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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 58 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.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hiking, Part 6

The Potomac River Near Harper's Ferry from Weverton Cliff

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Pictures and written content

I managed to free up a few hours today and went to a location that has been on my anticipation list.

Harper's Ferry, West Virginia is one of those places where history rises from the dry pages of textbook into dazzling reality.  The town sits at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and was from its beginnings a busy location for river commerce and industry.  Today, the National Parks Service has preserved the historical part of the town in an interactive historic park.  The town would, by itself, be a very interesting visit, but the view of the two rivers from the point of land where they meet is breathtaking.

The AT (Appalachian Trail) passes through the town, in fact the Conservancy has an office there.  From there, you can trek southwards along the crest of Short Hill Mountain as it meanders towards Shenandoah National Park.  I chose to go northwards today.

I left my vehicle in the Park n' Ride lot near Weverton and was able to jump right on the trail, as it passes right behind the lot.  Having consulted the topo map, I knew I was in for a challenge.  South Mountain begins on the north bank of the Potomac and rises precipitately to nearly 1,200 feet.  The initial climb is a series of switchbacks as the trail ascends about 600 feet in the first half-mile.  It's not just the steep climb that makes this one so challenging.  The path is well strewn with rocks which requires careful consideration as to where to plant one's foot.  Fortunately, I remembered my trekking poles this time.  There were three occasions when I stumbled, slipped, and tripped on the rocks.  Only those poles kept me from executing an epic face-plant.

At about 900 feet elevation, the way began to flatten out, but the rocks were still there.  It seems as if that end of the mountain is slowly falling apart, dumping rocks down the slopes ranging from pocket-sized to house-sized.  I saw several places where the dedicated volunteers had cleared some good sized rock slides from the trail.  This climb took me awhile, about an hour and 15 minutes, but once I got to the 1,200 foot level, the trail became a lovely, soft springy loam that felt really great on the feet.  I encountered two other hikers, both male, who were fully geared up, their packs topped by foam bed pads.  I don't know if they were through hiking or just spending a night or two, but it was nice to see other people out doing the trail.

When you get near the top of the ridge, there is an overlook called Weverton Cliff that provides a lung-sucking panorama of the rivers and the town below.

 Yup.  I clumb it.

The day was very humid, but not extremely hot, so while I shed a couple of gallons of sweat, I never felt dangerously overheated.  I did take the opportunity to try out a couple of new items.  One was a belt-mounted device from the OFF company, which sprayed a fine mist of insect repellent into the air while I was walking.  It seemed to work pretty well.  The bugs would get close to my face, but never touch it, and I survived the day without a single insect bite, and it was a very buggy day.  The other thing was a huge floppy bucket hat that I found at Costco.  Kind of odd-looking, the brim was large and oval shaped, so it gave good coverage of my face and the back of my neck.  Partway uphill though, I had to flip the front brim up, as I found it difficult to see ahead of me.  The other think I liked was how well it kept the sweat out of my eyes.  Ballcaps (my usual choice) do a fairly good job, but this hat, as ugly as it looks was way more effective.  And had I been caught out in the rain, it would have kept my face and eyes clear.  

 Not quite Indiana Jones...

Finally, the clouds parted and the forest began to be dappled in sun and leaves.  I was now on the loamy part of the trail and my pace picked up considerably.  My original intent was to do the round trip from Weverton up to the gap just west of Burkittsville, but I got about three miles along this trail and, alas, it was time to turn around.  Heading back was a bit easier, although I still had to slow down for the rocky part of the trail.  

...and lumpy.

Once I passed the sub trail for the cliff, the way became steep again.  I was oh, so careful going down, and this was when I had two of my near-face plants.  I can't stress enough how important (to me, anyway) these carbon fiber sticks from the Black Diamond company were today.  I've had a few tumbles on other trails, but going down on this trek would have resulted in some serious injuries.  Some of the switchback corners were partially washed out and the loose rocks were responsible for some unwanted cardiac stimulation.  But I managed to get all the way down and finally, footsore and soaking wet, returned to the parking lot.

This was a good example of underestimating the climb.  Having ascended the hills at Sky Meadows, I breezily assumed that this one would not present too much of a challenge.  Not so.  If I ever get a full day to do South Mountain, I need to plan the 13-mile out-and-back a little more carefully.

Humid day, but still a good hike, and another small section of the AT goes in the books.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Redskins in the Crosshairs -- Chiefs Next?

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph Couey
Written content only.

In 1988, the National Football League franchise located in Washington DC won Super Bowl XXII, thumping the Denver Broncos 42-10.  Washington was quarterbacked by Doug Williams, the first African-American QB to not only play in, but win the Big Game.  It was also the first of what would be countless public demonstrations and protests concerning the team's nickname, "Redskins."

The nickname, many believe, is a word born out of racism dating back to the first time white Europeans pushed into the tribal frontier.  The issue is rapidly coming to a head, with the National Patent Office stripping the team of their copyright on the name.  Across the country, two sets of voices are being raised, one which demands that this term be banned from not only the NFL, but all teams in all sports.  The other set of voices contends that in the modern context, the term is much more closely related to the team and not to that group of people who have come to be called "Native Americans."

Football aside, I have a bit of a problem with that term.  Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a native American because human life did not arise here spontaneously as it did in Africa some 200,000 years ago.  Over the millennia continents have drifted, and sea levels have fallen and risen.  This created pathways of migration.  Everyone here on these three continents (North, Central, and South America, respectively) came here from someplace else, mainly across the Bering land bridge beginning about 16,000 years ago, by the latest estimate.  I prefer the term "First Americans."  It is more accurate, plus it retains the honorific of them being the first to take possession of these lands.

 Team owner Dan Snyder has planted his foot firmly in the rich soil of tradition, vowing to never change the team's name.  But protests are gathering momentum and there seems little doubt that at some point in the near future a Waterloo -- or Little Big Horn -- will be reached when irrevocable action will be taken.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

An Island of Unity in a Sea of Discord

Soccer Madness
Americans celebrate in Kansas City's Power & Light District
© Kansas City Star

C 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Written content only.

Every once in awhile, it happens.  We argue, fight, divide ourselves over issues social and political to the point where you think that the whole thing's about to come apart.  The "United" part of the title "United States of America" becomes a dark joke.  The divide widens as people have seemingly lost the will to be one country.

Then, out of that darkness, a chant begins.  One or two voices at first, then more pick it up.  And suddenly, we are all standing shoulder to shoulder; arm in arm, our differences forgotten, shouting "USA!  USA!  USA!

For two weeks, that was us.  America was in the World Cup of Soccer, and winning.  We made it all the way to the round of 16 before losing a heartbreaker to Belgium despite a heroic superhuman effort by goaltender Tim Howard.

But for those two weeks, America was spellbound; entranced.  People gathered in public places all across the country, watching the matches on huge televisions.  Even people who were completely clueless about soccer (you mean we LOST and yet we STILL advance???) were drawn in and caught up.  In Washington, politicians continued to bicker endlessly.  But for two priceless weeks, none of us cared.  Team USA was our passion.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

New Life...And Hope

Copyright 2014 by Ralph Couey

"Babies are such a nice way to start people."
--Don Herold

There are so many wonderful things about the birth of a baby that it's difficult to sort through that blizzard of emotions.  But no matter how many births a person is a part of, somehow that sense of wonder is never lost.

She became our 10th grandchild, counting one given up for adoption and another who, after six difficult months, went to live with God.  It was the latter experience which has taught our entire family the most important lesson about the value and sanctity of life.

Sophie Kim, as her parents have named her, arrived on a hot and humid Friday evening, all 7 pounds and 19 inches of her.  Her appearance was the culmination of a fast-paced series of events, that began with the onset of contractions while she was at the pool with her first two kids.  About 5:00, she called our son, who against all odds was mere minutes from home.  A neighbor came over to watch the two kids, and Robbie and Yukyung jumped in the car -- all right, crawled in the car -- for a risky 35-mile drive to their assigned hospital in Fort Belvoir.  Being Friday, and at the beginning of the tourist season, and in the middle of the DC region rush hour, I did not give them good odds to complete the trip.  But complete it they did, arriving just before 7:00.  Less than an hour later, Sophie emerged into our world.

This morning, my wife and I drove to the hospital, albeit at a more sedate pace, bringing along the first two kids, 7-year-old Diana and 3-year-old Ian.  Once there, their sense of wonder at seeing their new baby sister was something to behold.  Ian's persistent question, "How did the baby come out?" went largely unanswered.  My cryptic response, "The same we she got in there" was far from a ray of light as far as he was concerned.

Cheryl, exercising the Grandma's Privilege, was the first of us to hold the baby.  As I watched, her eyes softened and her face was illuminated by a gentle smile.  She was in her element.  She was born for this moment.

I watched as she explored little Sophie, looking into her face, arms, legs, fingers, and toes, searching for, and finding those distinctive genetic markers identifying her as one of us.  Knowing how important this time was for her, I withheld my impatience until she finally looked up and with a big smile passed her over.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Saturday, Glorious Saturday!*

*Somerset, PA Daily American  April 30, 2010
as "There's Something About Saturdays"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

Like people, the days of the week each have their own reputation. Monday is most often the demon of the group, at least until football season, while Friday gets all the glory.

The origin of these names is intertwined with cultures dating back a thousand years. Sunday is “Day of the Sun,” and depending on the culture can be either the first or the last day of the week. Monday derives from “Day of the Moon.” Tuesday comes from Tiw, the Old English god of war. Wednesday, the one with the odd spelling, was named for the god Woden. Interestingly, in Germany this one morphed into Mittwok, or “mid-week.” (In Spanish, it is “miercoles,” for the god Mercury.) Thursday is named for the Old English god Thunor, and also the Norse god Thor. Friday became the day of the goddess Venus (Frige in Old English).

But of all the days of the week, none hold a special place equal to Saturday.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Miles and Milestones

Copyright ©2014 by Ralph F. Couey

Two years ago this month, I woke up one morning and decided that it was time to exercise.  I started walking on the treadmill that day, and in the time since, I've gotten to the point where I'm running 4 to 5 miles four to six days per week.  I long since have forsaken the treadmill for the great outdoors, except on those days when the weather is so bad as to make outside activities dangerous.  The benefits to my health are multitudinous, as the enthusiasm of my cardiologist attests.

The following February, I was out in California for a visit with our oldest daughter and her three boys.  She introduced me to a smart phone app called "Map My Run."  The app, using the GPS feature on the phone, tracks runs (and walks and hikes as well) for distance, time, and pace, uploading to a regular website at the end of each activity.  Also immortalized are maps of the routes I've run, a handy tool as well.

Even after two years of use, I still get surprised by the information stored therein.  Quite by accident, I stumbled on a page showing "lifetime stats."  I was startled to realize that sometime last week, I topped the milestone of 1,000 miles.

Now, I now that's not comprehensive, as there are several months of work that have gone unrecorded because I was laboring in software ignorance.  But it was interesting to realize that in the time since I got the app, I've spent some 245 hours so engaged, roughly the equivalent of a smidgen over 10 complete days.

Getting Slapped in the Face by Real Life

Copyright ©2014 by Ralph F. Couey

You know how it is.

Days get loaded up with the "have-to-dos" endemic to those whose responsibilities seem to squeeze out everything else.  Yes, it's better than sitting at home staring out of a window, wondering if you really could hear grass grow, but in the discharge of those duties, hours and days are lost.

My day job involves an unusual schedule, Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. until 9:30 p.m.  I used to not have to be there until 1:00 p.m., but a recent reappraisal of the incoming workflow resulted in the adjustment to the new schedule.  I like getting off earlier, but in the effort to keep my exercise schedule, I'm now on the road in the middle of the morning rush.  Along with several hundred thousand of my closest friends.  As a result, what was a 40 minute commute has become a creeping 90-minute ordeal.

Anyway, my days off run Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, which I am happy about because of two things.  Having Sunday and Monday free means I don't miss any pro football.  Plus, there's just something wonderful about sleeping in on Monday mornings...

My wife (with whom I just shared a 36th anniversary) works a similarly convoluted schedule, but we share Sundays and Mondays off, while I have Tuesdays and she has Thursdays to our respective selves.  Monday, though, becomes Honey Do day.  We run errands, do our shopping, work around the house, and make sure that we share a trip to the local Cineplex for a movie.  Today was no different.  I woke up first, going for a 4-mile run while she slept a little longer.  This was earned rest because she was on call last night and ended up spending 7 hours doing surgery.  I got back from my run, cleaned up, and when she arose, we went ahead and did our movie date, taking in the Disney flick "Maleficent."  I won't bore you with a review of the film.  Afterwards, we made our weekly pilgrimage to our friendly neighborhood CostCo.  We picked up the necessary items, paid for them, and headed for the parking lot.  We were loading our car, when I heard a woman's voice call, "Sir?  Sir?"  This directed towards three men who walked by, whether in ignorance, neglect, or indifference.  I turned towards the voice to see a 50-ish lady in one of those electric shopping carts who was trying to load groceries into her SUV.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Civil War: Events of August 1864

Union General Phil Sheridan was named to command the Army of the Shenandoah on August 1st.

August 3rd saw the start of one of the major naval actions of the Civil War at Mobile Bay.  With the loss of New Orleans and Vicksburg, Mobile Bay was one of the last ports available to the Confederacy.  Indeed, a regular parade of blockade runners had been sortieing out of the Bay bound for friendly ports of supply in the Caribbean.  Admiral David Farragut entered the bay with 18 ships on the 5th, far outnumbering the five representing the CSN.  The Union lost ironclad TECUMSEH to a mine (then called "torpedoes"), part of a large field laid by the South.  Despite the loss of that ship, Farragut pressed forward, gambling that the extended submergence would have rendered the mines inert.  It was here that one of the classic naval phrases was born "Damn the torpedoes!  Full speed ahead!"  The balance of the Union fleet entered the Bay successfully, engaging the Confederate ships and also the three heavily defended forts lining the bay.  In short order, the Southern ships were sunk.  The only one left was the ironclad TENNESSEE, which gave a good account for itself, inflicting heavy damage and standing her ground until she was literally pounded into scrap.  Without a fleet to defend them, the forts eventually were forced to surrender on August 23rd.  Shoal water and a lack of ground troops prevented the immediate capture of the city itself, but the loss of one of their last sources of supply followed shortly thereafter by the capture of Atlanta was the first of the final knells that would lead to the death of the Confederacy.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Civil War: Events of July 1864

On July 1st, the United States gets a new Treasury Secretary as William Pitt Fessenden is appointed by President Lincoln and immediately confirmed.  Fessenden, a Senator, replaced Salmon Chase who resigned following the failure of a loan offer to the government to receive any acceptable bids.  Without the ability to borrow money, the entire war effort was in jeopardy.

On that same day, the Senate approved the Wade-Davis Reconstruction Bill, which Lincoln subjected to a pocket veto.

In Georgia, Confederate Joe Johnston ordered his forces to fall back from the Kennesaw Mountain position to a new position along the Smyrna Line on July 2nd.  Also on the 2nd, the U.S. Senate granted a charter to the Northern Pacific Railroad.

July 4th saw Johnston retreat again, this time to the Chattahoochee Line.

Newspaper publisher Horace Greeley received a letter on July 5th containing a Confederate proposal for peace negotiations to be held in Canada.  Greeley forwarded the letter to President Lincoln.

On that same day, Confederate General Jubal Early crossed the Potomac River at Harper's Ferry and entered Maryland with his division.  He turned his force eastward towards Washington.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Hiking, Part 5

Crooked Run Valley from Sky Meadows State Park

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Words and images

Today's sojourn took me to Sky Meadows State Park near Delaplane, Virginia.  The Park, located south of the intersection of US 50 and US 17, was established when Paul Mellon, heir to the Mellon banking empire, donated 1,132 acres to the state of Virginia in 1975.  The park was expanded twice, once to encompass the section of the Appalachian Trail nearby, and again when Mellon donated an additional 248 acres.  The park now encompasses 1,862 acres beginning in Crooked Run Valley and ending along a ridge to the west.  The park property also includes an area on the east side of US 17, where you can find the challenging Lost Mountain Trail.  The park is wonderfully diverse in its ecology.  You hike through meadows, forests, and across streams, each section a visual treat.  In addition, the precipitous uplift from east to west provides wonderful views of the surrounding countryside.

I had known of this park for some time, as it lay alongside one of my regular motorcycle ride routes.  I actually rode in there once, but my untrained eye didn't see much of interest.  But since picking up this hiking bug, I look at places like this with an entirely different perspective.

Sky Meadows has about 19 miles of trails and after conferring with the Ranger, I decided on a route which more or less circled the park, including about 2.5 miles of the AT.

It was a hot day with humidity to match.  Thunderstorms were forecast for later in the afternoon, but I figured to be done by then.  My route would take me from the Visitors Center, up the Piedmont Overlook trail, the Ambassador Whitehouse Trail, the AT segment, and the North and South Ridge Trails, ending up on Boston Mill Road back to the start point.  The morning having been taken up with a doctor's appointment, I didn't actually hit the trails until 12:30.  The sun had come out and was definitely open for business, somewhat ameliorated by a persistent north breeze.  I started out on a flat grass-covered section that took me into the woods, onto Boston Mill Road.  A bit further on, a sign directed me onto the Piedmont Overlook trail.  The transition was actually a set of stone stairs, an indicator of what was to come.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Time Out Becomes Time Vanished

The Human Rhinovirus, from University of Wisconsin Virology

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

I hate getting sick.  Not only is it uncomfortable, it's a confounded nuisance, intruding on every aspect of the life I am trying to live.  Another annoying aspect is the impact of age.  It seems the older I get, the longer it takes to recover.  This one started as an incipient cough acquired during our stay in Las Vegas.  Gradually, other symptoms began to pile up, including the usual suspects of sinus trouble, a fever that comes and goes, fatigue, dizziness, green goo in my lungs, and a general fog that rolls into the brain, much like the similar clouds that fill San Francisco Bay, which slows my intellect, makes simple things hard to do, and turns me into something of a vegetable.  If it were possible to admire the rhinovirus, I would have to tip my hat begrudgingly for it's persistence.  I've been carrying this thing for a week now and it shows no signs of being aware that it has manifestly worn out its welcome.  

This condition, of course, renders operation of a motorcycle too dangerous to attempt, and the constant fatigue makes any kind of exercise impossible.  I hiked six miles last Tuesday at Manassas Battlefield on an exquisitely hot day and haven't hiked or ran a step since.  Worst of all, I lost an entire week of work, cutting deeply into my jealously guarded storehouse of sick leave.  I tried to go in one day, but after a few hours of listening to my hacking cough, I was politely told by one of my colleagues to go home.  I understood.  With the multiple scares of various types of flu, we have been told that if we're sick, stay home.  Don't infect the rest of the office.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Sands of Infinity

The Vegas everyone knows...

...And the stark beauty of the desert that I know.

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
pictures and written content,
except for quoted and cited portions.

Life, it seems becomes a series of patterns, some by design, others we just fall into.  For us, one of these patterns has become our trips to Las Vegas.

No, we're not gambling junkies.  The Vegas of today is so much more than slot machines and table games.  Entertainment is the best anywhere.  The hotels themselves, designed around specific themes, are spectacular to see and visit.  For us, there is the additional attraction that my wife's family visit there two to three times per year, and since flying there is way cheaper than flying to Honolulu, the opportunity to be with her family is priceless.  These visits usually occur in May or June, once the vise of tax season is loosened for these accountants, and again in October around her Mom's birthday.  These dates are usually when hotel rates are the least expensive.  The week we were there, rooms at the iconic, if brooding pyramid, the Luxor were going for the bargain basement rate of $58 per night.  But we always stay in Old Las Vegas, known as downtown, a cluster of hotel casinos flanking the now-roofed over Fremont Street.  These are the names that made Las Vegas in the early days.  The Fremont, The Golden Gate, Four Queens, and the Pioneer Club, with the trademark neon cowboy, known as Vegas Vic, mounted over the front doors.  The nice thing is that these hotels are close together, making it easy to walk from one to another.  On the strip, it can take 20 minutes just to walk next door.  At night, the neon blazes, self-explaining Fremont's acquired nickname of "Glitter Gulch."

And there's another reason.  While there this time, I clicked over my 59th birthday.  What that means, other than varicosity and arthritis, is that retirement is fast approaching, and it is important that we choose where to spend what remains of our lives.  The last thing we wanted was to live in a place where we'd sit around and wait to die.  Las Vegas is full of things to do.  We can be active and engaged in a variety of ways.  Plus it puts us closer to our adult children in Denver and L.A.  

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Hiking, Part 4

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

Today my wishes lost out to various demands, and as a result, I spent a good portion of the day engaged in those duties to which adults are required to perform.  My intent was to head west to the AT segment near Ashby's Gap, but as I didn't get freed up until nearly 1:30, I decided to keep it local.

The Civil War Battle fought only 20 minutes from my home is known by two different names.  In the South, it was known as the first and second Battle(s) of Bull Run, referring to the stream which bisects the site.  The Union referred to it as Manassas, named for the town a few miles to the south.  Today, the battlefield is a well-preserved 4,500-acres of fields, forests, and streams.  There are also hiking trails.

The two major trails cover each side of Virginia Route 234, AKA Sudley Road.  The trail on the east side of that road, the side with the visitors center, is 5.5 miles.  The one on the west side of the road is 6.5 miles.  The trails are mostly easy, although there are a few steep hills to climb.  It is a picturesque place, mostly quiet except for wildlife and the well-muted sound of traffic from VA 234 and US 29.  It is a lovely place in the springtime, when the new growth is all greened up, especially so on a clear, sunny day.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Thinking About a Motorcycle?*

A wedge of Honda Pacifc Coasts
Photo taken by an unnamed IPCRC member

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat 3/28/2006

Copyright © 2006 by Ralph Couey

Gas prices have continued their volatile roller-coaster ride, and consumers seem to know instinctively that they could zoom once again, as dramatically as a climbing fighter jet. With that in mind, people are looking at two-wheeled conveyances with a far more speculative eye.

It’s tempting. Even big motorcycles can average better than 30 miles per gallon, while scooters can average better than 60 mpg. Practicality aside, motorcycles are just plain fun to ride.

I’ve ridden the better part of 20 years and well over 250,000 miles, the memories of which still bring plenty of smiles.  Knowing the benefits that riding has accrued to me, I encourage people to entertain the possibility of purchasing a motorcycle or scooter. However, it’s important that folks go into this purchase with their eyes wide open.

If you are a new rider, and even if you have some past experience, the rider safety courses offered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation are extremely valuable. Over the space of a few days, you will learn skills that would otherwise take years to acquire on the road.

I will never forget the reaction of one veteran biker. At the end of the course, when he was called up to accept his certificate and card, he said, “I thought this would be a waste of my time. In fact, I learned things here this weekend that the school of experience couldn't teach me in 25 years of riding.”

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Hiking, Part 3

Appalachian Trail

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

This week's sojourn took me to the grandaddy of all the eastern U.S. hikes, the Appalachian Scenic Trail.  This trail, known colloquially as "the A.T." stretches some 2,200 miles from Mount Katahdin in central Maine to Georgia's Springer Mountain in the north-central part of that state.  It started as an idea borne by a forester named Brenton MacKaye in 1921 and publicized by Raymond H. Torrey in the New York Evening Post.  The states along the intended route came onboard and one of the early trail activists, Myron Avery, was the first to "section hike" the trail (doing the entire length in sections, rather than one long hike) in 1936.  The first documented "thru-hike" (doing the trail in one continuous hike) was in 1948 by Earl Shaffer of York, PA.  Shaffer thru-hiked the trail in both directions, becoming the first to accomplish that feat.  By 1971, the trail's course was permanently established.  There is an international Appalachian trail that continues for an additional 1,900 miles into New Brunswick in Canada, although this leg is not officially considered part of the AT.  

Every year, hundreds start the long walk in Georgia in early March and April, usually finishing the trail in Maine by August and September.  The trail was created to be hiked, and as such has shelters along the trail spaced at a day's hiking distance, usually 15 to 20 miles.  

Virginia's part of the AT is about 550 miles long, running from Harper's Ferry to Damascus.  You can access the trail at a number of locations, although convenient places to park your car are a bit difficult to come by.

I ordered two section maps covering northern and central Virginia from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and after perusing both, I identified two places where I could climb aboard.  One is just off Virginia 7 and Blue Ridge Mountain Road near Bluemont, and the other at the south end of that road, just off of US50 as it passes through Ashby Gap, choosing the latter to start my hike today.  After a late start, spending some wonderful hours with my grandson while his Mom ran some errands, I headed west on US50 towards Ashby Gap.  This is one of my regular motorcycle runs, so I anticipated little trouble in locating the parking area off Blue Ridge Mountain Road

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Gathering and the Family Dinner

The Reagan family dinner
Publicity still from CBS Television

Our family dinner
 The Tavern

"You can't forget how important coming together is, whether it be a mom and a son, a dad and a daughter, whether the family be ten people, or twenty people, or a million people.  
Dinnertime is the perfect time for that.  Dinnertime is the perfect time when you can sit down, you can offer thanks to your kids for making you laugh, or to your parents for supporting you, 
or to a god for looking out for you.  
You can just close your eyes, and open them again 
and realize that you have the opportunity every day to change your life, 
or change someone else's.
Dinnertime is a great time to think about that."

--Dillon, age 22
From "Dinnertimes: Stories of American Life, 1912 to 2012

"Sitting down to a meal together draws a line around us.
It encloses us and strengthens the bonds that connect us
with other members of our self-defined clan,
shutting out the rest of the world"
--Miriam Weinstein

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Except quoted and cited passages.

This week we had as guests my wife's sister and her two daughters.  It's always a happy time to have family in for a few days, especially since my wife is always so homesick for Hawai'i

Yesterday, at their request, we drove up to Gettysburg and toured the battlefield and the visitor's center.  Today, we slept in a little and after I got back from my run, we drove to the quaint little village of Upperville, Virginia and broke bread at the Hunter's Head Tavern.  This delightful place is ensconced in a converted home, built around 1750.  It has a good-size patio and garden out back, the perfect backdrop to an evening meal.

From the moment we arrived, we chattered happily, sharing memories and anecdotes, those bits and pieces of life that so clearly define a family.  We sat at the table and enjoyed a delicious meal, as the food always is at the HH.  But the best part of the evening was the sheer joy at simply being together.

There were twelve of us altogether seated around the weathered old table sharing stories and gossip, reveling in the tales of travels to Asia and Europe shared by our two nieces.  It was a wonderful time, a precious all-too-fleeting time.

Civil War: Events of June 1864

On June 1st, Joseph E. Johnston continued his stubborn defense against William T. Sherman with a skirmish at Allatoona Pass.  On that same day, Union General Don Carlos Buell resigned his commission.  He had been shelved after his failure to defeat, and then pursue Braxton Bragg at the Battle of Perryville in October of 1862.  Grant had offered him a command, but Buell, a man of immense pride, declined on the grounds that it would be personally degrading for him to serve under William T. Sherman or Edward Canby because he outranked them both.  In Grant's opinion, it was "the worst excuse a soldier can make for declining service."

On June 2nd, Union General John Sturgis left Memphis leading a force of 8,100 with orders to pursue and destroy Confederate Cavalry General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

On June 4th, Joe Johnston continued his slow, stubborn defense of Georgia in actions from Dallas-New Hope, Lost Mountain, Pine Mountain, and Brushy Mountain.

June 5th and 6th saw a small series of skirmishes between Union troops under Joseph Mower and CSA's Colton Greene at the Battle of Old River Lake in deep southeast Arkansas.  the results were inconclusive, but both sides were able to claim victory.  The Union advance was delayed by the Southerners, but Union troops were able to advance toward Lake Village.

On June 8th, the Republican National Convention renominated Abraham Lincoln for his second term, with Andrew Johnson as his Vice Presidential nominee.

Civil War: Events of May 1864

Starting on May 1st, Federal troops returned to Alexandria, Louisiana where heavy skirmishing will persist for several days.

A broad spring offensive was undertaken by the North on May 4th as Union forces crossed the Rapidan River in Virginia, and three Federal Armies pushed deep in Georgia.

Also on May 4th, the controversial Reconstruction Act passed in the U.S. House.

From May 5th through the 7th, Union and Confederate forces clashed in the Battle of the Wilderness.  For three days, the two forces fought in the dense forest, sometimes setting fires that consumed wounded soldiers on both sides.  Casualties were heavy, the Union suffering some 17,000 dead and wounded, while the toll for the South was around 11,000.  In previous contexts, this would have constituted a Union defeat and would have sent the Army of the Potomac scurrying for the safety of Washington.  But Grant, instead of marching north, disengaged and moved south around Lee's flank towards Spotsylvania Courthouse, his goal being the interposition of his army between Lee and Richmond.  The movement surprised the Union troops who, when they realized that they were on the march instead of retreat, broke into song while marching.  It was the first glimpse of the brutal, grinding strategy of attrition which would, over time, result in the eventual destruction of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hiking, Part 2A

Mather Gorge, Great Falls, Virginia
A long way to fall...

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Words and pictures

I decided to spend a little time talking about preparedness.  As I said, I'm new to this hiking thing and each time I go, a little more education is acquired.  On this last trek through Riverbend Park, I took a tumble backwards down a steep slope after banging my noggin into a low-hanging limb. I ended up with only a couple of gashes on my hands.  It could have been much worse.

I thought about that a lot today, and how important it was to remember my old Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared."  So I put together a small first aid kit which will accompany me on future trips. The contents consist of two types of bandages, a roll of gauze, a roll of medical tape, a bottle of anti-bacterial spray, a small bottle of iodine-based wound cleaner, a pair of scissors, and a small roll of duct tape.  The last might seem to be a bit odd, but I think with duct tape and a couple of sturdy sticks, I could make a serviceable splint, should the need arise.

Right now, I travel light, carrying only a Camelbak 2 liter reservoir, which is fine for safe trails in relatively populated areas.  But if my plans...or goals, if you will...come to fruition, then I will be tackling trails this summer in the Shenandoah and parts of the Appalachian Trail where it winds through Virginia.  A big part of the preparation involves gathering information on the character of those trails before I go, and selecting the appropriate equipment to take along.  Obviously, Virginia being a "buggy" locale, insect repellent, salve for bites and stings, and since I was at least at one time allergic to bee stings, probably an Epi pen as well.  This may be overkill, since I survived my last encounter with a bee when the little bugger flew inside my motorcycle helmet during a ride, and proceeded to take his errant navigation out on my head.  Other than the stinging pain, I suffered no anaphylactic emergency.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Hiking, Part 2

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Pictures and written content

Great Falls Park in McLean, Virginia is a great place to hike.  The scenery is terrific and you have your choice of trails from the ridiculously easy to the just plain ridiculous.  As I mentioned before, the trails through this park tie into a larger trail system that follows the Potomac River for about 45 miles.  Just north of Great Falls is another location, Riverbend Park.  While not as "traily" as Great Falls, there are still several paths to be explored.  I had to be back in town for a mid-afternoon doctor's appointment, and having lost a morning battle to my pillow, I got a later start than I intended.  Nevertheless, I parked in the northernmost parking lot at Great Falls and after stretching out, I headed north.  The day was overcast and cool, one of those days where you kinda need the sweatshirt, knowing you'll be sweating underneath.

The character of the river undergoes a rather startling transformation. North of Mather Gorge, the Potomac is very sedate.  There are a few rocks, but no rapids.  I don't know who the first riverman was to make this trip, but I'm sure he was real surprised.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Hiking: Good for the Heart, and the Soul

Great Falls Park, Virginia

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

Almost three years ago I woke up one humid June morning and decided to start exercising.  Since then what was a 1-mile walk has become a 4.5 mile run four to five days per week.  As odd as it sounds, it's been fun, once the muscles get warm and loose.  Along with the burst of endorphins, there is that special feeling of accomplishment.

I do most of this outdoors, even running on cold days, mainly because of my detestation for treadmills.  I love being outdoors.  The sun, the sky, the fresh air all combine to lift exercise into exhaltation.

My cardiologist has been ecstatic with the results.  He says my heart is far healthier than the average for my age, which is really good news for someone with five stents contained therein.  But over the winter, I read about the long-term results of that steady pounding on the joints.  I'll turn 59 this year and I'd like to keep my legs underneath me for as long as possible.  My GP Doc suggested that I take up hiking.  I rolled that around in my mind for a week or so, then went to the Internet in search of possible places to take this new activity.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Why We Ride*

Hull Canyon, south of Jerome, Arizona

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat
June 6, 2010
as "Tuck Away Pieces of Joy for Later Recall"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

An open road stretches before me under a clear sky, the horizon pierced by the blue peaks of distant mountains. The world glides by in unmatched grandeur. Grasslands bend in concert before prairie zephyrs. Across endless deserts, each rock, draw, and tumbleweed is starkly defined in the clear air. And in those mountains, it begins to bend, twist, and dodge, seemingly alive. Overhead, a dome of blue marks not a limiting roof, but the edge of infinity. Beneath, the engine sings its song among the trees, the steady beat of pistons pounding the pulse of life.

I am intensely alive. I have nowhere to be, and all the time in the world to get there.

Motorcycling is difficult to explain, even to other riders, a conversation that usually starts and ends with…

“You know.”
“Oh, yeah.”

The quest to capture the essence of that experience defies articulation. Oh, we can talk endlessly about sunny spring days gliding along country lanes, the air rich with the scents of an awakening world…

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Big Bang Theory and William Shatner

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

I discovered the hit television comedy "The Big Bang Theory" later than most.  But once found, it became must-see television.  The premise, for any of you who may have been under a rock for the last few years, is a group of three scientists and an engineer, hard-core geeks all, who work at an analog for Cal Tech.  Leonard is an experimental physicist, Sheldon a theoretical physicist, Raj, a particle astrophysicist from India, and Howard the engineer, and lately, astronaut, incidentally the only non-PhD in the group except for Penny.  Sheldon and Leonard share an apartment across the hall from Penny, an aspiring actress.  Howard lives with his mother, a prototypical Jewish mom, and Raj lives alone.  Much of the humor derives from the collision between Penny's world and the science fiction and comic book-dominated universe shared by the four guys.  As the show has matured, Sheldon acquired a girlfriend, Amy, a neurobiologist (played by real-life PhD Mayim Bialik), and Howard married a microbiologist, Bernadette.  Raj, however, remains without a regular girl after a long series of disastrous dates.

For someone who grew up on science fiction, notably Star Trek, Star Wars, Lost in Space, et al, this was a series made in heaven.  The writing is always good, if esoteric, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I "get" the sci-fi references.  I also understand the characters, which may or not be disturbing.

The show has intersected with real life icons such as Neil Degrasse Tyson, Stephen Hawking, comic book legend Stan Lee, Bill Nye the Science Guy, astronaut Mike Massimino, Battlestar Galactica's Katee Sackhoff, and Star Trek actors Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, LeVar Burton, and George Takei adding to the joy of the legion of dedicated fans.  Leonard Nimoy has lent his inestimable talents as well.  For some time, fans have dreamed and schemed of a way to bring William Shatner, Captain Kirk himself to the show.  I have an idea I'd like to share.

Friday, April 11, 2014


Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Johnstown, PA  Tribune-Democrat
March 27, 2011
 as "Spring ushers in life reborn"

*Waterbury, CT Republican-American
April 9, 2011
as "Ode to April, the gateway to spring"

"No Winter lasts forever, no Spring skips its turn. 
April is a promise that May is bound to keep."
 -  Hal Borland

Ahhh, April!  Stand we now on the cusp of spring, the season of rebirth and renewal.  Behind us, winter reluctantly slinks back into the cold cave of its slumbers.  For long months, it has reigned supreme.  But now, finally, it is retreating; beaten, vanquished, cowering in defeat.

Oh, how we have waited!  Through those short gloomy days and long cold nights we could almost feel the life draining from us.  We were teased with days of sun and thaw, only to see the ground covered the next morning in yet another blanket of white. 

"We need spring. We need it desperately;
and, usually, we need it before God is willing to give it to us."
-  Peter Gzowski

That Other Shoe**

Airport picture from the FAA website. No attribution listed.

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey
Written content only

*Chicago Tribune
May 27, 2011
as "The view from the other side of the counter"

*Somerset, PA  Daily American
May 28, 2011
as "Check Yourself"

As summer time approaches, doubtless many are planning to hit the road, or the skies, enroute to destinations ranging from Grandma’s to the Grand Bahamas. Doubtless also is the almost dead certainty that our national air transportation system, already creaking at the seams, will rupture in ways certain to test the already-thin patience of travelers.

As fuel costs have soared, airlines have been forced into cutting services and staff.  Adding to that are the horror stories of passengers “imprisoned” for as long as 10 hours as their aircraft sits on the tarmac while food runs out and toilets overflow. And hovering over this whole mess are the counter-terrorism security measures which now include body scans and diaper searches.

And ever-present in the back of all our minds is the reminder that the horrors of September 11th could happen again.

Humans can take only so much, and people sometimes erupt, spewing their venom in every direction.  On the receiving end of that lava flow are the visible airline employees

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Son Rise

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

It’s early morning; the sun has just risen.  It is quiet and peaceful, such a contrast to the chaos of yesterday.  Jesus had been arrested, betrayed by one of his own disciples (with a kiss, no less).  Throughout the long day, He had been beaten, insulted, whipped, and rejected by the very  people He had blessed and healed.  After a long, agonizing walk uphill carrying a heavy wooden cross, He was crucified.  And most remarkably, the last moments before his died, He asked God to forgive those who had killed him.
His body, once taken down from the cross, was given to Joseph of Arimathea by the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate.  His remains were prepared according to tradition, although hurriedly because the Sabbath was about to begin.
For those who had followed Him in His ministry, the brightness of this morning had been dimmed by the knowledge that the light of their world had been taken from them.  They mourned not just the death of a man, but the death of their last hope.  It seemed that the heavy hand of Rome would never be lifted; the corruption of their government would never be cleansed.
Into the graveyard very early on that bright morning came three women.  In their hands thy carried myrrh and oils with which to anoint the body of Jesus.  Suddenly, they stopped short.  They saw that the large stone sealing the entrance to the tomb had been rolled away.  The Roman soldiers guarding the tomb were in a seeming stupor.  They leapt to the logical conclusion:  Somebody had stolen the body of Jesus.  Inside the tomb, they saw the empty shroud.  But the also saw two angels clad in shimmering white.  One angel spoke to the women, saying, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but He is raised.  Behold, here is the place where they laid him.”

Monday, April 07, 2014

Loss...And Life


Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Image and written content, except quotes.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened. ” - Anatole France

They come into our lives, small, innocent and utterly helpless.  In those first weeks, they are completely dependent upon us for food, shelter, health, and most importantly, love.  After a while, we no longer look at them as animals, but family; even children.  In return, we receive their complete love and devotion; playmates, soul mates, and on sad days, the perfect companion.  They make us laugh, give us comfort, and when it seems that the whole world has turned on us, they greet us with unbounded joy when we return to the sanctuary of home.

Humans first began keeping animals somewhere between 15,000 and 30,000 years ago.  They were, of course, working animals, helping the humans in various ways, including providing security.  We found that once an animal identified a family as their "pack" they would protect the members of that group, even at the risk of their own lives.

Today, when a person brings a pet into their home and life, it is mainly for companionship.  Over time, a lot of love becomes invested in such an animal, be it dog, cat, snake, or parakeet.  But the lives of these animals are short.  Even the most long-lived of them is less than two decades.  So there will inevitably come a day when that beloved pet passes from this life and we are left with a particularly aching sorrow.

A couple of weeks ago, we received a text from one of our daughters in Colorado.  Her cat, named Leia, had been found in intense pain.  At the Veterinary Hospital, she was diagnosed with a kidney stone.  Further tests showed that Leia had been in chronic renal failure for some time.  One of her kidneys had apparently shut down perhaps as much as two years ago.  As the hours passed, her condition became more acute.  Finally, her last kidney ceased to function and this 13-year-old beloved pet passed away.

Monday, March 24, 2014

What We Want, What We Can, What We Will Do

"Three things are necessary for the salvation of man;
to know what he ought to believe,
to know what he ought to desire,
and to know what he ought to do."
-- Thomas Aquinas

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Except cited and quoted portions.

Every human ever born came into this life with a dream.  Separated from all the other wants and desires, it is a dream that arises from the recognition by the soul of the gifts and talents singular to that person.  Essentially, it is the assessment of what can be built using the raw materials available.

That collection of specialities is different for every person.  My son is a genius of sorts in the computer field.  Consequently, his work language is largely mathematical.  When I look over his shoulder, I see a page filled with number and notations, pi, theta, delta, sigma, tau, omega...   It is a language that, alas, will forever be indecipherable to his father. You could say that it's all...um..."Greek" to me.

I have become a writer, of sorts.  No, I haven't written The Great American Novel, though I have been a columnist.  While I can't translate mathematics, I have been able to recognize the momentum of thought and emotion from the heart and mind and translate that into words, phrases, and sentences.  Most times, that process is slow and frustrating.  But occasionally, the walls are felled, the gates are opened, and those impulses flood directly from the heart to the fingers, at a rate which challenges the hands to keep pace.

This is, for all intents and purposes, what I want; my desire, if you will.  For everyone else, that desire is particular to each one.  It may be the elegance of a perfect equation, or the production of something beautiful from a piece of wood, a lump of clay, a jar of paint.  My sister, a career educator, has spoken of that magical moment when a teacher witnesses the light of comprehension dawning in the eyes of a student.  I remember the words of a mother after seeing her child, now an adult, graduate from college.  "In that moment, I realized that all the effort, all the pain, all the worry and sleepless nights over the last 21 years expended in trying to shape a life had finally been justified.  My child has achieved; therefore as a mother, I have also achieved."

Monday, March 17, 2014

Motorcycles and Hard Economics

The Object of My Dreams and Obsessions
Taken by Ralph Couey in Fort Valley, Virginia

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph Couey
Picture and written content

Ownership, or more accurately, the relationship with a motorcycle is unique in a person's experience.  It is transportation stripped to its bare essences, and thus a journey is less one of physical necessity and more of a spiritual exaltation.  As I have written ad nauseum, the hours and miles spent in this kind of communion are priceless for those who truly understand the essence of the ride.

But, like all things, this comes at a price.

Motorcycles are a different animal than cars.  They require a great deal more attention to details such as tire pressures and oil change intervals than do cars.  Mainly because when something breaks on a car, the owner is still inside a steel cage wrapped up in a cocoon of seat belt and airbags.  When something breaks on a motorcycle, it can, and does, result in very mortal outcomes.  Safety requires upkeep, which requires $$$.

My mechanical skills are limited, as are my collection of tools.  Hence, when my bike needs something, I turn to my local factory-trained neighborhood wrench.  This is especially true in that time of year when winter is finally driven back into it's dark, cold cave for another year.  The sun warms the air, the snow disappears, the spring rains wash the road of sand and salt.  And after months of painful dormancy, motorcycles hit the roads.

The Need for Endless Speculation

MH 370
From www.ibtimes.co.uk

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Written material only.

It was a Saturday, March 8th.  A Boeing 777, one of the most advanced and safest airplanes in the world lifted off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport for a regularly scheduled flight to Beijing in the People's Republic of China.  The flight was tagged by the International Air Transport Association as Malaysian Air Flight 370.  By all expectations, it was expected to be a routine trip.  But 40 minutes into the flight, something went terribly wrong.  For reasons that were, and still remain, utterly unknown, the aircraft made a hard turn to the west, descended almost 40,000 feet in one minute, and then vanished.  The transponder and other communication devices had been deactivated, apparently in a deliberate attempt to evade detection.  The engines continued to ping satellites, a maintenance-related automatic communication back to the engines manufacturer Rolls Royce in England.  The last surmised location of the airliner could have been either over the southern Indian Ocean, or near Kazakhstan.  

Today, nine days later, the aircraft, and the 239 souls aboard, remain missing.  

This incident, or incipient tragedy, has consumed the attention of the world.  Even a pending war between Russia and it's former client state Ukraine over the Crimea seems to have taken a back seat.  A big part of the attention has to do with the shared incredulity that in this age of GPS, satellites, radar, and a sky filled with some 90,000 airplanes each day that something as big as a jumbo jet could simply vanish without a trace.

This is, unfortunately, not the first time.  Since 1910, some 160 aircraft have disappeared from the skies, without leaving a single clue as to their fate.  Perhaps the most well-known and most researched was the loss in 1937 of a Lockheed Electra with pilot Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan somewhere near Howland Island in the Pacific.  The last passenger plane to disappear was a de Havilland Twin Otter under the banner of  Merpati Nusantera Airlines which disappeared in 1995 while flying across the Molo Strait enroute to Ruteng, Indonesia, along with its 13 passengers and crew.  Bad weather was the suspected culprit.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things, Part II

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

I have been fortunate in that I have been well-traveled.  To date, I have been to 49 states and 28 countries and as many others who have trekked similar distances, those experiences have fundamentally altered my view of life.  

In my youth, I accompanied my Dad on his summer journeys related to his church work.  This meant hitting the road for two of the three summer months mostly taking in church camps across the country.  We traveled far and wide, he and I, bonding in ways that kept us close even through my tumultuous teen years.  The dominant memory of those summers can be encapsulated into the experience of sitting in a campsite sanctuary on countless humid evenings listening to his sermons as the power of his voice competed with the sawing chorus of cicadas in the dark woods beyond.  Those were good years.

Later on, I joined the Navy. In the next 10 years, I saw not only the world, but learned a lot about the people who populate those places we Americans rarely think about.  I also learned that people in this country who complain about being poor really don't know about the privation and struggle that is true poverty.

Throughout all those years, and all those miles, several places have stayed with me, having planted themselves in my heart.  These are a few of my favorite places.

Streets of Hong Kong
From Bugbog.com

Hong Kong has been called many things, the most well-known eponym being "The Pearl of the Orient."  I first set foot in this jewel during April of 1981.  I had been aboard my first ship for a couple of months, fresh out of "A" school.  It was my first foreign port, and I fell in love with the city within minutes of beginning my first liberty ashore.  Hong Kong has been for a long time a major financial and economic hub in the Far East.  When I was there, the colony still belonged to Britain, and the English imprint was noticeable although far more understated than I had expected.  The incredible thing about this city is its energy.  It is a pulse of excited urgency that seems to rise from the sidewalks right through the soles of your shoes.  Life here is lived at full throttle and its impossible to not be affected.  The people of Hong Kong are every day consumed by the business of survival.  Most live in hovels that are little bigger than a fair-sized closet, but they are only there to sleep.  The rest of the day is spent doing business.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Time, Age, and Documents

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
My mind is on a journey, but not one on a road that is straight in this dimension.  Sometimes I see my thoughts in the way of a housefly frantically bouncing from one window screen to another, trying desperately to free itself.  My attention span is thus ephemeral.  There just seems so much to ponder.

Last week, I overheard a conversation between two ladies in an elevator.  It seemed that one of them had suffered the death of her father the previous year and she talked at length about how difficult things were at the end.  It seems that he had never expressed a preference for either burial or cremation, and this seemed a terribly important, and difficult, thing for them to resolve.

It was a moment like so many others riding in that nondescript vertically-moving cube when the lives of complete strangers intersect for a few moments of time.  Usually, what is said there, and heard there, flits from my conscious thoughts.  But this conversation left me with some thinking to do.

I must confess that I look at death differently from most.  Buried somewhere in this blog, like a dusty box in the attic, is a posting about an incident that happened in the spring of 2003.  After decades of suffering mindless abuse, my heart finally put its "foot" down, and put me on notice.  Two arteries were almost completely clogged and I ended up in the Cath lab at Boone Hospital in Columbia, Missouri.  During the procedure, my heart quit and I..."went away" for awhile.  The resulting experience, complete with the de riguer tunnel and white light, left me with a certainty that death...what we call it, anyway...was in fact life, just on a different level.  I'll spare you the details, except to say that I felt a lot of different emotions, but fear was not one of them.

I don't fear death.  Lest you think me crazy, let me hasten to add that I still fear the process of dying (big, big pain baby here), the actual transition has lost its mystery.  I know now what to expect.  I also know, based on that experience, that I'm not yet done here.  I will know when that particular bus arrives.

Monday, March 03, 2014

A Few Thoughts on the Rudeness of March Snowstorms

"Winter is nature's way of saying
"Up Yours."
--Robert Byrne

Copyright ©2014 by Ralph Couey

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with snow.  When it first falls in November or December, I welcome its artistry, if for no other reason to cover up the dull brown of late fall.  Snow is expected, in fact desired around the holidays, and through the long dark tunnel of January and February.  But when March rolls up, I don't think its unreasonable to begin to look for some breaks in the weather.  Now, I don't live in Syracuse, Duluth, or Billings, where snow probably falls up through Memorial Day weekend.  I have chosen to live in more temperate climes.  After the Snowmageddon winter of 2010, Virginia enjoyed three years where actual winter weather was rare.  This year, however, winter made a return appearance.  Snow totals are up, not as high as 2010, but the thing that has made this year so hard to bear has been the unremitting cold.  

I'm older and my circulation is not what it once was, so I'm much more sensitive to the cold than in the past.  So this endless day-after-day cycle of frigid temperatures has the effect of wearing a person down.  Now, we have had a few days where the sun shone and the mercury soared into the 60's but that tease was immediately followed by another long stretch of cold.  Also, I ride a motorcycle and am regularly afflicted with what we riders call PMS, an acronym which stands for Parked Motorcycle Syndrome.  I am, by nature, a cautious rider, so even on warm winter days, the collection of sand, salt, and cinders on the roads makes riding a more dicey proposition.

Today, another large storm passed through this area, the second large one in a couple of weeks, this one dumping some 8 inches of fresh powder.  Once again, we left the warm sanctuary of the house to join our neighbors in shoveling.  I've never liked shoveling snow; and as I get older, I like it even less.  I'm beginning to understand the attraction seniors have for places like Orlando and Phoenix.  Soon it will be time for me to decide which I dislike more.  Oppressive heat and humidity, or shoveling snow and persistent cold.