About Me

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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 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

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Building Something New From the Rubble of the Past

Ultra Deep Field Image from the Hubble Space Telescope

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

I often find myself in idle contemplation of the universe.  Looking up on a clear night, I can see about 10,000 stars, each one demonstrating to me the finite and the infinite that lies beyond our tiny planet.  I think this is one of the common experiences of all humans, to look and wonder.

My interest has inspired an ongoing quest for knowledge about what lies Out There, and that knowledge has continually fed my imagination.  But in the contemplation of that universe, I have also been able to frame answers to some of my more earth-bound concerns.

The universe has no fixed reference point.  Everything is in motion, and the only accurate thing we can measure is how far we are from a certain object, and how fast we are approaching or receding.  For people whose life is a constant measure of movement to or from a point in space or time, this is truly a difficult thing to understand.  For example, in the time it takes for earth to complete one orbit of the sun, the solar system, which is also in motion, has traveled about 24 billion miles through space.  When we take two weeks off from work and do the "stay-cation," we actually have traveled some 910 million miles.  Too bad we can't get frequent flyer credits for that.

But the universe, and all the objects within, is not in a static condition.  It's not just that stars and galaxies are in motion, they are constantly changing.  With an inexpensive telescope, one can point it at the constellation of Orion the Hunter and see in the "sword" portion of that group a place that glows in molecular gases.  

Within the dark cloud of the well-known Horsehead Nebula, gas and dust is being compressed and heated.  Eventually, stars will form here.  If you had the patience, and the lifespan, to watch this cloud, you would be witness to stellar creation.

This is barred spiral galaxy M95, about 38 million light years from earth, one of billions of such collections of stars and planets.  If you look to the lower right side in the middle of that outlying spiral arm, you can see a bright point of light.  This object has been named Supernova 2012AW.  This was a massive, unstable star that blew itself up, in a titanic blast that outshines the rest of its parent galaxy.  Throughout the known universe, hundreds of stars blow up every day in titanic, catastrophic explosions so energetic they can be detected millions, sometimes billions of light years away.  We can assume that when that happens, any planets that the star would have would also be destroyed, including any beings that might live there.  One cannot conceive of a more terrible disaster.  Yet, as the remnants of that dead star expand out into space, that energy encounters gasses and dust.  When the blast wave hits, the gas and dust are compressed into objects which compress to the point where nuclear ignition takes place.  The death of one star can give birth to tens of new stars, and thus the cycle of creation starts anew. 

This is Westerlund two, the remains of several destroyed stars, a relatively close twenty thousand light years away.  But up here, you see this bright cluster, these are new stars that were born out of the debris of the old ones.  And down to the lower left, if you look carefully, you can see signs in the telltale columns that the dust and gasses are beginning to compress into new stars.

This picture is generally agreed to be one of the most dramatic images ever produced by the Hubble Space Telescope. Here in this magnificent close-up we see what have been called the Pillars of Creation. The tallest one on the left is just over 4 light years tall. To give you some perspective, that’s the same as the distance between earth and the nearest other star to us, Alpha Centauri. You can see now clearly these nodules of dust where new stars are being born. And if these new stars are the right kind, long-lived main sequence stars like our Sun, then the leftover dust could form planets. And maybe – just maybe – life. This is a magnificent image, and the knowledge of the titanic forces at work here only enhances our appreciation of its undeniable beauty. But remember that stars can only form from the gas, dust, and molecular elements that are left over from previous dead stars. Despite this inconceivable energy of destruction, something new has taken its place.

Humans go through tough times. Those challenges can be physical, mental, and emotional. In our lives we will all experience some kind of personal disaster. Inside, we feel like a star has exploded. And we are left drifting in the debris. In the wake of our tragedies, we try to gather the debris of our old life and use it to start a new life. In that critical mass, our light shines once more.

The Appalachian Trail has two endpoints, Mt. Katahdin in Maine, and Springer Mountain in Georgia, separated by some 2,200 miles of often arduous trails. But in between are hundreds of places where you can park your car, walk a couple hundred yards, and access the trail. The great thing is that wherever that point is, that's where the trail begins for you.

New Years is traditionally a point in time when people decide to make changes in their lives. The arrival of the New Year has become a time of reflection and hope for many. It is a moment when people make the effort to put the past behind and dwell on the unspoiled hope of the future.

The turning of the calendar has always been seen as a time of renewal and rebirth; a convenient chronological waypoint where we can rid ourselves of the accumulated baggage of old attitudes and bad habits. But as convenient as January 1st is, nobody really needs that kind of marker to start anew. Like the AT, you can start wherever or whenever you are motivated to do so. All humans go through tough times, whether imposed or self-generated. But we have the power and the freedom to decide to take a new path.

The pain of our past doesn't necessarily have to be the pain of our future. We cannot ignore what has happened to us before. After all, that experience has shaped us. But we can purposefully decide to take a new direction, change those things about us that fed that dark time, and firmly face the potential glow of a positive future.

The raw material for stars is the debris left over from the destruction of what existed before. We can use the debris of our past lives in a positive way to shape a better tomorrow. It will take effort and commitment; after all, the easiest thing in life is to coast. But we all have a new life inside of us. All we have to do is call it forth and make it shine.

Don't wait for a square on a calendar. Seize the moment, the "now" that each of us has available. Author Mary Shelley wrote, "The beginning is always today." If you doubt that, just look up into the night sky and know that out there from the debris of destruction, tens of thousands of stars are just beginning to shine.

For you as well, it is time to rise, shine, and light your world with hope.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Hiking, Part 43

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey
Words and pictures

Today, in our fifth week as Coloradans, we took to the trails to take our first hike since moving here in January.  For the last three weeks, I had been industriously walking the concrete paths (I won't call it a trail unless it consists of dirt, rocks, and roots) around the southern part of Aurora.  I have been working my way up in distance, and am now doing 8 miles at a stretch.  The point of that being to get my lungs and legs ready to tackle the trails that course through the front range foothills, and eventually, the Rockies themselves.

The biggest challenge has been adjusting to the altitude.  I have to keep reminding myself that the tallest peaks I climbed in Virginia are still 2,000 feet lower than the feet of the mountains we see here.  We have been asking people how long it takes to get acclimated, and get answers ranging from three months to three years.  And I believe that.  Even the simple act of climbing stairs still leaves us a bit breathless.  Where the strain shows is in tackling inclines.  Walking on flat ground is not terribly taxing, but let that path start to ascend, and immediately the lungs begin to work desperately hard to pull what little breathable oxygen exists in this huge sky.

Today was Cheryl's day off, and we decided to attempt our first dirt hike.  Our daughter recommended the William F. Hayden Green Mountain Park, a 2,400 acre expanse on the western edge of the Denver 'burb of Lakewood.  When you get out of the car, you're standing at about 6,050 feet altitude.  The summit at the top of the park is 6,800 feet.  On the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, a 750-foot ascent is just part of the hike.  The highest peak I attempted there was Hogback Mountain at just under 3,500 feet.  I remember that day, and how tired and sore I was at the end of that particular trek.  So, by that measure, a mere 750 feet should pose no problems, right?

Just to be cautious, we chose a trail that meandered around the south edge of the park, using discretion to put the big climb off on another day.  Once we left the lot, we crossed a bridge over a busy toll road and entered the park.  Now, I admit to being a bit spoiled.  On the AT, all you had to do was look for the blaze, and you were on the trail.

But our first look at this space produced this:

No blazes, because...well, there's no trees to put them on.  But we saw trails leading off in three different directions, so we consulted the map from the park's website and then asked one of the many hikers and bikers.  The one we were directed to we were told was a fairly easy trail that climbed gradually.  Now, everything is relative, and for someone with Colorado lungs, I'm sure that this would be classed as "fairly easy."  What I was about to find out was how unadapted we still are to this place.  

The trail was a real trail -- dirt and rocks -- so, that was a great thing for me.  Many stretches were flat and easy.  But the few uphill portions were kinda steep and as soon as we parted from the flat to the climb, we started wheezing like a couple of bad furnaces.  Still, there was a serene beauty to this land, the tawny-colored grass of the Colorado prairie that walked right up to the base of the foothills.

The sky was a perfect dome of blue and the weather was close to perfect.  The temperatures during the winter bounce back and forth between frigid and warm.  Being a mile up into the air, the sun's rays are very direct, a lot like the sun in Hawaii.  Today the temps soared into the mid-seventies, but the fierce sunlight made us both a bit too warm for our tastes.  This morning when we left the house, the thermometer read 38 degrees.  By the time we'd finished, it was almost 40 degrees higher.  Still, if you dress in removable layers, even those extremes can be tolerated.  What will be interesting will be this summer when it gets into the 90's.

Finally, we turned an uphill corner and found ourselves looking out across the land to the south.  It was a pretty day, and a pretty view.  The only thing that could be called spoiling was the busy work of developers, throwing up new neighborhoods at a frantic place.  

We turned around at the 2.25 mile mark and headed back.  It was a long, tiring trek, and the heat combined with the altitude wore us out.  Finally, finally, we spotted the bridge and were soon folding our tired bodies into the car, heading for a restorative late lunch at Cafe Rio.

This was an eye-opener.  Despite my hard work on the paths, I was clearly still not ready for a wilderness hike.  But for our first effort on a real trail, it wasn't half bad.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

The Mess of Role Reversal

Chicken Parmesan....

...and Italian-Style Meat Loaf
Picture credits?  Not sure, but 
they're all better at cooking than I am.
Why is it mine never look this good?

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey
Written content only.

It's called "role reversal," that part of human interaction where two people (usually married) at some point trade jobs.  In our case, my retirement freed up a lot of time that normally would have spent working productively at a job.  Cheryl, because of the economics of her retirement, still works, something she reminds of each and every day.  Because of that, it became necessary for me to undertake a new set of expectational chores.

I'm not a Neanderthal, by the way.  I do laundry, fold n' iron, make the bed, and attend to various other household chores, and have been doing this for most of my adult life.  Most of the time, without being told...er...reminded.  Now I have been asked to undertake the task of providing sustenance for the evening meal.

Cooking, for me, has always been a mystery.  When the kids were smaller, I did my duty on the nights when Cheryl was stuck at the hospital, which usually involved some form of hamburger helper, or something frozen from Sam's Club.  Attempting creativity was, shall we say, not greeted with anything approaching enthusiasm.  In fact, once our oldest got his driver's license, Chef Dad nights became for them Chez McDonald's.

As the years rolled on, it became apparent that cooking was just something beyond my ken.  I stuck to those things I knew I could execute, french toast, eggs over easy, omelettes, and anything microwavable.  Some of the manufacturers, in a stroke of genius, came out with those "meal in a bag" items.  I loved this.  Didn't have to add, mix, measure, or guess.  Just unbag it, put it in the oven or pot of boiling water, and within 20 minutes -- Voila! -- a tasty, (mostly) nutritious meal.  More importantly, the end product actually looked like the picture on the bag.  As long as you didn't look to closely.  

Saturday, February 04, 2017

They STILL Say the Darndest Things

Ian Couey
Photo © 2017 by Yukyung Couey

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey
Written content only.

"We can waste a lifetime 
of study and contemplation
 pursuing the truth of life, 
when all we really ever had to do 
was ask our five-year-old."
--R. F. Couey

Last month, in my farewell address to my colleagues, I encouraged them that while they were navigating the maelstrom that spins through their lives, to be alert for those marvelous moments of the now.  It can be too easy that while we are fully focused on the "have-to-do's" and "gotta-be-there's" that crowd our schedules that we can become unaware of those moments when they occur.  Those magical snippets can become golden memories.

Art Linkletter had a television show in the 1960's called, "Kids Say the Darndest Things."  The format was delightfully simple.  Art sat down with some kids, what today would be called a panel, and asked them questions.  The wonderful attraction to the program was the delightful and incredible things that came out of the mouths of those babes.  Young children are very prone to saying what is exactly on their mind, lacking, or perhaps ignoring, the social filters that keep such utterances from adults locked firmly inside.  As they grow older, they become, in a way, more cynical and less frank, and of course, much less entertaining.

Our grandson Ian just turned six years old, and has always been a reliably hilarious source of such gems.  He is very intelligent (yeah, yeah, I know.  ALL grandparents say that.), but in the last couple years has revealed a real sense of humor.  And a very contagious laugh.

Ian's Mom and Dad began writing these things down for posterity, something we have come to call "Ian-isms."  While this is the kind of thing parents normally save for when they meet the boy's first girlfriend, they are truly amazing, and reflect his active mind.

The first one I heard happened one evening when bedtime was approaching.  Dad had been reading a book to him, when Ian suddenly looked up and asked,

"Daddy, how old were you when you were my age?"

A couple of weeks later, Ian was having a conversation with his cousin, Hyunu which unwound like this:

Hyunu:  "I'm taller than you."
Ian:  "My mom is taller than you."
Hyunu:  "My mom is taller than your mom."
Ian:  "My Dad is taller than your Mom!"
Hunu:  "Well, my Dad is taller than your Dad, so I'm going to be taller than you!"
Ian:  "Humph.  We'll see about that!"

I'll have to admit, I've never before heard a five-year-old say "humph!"

Moms always employ a bit of futurist bribery when trying to get their young lads to eat the right foods, telling them that they have to eat the...whatever...if they want to grow up to be a big boy.  And we all know that the one thing little boys want the most is to be big boys.  Ian, however, saw things a little different:

Mom:  "If you eat really well, you'll grow up nice and strong.
Ian: "Okay, Mommy."
You also need to get a lot of sleep."
Ian:  "That's why I wake up late."

Ian and his two sisters love to go to the library.  But at our local book repository, they also had toys for the kids, which included a collection of wooden blocks.  Ian had used the entire set to build an impressive tower, something that would have been right at home in mid-town Manhattan.  Another little boy had been going around knocking things over, and found Ian's construction project nigh irresistible.  As he closed the range, Ian responded with his "evil eye" look, and told him, "Don't knock down my tower," in a tone that suggested a very young Darth Vader.  The other boy persisted, hanging around waiting for a moment of inattention on the part of Ian when he could step in with some urban renewal, when Ian glared once again at him, and in a move right out of the cinema, took his two fingers and first pointed at his eyes, then towards the other kid, a gesture that clearly means, "I'm watching you!"  Great.  A five-year-old DeNiro.

I came home from work one day to find Ian in the family room, sans trousers, waving around a cardboard tube from a roll of gift wrap.  He is a big fan of Star Wars, and it was clear he was imitating Obi-Wan Kenobi.  So, I asked him,

"Ian, are you a Jedi?"
To which he replied,

"No.  Jedi have pants."

Ian, like all children his age, got an early start with electronics.  By the time he turned two-and-a-half, he was already a virtuoso on the iPad, and approaching the first level of mastery with a desktop.  But iPads, or as he referred to them, "ah-pads," were in limited supply at the time around the house.  One evening, Dad was using the ah-pad to do...whatever Dads do with ah-pads. Ian clearly wanted to watch cartoons, but despite repeated requests, could not get Dad to relinquish the device.  So finally, he climbed up on the couch, got right in Dad's grill, and said:

"Daddy, you need to learn to share!"

Kids listen, and will imitate their parents at times, reminding us that those little ears are always busy, even when we'd rather they were doing something else.  One day, as supper was approaching, Mom in need of some assistance, asked Ian, 

"Ian, what's Daddy doing?"

Ian in a perfect wife-ish sassy tone of voice, replied,

"He's doing NOTHING!  That's what he's doing!"

Dad and Mom own a mini-van with a video screen, ideal for keeping the peace inside the car on long-ish trips.  They were enroute to a birthday party, and the car was full of supplies for the fete, including some balloons bobbing around the ceiling.  They blocked Ian's view of the screen, so he told Dad,

"I can't see the movie because the balloons are blocking the TV!"
Dad:  "Then hold the balloons."
Ian:  "I don't want to."
Dad:  "Well, you can hold the balloons, or not see the TV. 
Those are your two options."
Ian:  "I can make my own options!"

One day, Mom and Ian were talking about having a pet, and when Ian would be old enough to be responsible for it.  Mom asked when he thought he might be old enough for that, and Ian replied,

"I think I can have a pet when I'm ten.  I can feed him, 
I can take him for walks, I can take care of him.  But not when I'm 20."
Mom:  "Why not?"
Ian:  "Because I'll have a job and I'll be grouchy."

Well, he certainly got that part right.

These are the golden years of parenting, before the onslaught of teenage hormones, when kids can be at their cutest and funniest.  All parents hear these things, and encode them in memory.  But memory is a wily critter, and the passage of time can cause those golden quotes to vanish in the mist, which is why I encourage parents to write those things down when they occur.  Thanks to the Internet, some of these priceless utterances are now preserved forever.

Kayla Reeves of the Huffington Post, recounted a conversation with her daughter. 

"When my child came home from school on the bus, 
I paused the work conference call I was on to ask how her day was.
She responded, "Ssshhh, go back to work.  I have a list of things 
I want you to buy me with the money you're making."
Kayla noted, "She's five."

Time passes quickly, and these wonderful early years will be gone before you know it.  Before too long, the only thing you'll hear from your child will be that perfectly executed "mmf"that passes for eloquence from a teenager.  Do yourself a favor.  Provide yourself a ready bulwark from that too-rapidly approaching time by writing down your kid's sayings while they're still cute and funny.  Trust me, they'll provide endless entertainment for the rest of your life.

And what the heck, you can always reveal them to their first date.  After all, what's the fun of being a parent if you can't occasionally embarrass your kid?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Getting in Rythm

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey
Words and Pictures

We humans are creatures of habit.  A regular routine helps keep us sane, giving each day a slightly different cast, but still managing to help us march through the calendar.  We look at our weeks and know that certain things happen on certain days and times.  For most of us, our jobs and those related activities occupy Mondays through Fridays.  Weekends, for parents, are driven by the schedules of the kids, i.e. baseball, football, basketball, gymnastics, and the seemingly never-ending soccer season.  For some, Sunday means church followed by an afternoon either watching or playing sports, or just taking a snooze on the couch.  This makes our days fairly predictable, if frenetic.  As I have discovered, there is safety in that routine.

Schedules, whether we like them or not, run our lives, and when there is a major change to that routine, we are left adrift; confused and gasping for air.

One of the things I have had to get used to, now in my third week of retirement, is learning how to live a life mostly bereft of scheduled obligations.  I used to work Wednesdays through Saturdays, and upon waking up on these three Wednesdays, my first thought was if I had ironed a shirt for work. Then realizing that was no longer necessary.  For decades, I lived my live in suits, ties, and slacks.  Now, it's mainly jeans.  We're still sorting out boxes here in my daughter's house, so I guess you could say I still have a job, albeit a different one.

The really fun thing we've discovered is the freedom we have to go do things without consulting our smartphone calendars.  This week, on a whim, we drove up to Breckenridge, Colorado for a day...just because.  We walked around town, did some shopping, some eating, spent the night and drove home the next day through a driving snowstorm.  Today, we were passing a theater, and decided to go see a movie.  Just like that.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Birds, Brains, and Beauty

From Crafthub.com

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F, Couey
Written content only

Nature is many things from the violent to the visually stunning.  In some of those things, there is a stunning complexity to the design and execution that would challenge the ablest human artist or engineer.  If we only take the time to slow down, stop, and look closer, we can be amazed.

A couple of autumns ago, I was hiking on a section of the Appalachian Trail near Harper's Ferry, West Virginia.  This section has a very steep ascent called Weverton Cliffs.  The trail zigzags up 600 feet to a hiker's treat, a long, level stretch.  As I was struggling up the hillside, I came across a bird's nest lying just off trail under a good-size sycamore tree.  I picked it up and continued on.  When I finally go to the top, I stopped and sat on a convenient rock to catch my breath.  As I sat there, I began to look at the nest.  This was not the first nest I had seen, but it was the first one I had actually looked at.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

From the Other Side

From Pinterest.com

by Ralph F. Couey

There are times in life when something huge is looming in our path, a life-changing moment the outcome of which is utterly unclear.  In those moments of shaky anticipation, one can't spend too much time worrying about what may or may not happen. Such breathless foreboding only guarantees the sleepless nights and hollow eyes that pave the road to a nervous breakdown.  

I have adopted the hiker's philosophy implemented at the foot of every long, steep ascent.  One step at a time.  Don't look up, don't look down. Have faith that, even on the Appalachian Trail, hills do eventually end.  To others, this can be translated as "This too shall pass."

Retirement can be viewed in one of two ways. "I'm ready, it's time, let's do this." Or, "I have to do this because the alternative is even worse."  I detailed in previous posts my struggles in recent months which led to that decision.  That my bosses could not have been more compassionate and accommodating made things easier, but in the end, I still found myself on a cold, cloudy Virginia afternoon standing on the outside, looking in.

I'd rather put hot needles in my eyes than re-live the past two months.  But now that I'm on the other side of those events, I can look at them with a bit more pragmatism.  And understanding.

Every change in life involves some kind of personal trauma.  I hated to leave behind...what I left behind.  The exciting, challenging work, the wonderful and awesomely intelligent people I was privileged to work with.  There was cachet in the organization and the mission which lent an air of the extraordinary to my days. As one of my friends put it, "After all this, it's hard to be ordinary again."  There's a tinge of pain to that statement.  Let me hasten to say that this was not about ego, but rather about the personal fulfillment engendered in not just doing work, but performing a mission. We were defending our country, a calling by any definition.

On my last day, there was a ceremony.  People said some really nice things about me, and I gave a perhaps too lengthy speech out of the need to get those thoughts off my chest.  My family was there and got a chance to meet some of those singular individuals.  But after the ceremony, the pizza, and some final goodbyes, I went down to the security office.  There, I sat across the table from a man who had me sign some non-disclosure forms written in very stiff language.  I was read out of my clearances and programs.  I surrendered my badges, and in the final moments, in the friendliest way, I was shown the door.  Several of them in fact, as befits the multiple barriers of one of those undisclosed locations.  

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Post Number 600

Copyright © 2016
by Ralph F. Couey

On November 3, 2006, I opened a blog account with blogger.com. My first post was about a motorcycle accident involving Steeler’s quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Today, a little over ten years later, I am uploading post number 600.

The title came from a moment on a motorcycle trip.  I was riding westward across Kansas, heading towards my night's stop in the town of Liberal.  As the day wound down, the sun was sinking towards the horizon.  The low angle of its light brought a host of those heart-warming tones I call "evening colors."  The wheat fields on either side of US 54, dancing and weaving in those prairie zephyrs were displaying a warm color that I now understood was the origination of the phrase, "amber waves of grain."  As the sun dipped below the horizon, a few remaining clouds turned bright gold.  It was a perfect moment in time.  I recognized that as the day was coming to a close, I was racing the sunset towards night.

I established the blog in order to exercise my growing passion for writing. I felt that by doing this, I could give some air to the thoughts and emotions which had been banging around inside of me for so long, begging for release. About that same time, I began writing a regular newspaper column in the Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat. A few months later, I added the Somerset, PA Daily American to my clients. Because those two towns were only 30 miles apart, I had to write two separate columns each week. But surprisingly, that was never a problem. All of the columns I wrote for those papers, and those I wrote as a contributor to other publications are a part of this website, the titles marked with an asterisk. As much as it was a kick to see my words, and byline, in print, I was much more gratified and humbled by the positive and touching responses. I always felt that my target audience was not the person who read my words and responded with anger and hate, but rather the person who, after reading, would sit back, sigh, and smile.

The subjects upon which I wrote were many and varied, touching just about everything except politics. I felt that as a country, we were already deeply divided, and I had no wish to add to that division. What I have written has reflected the passions in my life. As I look over the post listing, I see that I wrote a lot about motorcycling and hiking, sharing my love for the open road and the forested trail. These activities brought me a great deal of joy…and peace, and I felt it was natural to share those moments, and some of the pictures as well. Some of the images are pretty good (if I do say so myself), but they’ll never match the portrait that in that moment was painted on my heart.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Great Upheaval

Copyright © 2016
By Ralph F. Couey

It was a cold, but bright and beautiful morning.  The night before, freezing rain had moved in and had coated the 8 inches of snow with a veneer of ice.  It was the kind of surface that guaranteed some heart-stopping sledding.  My friends and I met at our customary place, a moderately steep hill.  At the bottom, we had built a jump ramp which we figured would give us enough air to span the rocks of Mill Creek.  

Getting there was difficult, as the icy top of the snow kept us falling frequently, only occasionally crunching through the surface.   Finally though, we stood at the crest of the hill.  The sun was well up, and it's light reflected on the surface, turning the hill into something that resembled a huge sheet of glass.  Now, we were adventurous youth, but some tendrils of mortality crept into our collective brains as we began to realize that disaster could await us at the bottom of the hill.

Me, being me, decided to go first.  I waxed the runners and flipped it over, laying down on the top.  With a brave-sounding "YEEEEHAWWWW!!!!" I started down the hill.

I hadn't gone a hundred feet before I realized something was very wrong.  The icy surface was very fast, but gave me absolutely no way to steer.  The runners, instead of creasing the surface were just skittering across it like a waterbug.  About halfway down, I knew I was in trouble. The sled began to swing back and forth, at times going sideways.  I tried to dig the toes of my boots into the unyielding surface, but to no avail.  About 50 feet from the ramp, I was in a full panic.  I was headed downslope, faster than I had ever gone before, and with absolutely no control.

That memory has come back to me as my life has unfolded, and unraveled, over the past two months.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Age and the Betrayal by the Mind

From University College London Brain Sciences

Copyright © 2016
By Ralph F. Couey

Throughout our lives we are burdened by a self-imposed delusion that we are somehow bullet-proof and immortal.  This is probably a reflection of the common insecurity that we all carry with us, whether latent or manifest.  But age has a way of shattering delusions, as we come to grips with how fragile a thing humans are.

It started a couple of years ago with memory problems.  When you're 61 years old, that's usually something to joke about.  But as time went on, things got worse, affecting the quality of my work.  My superiors, despite my difficulties, were massively patient.  Finally, out of an abundance of concern, I scheduled myself for a series of appointments with people whose specialty is the brain.

My first concern was the possibility of Alzheimer's, or early onset of senility.  I remembered my father's last two years of life when he was afflicted by both.  Bit by bit, he drifted away from us.  Towards the end, there were times when he couldn't recognize anyone.  I did not want to be that guy, especially this early.  I love my grandchildren, and the absolute last thing I wanted was to see the hurt on their faces when Grampa didn't know who they were.

I went to a neuropsychologist who put me through a battery of tests, lasting several hours.  I waited anxiously for the results which took about a week.  The results were both good and bad.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Preparing for the Final Frontier

Alpha Centauri A and B

Proxima is inside the red circle

Image By Skatebiker at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46833562
Copyright © 2016
by Ralph F. Couey
Except cited portions

On September15, 1965, the CBS television network debuted a new science fiction show entitled “Lost in Space.”  The Irwin Allen production followed the adventures of the Robinson family who were being sent on an interstellar mission to find a new place for an over-populated earth to call home.  The show was known far more for its campy style than anything else.  The main character became, not the Robinson’s, but the evil conniving Dr. Zachary Smith, who had snuck aboard as a foreign agent to sabotage the mission, but managed to get stuck there when the ship took off.  He was certainly the most buffoonish foreign agent ever, in addition to being a sniveling coward of the first order, and the episodes mainly revolved around Smith doing foolish things to get the Robinson’s in trouble.  It was not intellectual by any stretch, but managed to stay on the air for three seasons before being canceled, according to statements by cast and crew, due to declining ratings and increasing costs.

So what, you may ask.  Well, the destination for the Robinsons and their saucer-shaped Jupiter 2 spacecraft was Alpha Centauri, long known to be the closest star to our own solar system, about 4.2 light years away. According to the plot, there was a planet there that could support human life and it was the Robinson’s mission to survey the planet and report back.
As it has turned out, Irwin Allen seems to have been a prophet.