  That summer was a roaster in Northern Virginia, so my efforts were mostly confined to treadmills, building up from a mile and a half to four miles per session.  In the fall, when the weather finally began to cool down, I took my exercise outside.  A year passed and during one of my regular visits to my retinue of doctors, I was told that while they were thrilled with the results al those miles had on my heart health, if I didn't want to be in a wheelchair by age 70, I needed to do add some lower impact activities.  Walking, they said, was just as healthy as running.  As anyone who has engaged in both activities, that statement encourages a huge grain of salt.  Anyway, I took up hiking.

Northern Virginia is a great place to undertake such an activity.  There are walking paths throughout the commonwealth, from the greatness of the Appalachian Trail, that slashes diagonally across the state for some 550 miles, to park and forest trails, including the extensive trail systems that populate the numerous Civil War sites.  Literally just down the road from our home is the Manassas Battlefield.  The National Park is bisected by Sudley Road and Lee Highway (US 29).  On either side of Sudley Road there are two trails, one 5.5 miles, the other 6.5 miles covering the expanse of ground upon which two crucial and very bloody battles were fought in 1861 and 1862.  The trails are all dirt, a real plus, and the scenery through which one hikes is nothing short of beautiful, especially in the fall.  It was my go-to place because it was close and somewhat challenging.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Musings On a Night Sky

The sky over Pearl City looking to the southwest
from the downloadable app Cartes du Ciel

Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

I have taken to spending the post-sunset hours in the backyard with my feet up in a zero gravity chair looking up at the sky.  By that time of the evening, the air has cooled somewhat, and at times there is a pleasant breeze making things very comfortable after the heat of the day.  There is a lot of light pollution here, but there are still a few stars visible, and of course the brighter planets.  

Now, in the process of preparing to relocate, we rid ourselves of a lot of stuff, but somehow upon arrival discovered we had inadvertently included a pair of 10x50 Bushnell binoculars.  I'm not at all sure how we acquired them, or why we still have them.  But they have come in handy from time to time.  Tonight, remembering them hanging on a hook in our room, I took them outside with me.  

I set up my chair in a spot where I had a pretty good slice of the sky visible towards the west and southwest, free of the two large trees in the backyard and the neighbor's roof.  I hadn't consulted a star chart before doing this -- not wanting to work too hard at this -- so I wasn't sure exactly what I'd be looking at.  But the first object I turned the glasses towards was a bright point of light fairly low in the southwest.  As soon as the object came in view, I knew exactly what it was:  Jupiter.  

When I was in the Navy, one of the things I enjoyed doing after late watches was to go up on the signal bridge.  Up there was a very powerful set of binoculars mounted in a steel frame.  The purpose of them was to spot and identify ships on the horizon.  But when you turned them in the vertical direction (and as long as the ship was in calm seas) you could see some pretty remarkable things.  Jupiter was always fun because if you looked carefully, you could see several of its moons.  If you knew where to look and it was the right time of year, you could see Saturn, although the rings could not be resolved.  Mars was a visible red disk, and there were other things you could see as well.  At the right latitude, you could catch stunning views of the stellar nursery of the Orion Nebula.

Monday, October 08, 2018

The Good Parts of Walking Uphill

The day dawns over Pearl Harbor

Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

Five weeks into our stay in Hawai'i, a semblance of routine is finally taking hold.  There is a schedule of sorts, which now provides me some spare time here and there.  As part of that, I've started walking again.

Last year, I tallied over 1,200 miles locomoting bipedally on the streets and hiking trails of various places.  I was very proud of that, especially since I exceeded my goal by over 200 miles.  Assuming, as we often do, that nothing significant would change, I set a very ambitious goal of 1,500 miles for 2018.  

Oh, the foolish whims of man...

Over the past two years at my best I was logging over 100 miles per month.  Of course, I had nothing else going on, except cooking and grampa time.  But back in April, I took a job at Target in Aurora, Colorado, which limited the number of hours I could spend exercising.  Then in late summer, Cheryl got word that she had landed her dream contract in Honolulu.  What followed was a long eight weeks of selling, donating, and storing our worldly possessions, getting the car ready to be shipped, and attending to the plethora of details accompanying a major relocation.  Hence, my mileage totals began to drop precipitately.  August, the time when we were packing, shipping, and relocating, the best I could muster was a tad less than 28 measly miles for the whole month, which in the past would have been a below-average week.  

Even after arriving, there was all we had to do to get settled in and established.  I transferred to the Target in Ala Moana, but given my responsibilities toward my 92-year-old mother-in-law, an outside job simply became too difficult to maintain.  Now, things are settling down and a rhythm is re-establishing itself.  Cheryl's oldest sister comes in on Mondays and Fridays to take mom to visit her sisters, which gives me time to shop groceries, run errands, and of course, walk.  Tuesdays we go to the Ala Wai Country Club where mom has her karaoke group in the morning, after which is lunch.  Wednesdays is Ground Golf at Blaisdell (aka Pearl Harbor) Park.  The rest of the week I stay at home, doing laundry, and keeping an eye on the aging energizer bunny, making sure she eats right and doesn't overdue things.  Saturday, Cheryl is home and we usually go to the farmers market for fruit and vegetables.  Sunday is the (thus far) 5-0 Kansas City Chiefs at 7:00 am, then church and an afternoon spent lazing around the house and sweating profusely in the heat and humidity.  In amongst those times are those hours when I can with a clear conscience don my exercise gear and hit the pavement.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Ground Golf, Another Fun Thing To Do in Hawai'i


Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

Yes, it's a game.  And it's fun, so there.

Seriously, Ground Golf was invented in Japan, where it is huge.  The game is played mainly by that class of people known as "the elderly," but just because the participants are past their best years, don't think for one moment that there's not some serious competing going on.

Every Wednesday morning, I take my mother-in-law to Blaisdell Park in Pearl City, Hawaii, a lovely piece of greenspace that was once called (and still referred to as) Pearl Harbor Park.  Because it sits on the shore of the forenamed historic body of water.  There, we meet about a dozen of her friends and acquaintances, fellow players.  What follows is actually fairly simple, but complex.

The game is a kind of mix of regular golf and mini-golf.  The equipment required to set up the course is simple and temporary.

The Hole.  And the ball.  In the hole.

Age and Surrendering

Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

I have heard that while aging is inevitable, being old is a matter of choice.  It is an aphorism rooted in a perhaps stubborn way of declaring that one won't willingly give in to the dark side of passing years.  But for all the courage inferred, it may also be a bit of useless arrogance.

This has been on my mind since the death of my father some 14 years ago.  He was for my entire life a man of immense dignity and intelligence; one whose commitment to matters moral, ethical, and spiritual made an indelible impression on me, and frankly dwarfs anyone else I've ever known.  But the last two years of his life was a time of heartache for me.  His once-prodigious memory was rapidly fading.  He knew us, but not much beyond that.  Physically, his decline was rapid, to the point where a simple trip to the bathroom involved a small portable crane device.  It's hard to assess how aware he was of these things happening to him, but it's possible that his decline in mental faculties was in fact a small blessing.

Cheryl's mom is approaching 92 years old, and stubborn as the day is long.  She is also having memory problems, mainly involving the humorous aspects of "where did I put that thing?"  She had insisted on continuing to drive until the first week we were here.  She was out doing errands when she got confused, made a wrong turn, and when trying to correct her routing, cut a turn way short and gently nosed into another vehicle waiting at a stop sign.  As accidents go, it was minor -- the airbags did not deploy on either vehicle -- but the incident was enough to put enough fear into her to willingly give up her keys.  Her car is repaired and back in the carport, but still she occasionally makes noise about driving again.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Making Angels in a Paradise Sky

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

These are the dog days of summer in Hawai'i, when the cooling northeast trades die away and the humidity rises with the afternoon heat.  In any other place, one could look to the calendar and assume that the cool of autumn lies just over the horizon.  But here, the weather really doesn't change all that much.  I've often said that you could tape record the weather forecast, replay it every day and you'd be accurate at least 310 days of the year.  The biggest difference between winter and every other season is the increased rainfall, and slightly cooler temperatures.  But if you didn't grow up here, you might not even notice the change.  

Being closer to the equator, the sun is far more direct, and many a visitor has suffered the painful indignity of sunburn as a result.  Also, if you come here from a more temperate climate, you might find the heat and humidity to be an annoyance.  But iff you live in a place like this long enough, your skin pores begin to open up, and thus you become acclimatized at least to a point.  A normal day which would be uncomfortable anyplace else, becomes simply normal.

When the sun begins to slide behind the Wai'anae Mountains, and if the winds are blowing at all, the air begins to cool down nicely.  Not October in Denver nice, but still...  All homes here are of single-wall construction with no insulation.  But they still tend to retain a lot of heat even after the sun goes down.  Even with fans, a living room in Honolulu is not the most comfortable place to be.  

Cheryl and I have taken to spending the evenings out on the back patio to escape the still-uncomfortable heat inside the house.  We set up our chairs in that spot where the breeze wafts through between the house and the back fence.  There we talk, read, write, cogitate, or just vegetate as allow the breeze to make us more comfortable.  

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Forgotten Day

Yep...204 years young
Key's original penned manuscript
Maryland Historical Society

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

September 14th will slip by this year without much notice, not surprising given the drama in Washington and the landfall of two hurricanes, one in North Carolina and another in Hawai'i.  But on that morning in 1814 on board a British warship, an American lawyer, detained by the British, witnessed a heart-stirring sight that inspired the poem that eventually became our National Anthem.

Two years into the War of 1812, British from September 13-14, 1814 conducted a night-long bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor, the prelude to an assault on the Port of Baltimore, and an attack on the city itself.  Key and a friend had been detained aboard the British flagship after pleading for the release of an American physician on the strength that he had treated wounded British soldiers and sailors as well as Americans.  While aboard, the two Americans were present during the pre-invasion staff conference where they heard the complete plans for the operation, hence the detention.

Rain and fog moved in, but the barrage was conducted despite the lowering weather.  As daylight faded, the last thing Key saw was the small "storm flag" stars and stripes fluttering from the converted ship's mast over the fort.  All night long, the British cannons thundered away.  Estimates of the number of rounds expended run into the thousands.  At times, air bursts allowed brief glimpses of that tattered flag still flying, signifying that the vital fort was still in American hands.  

Tuesday, September 11, 2018


Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

It is a quiet, peaceful morning.  Outside my window the twittering of birds is occasionally counterpointed by the mournful sound of a dove.  In one way, it is the calm before a powerful storm, set to arrive early tomorrow morning.  But it is not just a day of preparation.  It is also a day of remembrance.

Seventeen years ago on another beautiful Tuesday morning, men, consumed by hate and twisted by an ideology that made a religion of peace into an excuse to kill, flew airliners into buildings in New York City and Northern Virginia.  A fourth aircraft dove into an abandoned strip mine in the Pennsylvania countryside, as a group of ordinary people, passengers and crew, fought back.  2,996 innocent people died that day, and in the years since, over 1,400 first responders have died, apparently poisoned by the rubble they worked so hard to remove.

The calendar calls today "Patriot Day" A Day of Service and Remembrance."  And there will be ceremonies in New York, at the Pentagon, and at the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  They will not get the attention and focus as in years past.  As the sage once said, "Time moves in one direction, memories in another."  Children born that year will graduate high school come springtime.  For them and millions more, it is not the searing memories, but the colder, less personal readings of history through which they will remember.  

Time has, in some ways, closed the open wound we suffered.  But the scar that remains has already begun to fade.  Today, politicians and pundits will use 9/11 to launch new attacks against each other, urging and manipulating the rest of us to embrace their hate and anger, and join the ever-widening divide.  The sun will set today on a nation wrapped in mutual loathing, divided perhaps beyond redemption

Monday, September 10, 2018

Round Two for Paradise

Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

Between August 22 and 28, Hurricane Lane battered the Hawai'ian island chain with high winds and record rainfall, ranging from 52 inches on the Big Island to just under 10 on O'ahu.  People are still digging out and the soil remains saturated.  Now, some two weeks later, the state is once again bracing for the onslaught of a major storm.

Hurricane Olivia, as of this morning, is about 650 miles from Honolulu.  Still rated a Category 1 with sustained winds of 85 mph, it is expected to weaken into a strong tropical storm by the time it begins to affect the islands.  A tropical storm warning has been issued for the islands of Hawai'i and Mau'i, and a TS watch for O'ahu.  The storm will begin to affect the state Tuesday, with high winds and heavy rainfall.  While not as much as Lane, it will nonetheless be an an unwanted 15" to 20" addition to areas on the Big Island that experienced some 52 inches of rain less than two weeks ago.  

Governor David Ige has declared a state of emergency and local and state officials are urging residents to prepare.  Working at Target last night, I did see a slight increase in water purchases, but considering that folks really stocked up for Lane, it seems as if everyone is about ready.  The only task remaining is to remove loose items from around the houses and properties.  For this island, the forecast is 40 mph winds and 4" to 8" of rain.  Mau'i and The Big Island may get as much as 20" of rain.  Complicating matters is that the storm has slowed from 15 knots to around 8 knots and is expected to slow even more, which means that the effects of the storm will linger much longer, increasing the risk of flash flooding and landslides.

Now this situation is passing almost undetected by the rest of the country because a truly monster storm, Hurricane Florence is expected to make landfall in the Carolinas as a strong Category 4, perhaps even a Cat 5, affecting an area ranging from Georgia to Washington DC.  The storm will push inland, bring torrential flooding rains as far as the Ohio Valley.  Tens of millions are in the threat cone for this storm, and since the media capitols are all in that area, Florence will occupy the nation's attentions.  But while Olivia is a far less powerful system, it is nonetheless poised to impose significant damage to Hawai'i.  

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Aloha as a Home

Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

Tomorrow marks the end of our first week in Honolulu, and as in all moves, this has been a time of transition.  We arrived last Wednesday after a six-hour flight from Seattle, anxious to finally get off a plane knowing that we wouldn’t have to board another one the next day.  Our seven suitcases and one box, all carefully balanced to stay below the 50-pound limit, arrived with us and the five boxes we had sent on ahead were here waiting for us.  Our car had arrived on time, despite the presence of Hurricane Lane and Cheryl’s oldest sister picked us up at the airport using our Santa Fe, and thank goodness she did because we needed every cubic inch of space to load our stuff.

I guess the first thing I noticed was the weather.  Honolulu Airport is different in that the walkways from the gates to baggage claim are open to the outside air, which while warm and humid, is still pleasant thanks to the northeast trade winds.  I’m pretty sure the Hawai’i tourism folks had a say in that particular architectural choice.  Of course, once I started humping luggage out of the terminal and into the car, I sweated up pretty quickly.

When we arrived at the home of Cheryl’s mom, with whom we’ll be staying during our sojourn here, she came out to greet us, small, thin, fragile, but still a dynamo of stubborn energy despite her nearly 92 years.  It was good to see family again, and looking at Cheryl, I could see the joy and happiness written in her countenance.  She was home.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

A Perfect Evening

Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

It was our last night in Denver, the inevitable closing of one set of doors.  Earlier in the day we had flown in from Maryland after tending to some grandparent duties with the East Coast branch of the family.  We were in the home of our youngest daughter, Jamie, having spent most of the afternoon and evening culling through the eight suitcases that constituted most of what we still owned in the world that was still mobile.  We had Chinese take-out, my favorite cuisine and were sitting around, just talking.  Cheryl was getting some tech help from Jamie when Jamie asked me to take her dog, Neil, out for a walk.  Having spent much of the previous three weeks NOT walking, I eagerly assented.  Clicking the leash onto the collar of a happy Neil, we headed out. 

It had been a beautiful day, and the air as we stepped off the porch was delightfully cool and crisp, a welcome change after swampy Maryland.  It was a reminder that fall was approaching, and I was feeling a little disappointed that I would not be around to see, hear, and feel what has always been my favorite season.  The sun had gone already, but the sky still held the vestiges of its dying rays.  Summer skies are different, in that during winter, when the sun goes away, the night moves in rapidly, the blackness taking quick possession.  But during the summer, sunset begins a longer transition.  The bright blue gives way slowly to a darker shade eventually becoming a soft purple.  As the color deepens, the stars and planets begin to appear, one by one, as if they were reluctant to share the stage with each other, the pinpoints of light begin to shine. 

This long, purple twilight has a purpose for summer days are hard to release.  There is so much life in that season, not just in nature, but in each other.  Children play in the gathering dusk until their mothers judge that the day is over, and they must return inside.  Accompanying the delicate end of the day, in the trees, grass, and bushes, crickets begin to chirp.  Like the stars, it begins individually, one here, one there.  Then the entire choir joins the chorus. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Culture, Weather, and Getting Acclimated

Oh yeah...

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

So, this sojourn we are on has us hopping time zones as we zig back and forth.  We left Denver on the 14th and flew to Maryland.  That's two time zones.  Then we flew back to Denver for about 18 hours. That's two back the other direction. Tomorrow at around oh-dark-thirty, we'll crawl on yet another airliner and hop four more time zones to Honolulu.  When I was younger, this kind of thing would completely scramble my internal clock, leaving me with sleepy days and sleepless nights.  But this time, I am aided by that peculiar time zone that always accompanies us senior citizens.  It really doesn't matter where we are, or when we are, we're always down for a nap.  Or two.That particular freedom that comes from retirement gives me nap leverage at any time of the day.  I'm old, so I sleep.  So, this particular body is on its own clock which seems to operate in its own dimension of time and space.  Were I still working, this would be its own kind of annoyance.  

Where I am struggling is not with the clock, but with the climate.  When we left Denver, it was warm and very, very dry.  When we exited the terminal at Baltimore-Washington International we walked into a totally tropical air mass; warm and very humid, the kind where you break a sweat just getting the keys out of your pocket.  The two weeks on the east coast were repetitious cycles of heat and humidity, except for two really nice days.  This morning I humped suitcases out of our son's house and once they were packed into his mini-van, I was ready for another shower.  But upon arrival back in Denver, we walked out into a day in the low seventy's with low humidity, about as perfect a day as one could ask for.  

Tomorrow we leave for Honolulu where it will once again be warm and humid.  My wife reminds me, "But the trade winds are always blowing," which in my experience is kinda the same thing as describing a Phoenix summer as "dry heat."  The thing is, if you stay their long enough, the skin pores open up and those conditions feel really nice.  Not as nice as a crisp October day in the lower 48 mind you, but still nice.  Acclimatization is a process for every place, though.  Coming to Denver for the first time some 20 months ago, we had to adapt to the altitude.  That took about six months of being chronically short of breath and dealing with some edema as well.  But once that was done, we really didn't notice the effect in our daily routines.  Where it showed  up for me was in hiking.  The first trail I did here involved a 700-foot ascent from a parking lot to a flat-topped mesa.  What had been a simple thing in Virginia darned near killed me here. 

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Age and the Downward Spiral of Time

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

That age is best which is the first
When youth and blood are warmer
But being spent, the worse, and worst,
Times still exceed the former.
--Robert Herrick

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

They are curious, these feelings that drift through me these days, and it has been a challenge to sort them out.  In this transition time between Colorado and Hawai'i, we find ourselves at a church camp situated on the banks of the West River in eastern Maryland.  The scene is gentle and tranquil, and genuinely pretty.  It is a place where expensive homes stand in splendor along the river's twisting course leading out to the broad reaches of the Atlantic Ocean, the homes overlooking a sizable fleet of equally expensive sailboats.  Despite the trappings of the one per centers, it is a place of peace and contemplation.

The first night here during the de rigueur "get to know ya" exercise, I was asked, "where do you live?"  Always an easy one to answer, but this time I came up empty.

Denver is officially in our rear view mirror.  Honolulu still lies just over a two-week horizon, so in a very real sense, we are sans domicile.  Homeless, in other words.  We are on the road, but it is a strange feeling to not have a place to call home.

There is a positive aspect to this situation for us.  We are out of debt, save a car loan (the object of which is on it's way to the Port of Honolulu), thus our financial situation is as secure as its ever been.  Once there, our income will be freed up to accomplish two goals, fill our our rather skinny retirement accounts, and re-establish our emergency fund, three to six months of income.   Having sold or donated almost everything we own, we are no longer laden by thousands of pounds of household possessions.  What we have left, in a closet in Aurora and a small 4x4 storage unit, is substantially less than a thousand pounds which will be re-located at that as-yet undetermined point in time when we finally decide where to settle down.  Our options are freed up now and we can go wherever, whenever, and for however much time we choose.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Voyaging Without a Home Port

"Together we're in this relation ship,
We built it with care to last the whole trip,
Our true destination's not marked on any chart,
We're navigating for the shores of the heart."
--John Duhan

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

This situation, technically speaking, might be described as "on the brink."  It's Saturday, and we leave Tuesday, not for vacation, but quite possibly forever.  We go to Maryland for two weeks of delightful grandparent duty.  We do come back to Colorado after that, but only for about 16 hours, a "cup o' coffee" in the old baseball parlance.  After that pause, we board another jet bound for Hawai'i and the next chapter of our lives.  

Of course we've been there.  Cheryl is a bona fide Kama'aina, and we lived there for five years of Navy duty.  Plus, we've been back for visits more times than we could accurately enumerate.  But this time feels different, very much like being between two doors, one closing, and the other opening.

We haven't really been in Colorado all that long, having actually lived here for 12 out of the 20 months since I retired.  Still, it's been a good stay.  We've been with family, two daughters and their families, two grandkids, two granddogs, and one grandkitty.  We found a church home that is very hard to say goodbye to.  And as the time winds down, I am sorta vexed by the thoughts of all the things I wanted to do here, but somehow never got done.  There was always tomorrow, until I ran out of tomorrows.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Moving, Furniture, and Letting Go

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

It's always a shock when that wily beast known as "times have changed" jumps right up in your grill.  The effect is instant disorientation, and finally, that sense of loss.  

In preparation for our move to Hawai'i, we decided not to keep our household goods in storage.  It seemed easy enough to say, "we'll just sell it all."  As is often the case, easy to say is very hard to do.  What we had was that same mix of large and small that every homeowner acquires over decades.  I finally parted with a lot of those things I had hauled around in boxes for the last two or three decades.  Some got sold, some donated, some just thrown away, albeit reluctantly and painfully.  But those decisions have been much easier to make this time around as our backs are figuratively against the wall.  I wasn't worried about the furniture.  It is excellent quality, the marker of our decision to pay more to get more.  As the days have passed however, it would appear that the time of "big furniture" has passed us by.

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Road Never Traveled. Until Now.

"We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things,
because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
--Walt Disney

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

It's been over a month since I last "penned" some words here.  And there have been some changes.  Back in April, mainly out of boredom, I returned to the workforce, hiring on at a local Target (or Tahrjey as they say).  I actually scouted the store, as I did with about eleven other businesses that were hiring.  What I noticed right away was how happy the workforce was.  They seemed genuinely glad to be there.  Everybody was working hard, not just the going-through-the-motion stuff I was seeing with other companies.  When I asked for help, instead of that bit of hesitation that spoke wordlessly "Can't you see I'm busy?" they were eager to help, and seemed genuinely concerned that my Target experience was a good one.  The place was clean and well ordered.  Now, all of these things spoke volumes to me about a very positive management philosophy that spread good feelings all the way through the workforce.  It was, in my view, the best place to work.  Now, almost three months later, my experience has confirmed my analysis.

It doesn't pay a whole lot, even though its well above the minimum, but what has been valuable has been the opportunity to interact with people again.  

Any writer will tell you that they are very interested in people's stories; what's happening in their lives, how they feel about things, and where they see themselves on the journey of their lives.  I didn't realize how much I had missed that.  I've had many warm and positive interactions with the customers, or "guests" in Target lingo.  And I've heard some amazing stories.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Fathers Day

"I'm a father.  That's what matters most.
Nothing matters more."
--Gordon Brown

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

I remember clearly the first time I held our first newborn.  I was in awe at the power of life as it lay cradled in my arms, and feeling absolutely unqualified for the task that lay ahead.  I remembered my Dad, and how easy he made fatherhood seem.  He was always confident and resolute.  Never once did I ever see him unsure of anything.  His decisions were perfect, and he always had the right words and the correct solutions.  He was a man of immense dignity and a commanding presence that was always in the house, even when he wasn't.  I thought about all that as my new son stared up at me, and hoping that I would be to him at least a fraction of what my Dad was to me.  

Fathers have a compelling influence on their children's lives.  That's the way it's supposed to be.  For a girl, if she does not get the attention, affection, and support from her father, she will later look for that in other men, in very destructive ways.  Much of the confidence a young woman has will have been instilled by her father.  And when she chooses a young man, chances are he will have some of her father in him.  It is interesting to note that Robert E. Lee had three daughters, none of whom married.  As one said much later, "None of them, in terms of character, courage, and inner strength came close to father."

Boys grow up (although some women would dispute that) and at some point, we become men.  That moment of transition is different for all of us.  For me, it wasn't graduating high school, leaving home to be on my own, or even getting married.  In that moment in the presence of my infant son, for whose life I was now totally responsible, I realized that my childhood was over.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Facing Life's Consistency of Change

"If you fall off of a cliff without a parachute,
there's nothing left to do but enjoy the breeze 
and admire the view on the way down."
--Ralph F. Couey

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey 

I've been retired now for about a year and a half, and looking back, I can see what a significant time of transition it has been.  Northern Virginia had been home for about five years as I finished out my career.  While we hated the traffic and the incessant political miasma that permeated everything, I did find for myself a certain kind of peace.

We had family close by, in fact sharing our home for over three years.  It was never anything but a joy to have them around, especially the golden hours spent bonding with three of our grandchildren.  My work, while difficult and challenging, was a source of great satisfaction.  I was privileged to work around some of the finest and most intelligent, dedicated, and committed professionals it's ever been my honor to know.  So when it became apparent that in terms of ending that profession, the moment had arrived, it was accompanied by a certain sadness and the feeling of leaving something important undone.

The time between then and now has been filled by a whole new set of experiences.  Accompanying my wife on her travel nurse assignments to the biting cold of a Colorado winter, the incredible heat of a summer in southern Arizona, to a delightful sojourn in Southern California.  I've returned to the workforce, donning the red and khaki for Target.  My body rebelled at the long hours spent on my feet, but eventually adjusted to a certain level of tolerance.  The best part of that experience, alongside the extra income, has been the opportunity to converse with people; listen to them tell of their lives.  I have with great interest spoken to high school graduates who were ending their childhood and preparing to embark on the first real adventure of their lives, and their first years as adults standing on their own.  I've also seen the joy of their parents as they revel in their children's accomplishments, yet feeling the wistful sadness of the knowledge that they've done all they could do to prepare their offspring and must now let go.  They will no longer be under their constant supervision, care, and protection and must rely on their faith in these new adults to get them through the coming challenges.

It is time of transition for many, reminding us that as much as we resist it, change really is the only constant in life.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

It's All About the Hate

© 2018 Phil Mislinski/Getty

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey
Written content only

"We become slaves the moment we hand the keys
to the definition of reality entirely over to someone else."
--B. W. Powe
"Towards a Canada of Light"

We are seeing here in 2018 an unprecedented surge in school shootings.  As of May 25th, there have been 23 shooting incidents.  This is week 21 of 2018, thus they are happening at a rate of more than one per week.  Forty-four people have been killed and sixty-six wounded, a total of 110 casualties.  To call this a tragedy is a vast understatement.  The threats to children from abuse, drugs, terroristic bullying and other less easily definable causes are bad enough.  To take away what once was the sanctuary of the schoolhouse makes their lives harder by an order of magnitude.  The reaction of the public, fueled by activist media and agenda-driven politicians and pundits, has been one of shock, horror, and despair.  The political left has unleashed a wave of anti-gun activism.  By all accounts, the National Rifle Association and its political allies are under siege to an unprecedented degree.

But in the space of time in the city of Chicago, 1,012 people have been shot, including nearly 40 victims over the three days of the Memorial Day holiday.  That is 50 shootings per week, or more than seven per day.  If you go back to the beginning of 2016, the number of shooting victims is now over 8,000.  That is, on average, 64 victims per week; over nine per day.  According to Chicago PD stats, over two-thirds of those incidents have been cases of African Americans shooting other African Americans.  Gun laws have proven ineffective because many of those shooters are already legally banned from owning or possessing weapons.  Yet, they still are able to arm themselves.

The media and public response?  Dead, cold silence.

Where are the activists?  Where is the gun control lobby?  Where is the national outrage?  

Why don't those Black Lives Matter?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Another Year Older, Another Year...

From Pinterest.com

"There's still no cure
for the common birthday."
--John Glenn

Today was my birthday, number sixty-three to be exact.  It was a quiet, mostly ordinary day.  I got up, went to work, came home and went out for Chinese, my favorite cuisine.  I had some gifts, had "Happy Birthday" sung to me by my grandkids, and now in the waning hour of this day, I am doing what I like to do when searching for thoughts that would provide context:  writing.

As kids, birthdays are a huge deal.  Parties, cake, presents, a fun day to celebrate.  As time goes on, however, those days begin to be less than a big deal, particularly when one reaches the time when adding one more day means there are fewer to come.  Everyone is mortal, or as was once said of life, "Nobody's gettin' outta here alive!"  Between birth and death, lie a few thousand days, for most of us.  We grow, we age, we gain a certain amount of wisdom and hopefully not too many regrets.  This is the essence and rhythm of life, a cycle played out billions of times.  A few people will gain great notoriety, even fame.  Most of the rest of us will lead lives that could only be described as "ordinary."  But we are all loved by somebody, a person who will feel the pain of loss at the time of our demise.  So in a sense, we are all made famous, all will be remembered even by just a few.

Knowledge grows over time, and when salted by the pain of adversity, morphs into that curiously nebulous thing called wisdom.  Old people always have opinions on everything.  We feel that if only the rest of the world would listen, all the problems will be eliminated.  But such entreaties fall on the deaf ears of those youngsters who, alas, are just as we were back then.  Arrogant, cocky, and absolutely sure that they know more than anyone else.  It is a cruel trick of time that at the point when we've gained enough information and understanding to make everything work, nothing else does.

But today I spent some time thinking about where I've gone and what I've done.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Mom's and Mother's Day

 © Breezy Brookshire
Breezy Tulip Studio

Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
"Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all."
--Proverbs 31:25-29

Have we ever wondered a mother's silent cries?
Her struggles, her fears, her worries?
Have we ever thought of the sacrifices
she has done to make our lives happier,
and her dreams cut short
to make our dreams come true?
--Ama H. Vanniarachchy

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

As Mother's Day was approaching, I had time to speak with the moms that came through my check lane at Target.  I was amazed to hear of the number of them who had given birth either on Mother's Day or a few days either side.  I counted 26 of them over the three days prior to the holiday.  As we talked, they told me how special that day had been, the ultimate Mom's Day present.  But they also talked about how those birthdays began to overwhelm the holiday, and I could sense that they felt a little left out.  But they were all quick to add "But, that's okay.  It's a treat to see my kid having fun."

The life of a mother is one of endless sacrifice.  It is a tribute to their selfless nature, but also a reminder to the rest of us to look, really look, at what they do day in and day out.  A mother's love is one of those rare and beautiful things that will always be there as sure as the sun in the morning, and the stars at night.  

It starts at the very beginning.  Most women will tell you that pregnancy ruins their body.  Multiple pregnancies do even more damage over time.  Some will suffer ailments related to various vitamin and mineral deficiencies because their body's resources are being diverted to the tiny life they carry within.  Once the baby is born, the real sprint begins.  Most of the rest of us expect them to be up and around after a few days and back to taking care of the rest of us.  I suspect there is a kind of guilt in the mom herself, knowing that even as she recovers, the house still needs to be cleaned, dinners still need to be made, other kids (and husbands) to care for, and then there's their jobs -- the paying ones.

The vital Perspective of the Long View

It is not the present from which 
we will learn the truth of right or wrong.
It is rather from the verdict of history
which lies beyond the influence 
of passion and familiarity.
-- Ralph F. Couey

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

One of my favorite books has always been Michael Crichton's Andromeda Strain, his bio-science thriller from 1969.  Crichton has a way of weaving science fact into very entertaining story telling, leaving the reader (at least in this book) wondering if it really happened.  In the story, one of the characters, Dr. Peter Leavitt, formulated the Rule of 48.  It refers to the discoveries of the number of chromosomes in a human cell. Since 1923, that number had always been 48. There were a number of careful studies, backed up by photographs.  Then in 1956, another geneticist announced to the world that the number was actually 46, again backed up by studies and photographs.  But when researchers went back to the original 1923 studies and counted, they found not 48, but 46 chromosomes.  Dr. Leavitt's Rule of 48 thus became "All scientists are blind."

This is only one example of a multitude of historical facts once believed to be unassailable truth, which the passage of time has proven to be completely wrong.

The difference between right and wrong is far from absolute.  In the moment, judgement is impaired by emotion, politics, personal bias, and situational elements.  The passage of time puts distance between the event and pragmatic analysis.  Absent those powerful influences, a far more correct conclusion can be rendered.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

My Re-Discovery of Life

Faces in a crowd,
all with stories to tell.

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

In the past month I've made a couple of changes in my life.  Until recently, my days consisted of that curious state known as "being retired."  Each day was pretty much a blank slate, punctuated by the odd appointment or commitment.   I floated from one day to the next, the only regular activity being walking/hiking, and my continued efforts at writing.  But my wife, who knows me better than I know myself, saw that I was stagnating.  And she was right.  I was drained of ideas for writing subjects, and the three books I am working on had shown efforts that could be kindly referred to as desultory.

And truthfully, I was getting bored.

Clearly it was time to pep things up.  Cheryl "suggested" that I go get a job.  The reason I put that word in quotations is that her suggestions are usually synonymous with the force of law.  But she had a good point, so I complied.  In person and online, I submitted about a dozen or so applications, carefully chosen.  One of them was a Target store nearby.  I had gone there several times before, since the pharmacy I use is contained therein.  I remembered, however, that on my visits how impressed I was with the staff.  They all seemed uniformly happy, not only with each other, but to be working there.  Also, I noted that without exception, they all worked hard; nobody was merely going through the motions.  This is one of the clear signs of a positive and supportive management philosophy.  If I was going to have to re-join the workforce, I wanted it to be a good experience.

So one day, while picking up some prescriptions, I went to the computer terminal displaying the sign, "apply here" and filled out the job application.  About a week later, I received a call asking me to come in for an interview.  I showed up wearing slacks, dress shirt, and coat (but no tie), possibly a tad overdressed for a retail job.  Nevertheless, I was warmly welcomed and introduced to a few people.  The interview, really a canned question and answer session, went well.  A week later, I was invited back for another interview, which also went well.  Three days later, they called and offered me the job.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Speech: The Legacy of the Uniform

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

It would be easy for someone like me to stand here and recite platitudes of "Duty, Honor, Country."  It would be just as easy for you to completely ignore or forget those words.  You see, I'm not here as some distant personage.  I'm here as one of you.  I once stood where you are standing today.  I felt then what you are likely feeling today, impatience to get this thing over with, your anxiousness to see your loved ones who have traveled so far to be with you and see how far you have come in the arduous nine-week journey you have just completed.  I also have no doubt that many of you are imagining in great detail the marvelous taste of the first cold beer you've had in over two months.  Hoist 'em high, shipmates!  You've earned it.

As I indicated, I won't speak in soaring language today.  Instead, I will speak of the realities that await you as you leave for the fleet.

I offer you my congratulations upon your graduation from Recruit Training.  As you may have seen not everyone who arrived here back then is still standing here today.  I know that the pride you feel in your hearts is shared by your family and friends who are here, and those who could not make the trip.  I'd like you to look back for a moment at the tough moments.  Those PT tests, damage control training, fire fighting, all the long days and short nights.  Remember the frustration, the anger, the bouts of loneliness and homesickness.  Today, all that is behind you.  Your Company Commander won't yell at you or correct you, because they are standing here today, bursting with pride at your accomplishment.  The strangers who you were thrown in with have survived this all with you, sharing the hardship and the joy.  You are strangers no longer.  You are more than friends.  You are shipmates now, and will be for life.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A Nudge to the National Anthem

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

The "Star Spangled Banner" has been the officially designated National Anthem of the United States since resolved by Congress in 1931. It was authored by a young lawyer, Francis Scott Key during a night-long bombardment of Fort McHenry.  The barrage was the prelude to an assault on the Port of Baltimore, and an attack on the city itself.  Key and a friend had been detained aboard the British flagship after pleading for the release of an American Doctor on the strength that he had treated British soldiers and sailors as well as Americans.  While aboard, the two Americans were present during the pre-invasion staff conference where they heard the complete plans for the operation, hence the detention.

Rain and fog moved in, but the barrage was conducted despite the lowering weather.  As daylight faded, the last thing Key saw was the small "storm flag" stars and stripes fluttering from the converted ship's mast over the fort.  All night long, the British cannons thundered away.  Estimates of the number of rounds expended run into the thousands.  At times, air bursts allowed brief glimpses of that tattered flag still flying above the fort, signifying that it was still in American hands.  

As dawn approached, the bombardment tapered off.  The smoke from the shelling and the fog began to clear.  In that lull, the soldiers defending the fort (miraculously, none were killed) hoisted the huge ceremonial flag.  When dawn revealed the large flag flying defiantly over the embattled fort.  Key was overcome with emotion and penned the inspired poem.

There are four verses, five if you count the one added by Oliver Wendell Holmes during the Civil War.  The first verse is the one always sung, and the only one anybody really knows.  It is unusual in that it is the only Nation Anthem that ends with a question.  My favorite verse is the fourth one, which goes...