About Me

My Photo

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, October 01, 2014

Football and the First Amendment

Praising Allah
Copyright 2014 ABC News

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

The Monday Night Football game between the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs on September 29th ended up a 41-14 blowout in favor of the Chiefs.  It was for me and evening of deep satisfaction since I've been a Chiefs fan as long as there has been a Kansas City Chiefs.  

The next morning, the press coverage was, predictably all about how the Pats had lost the game rather than how Kansas City had won.  Not surprising since Tom Brady has long been that All-American media darling.  Who has also been to four Super Bowls.  Amongst the reporting was speculation that perhaps Brady's spectacular career was coming to an end.

But something else happened that night.  

In the 4th quarter, Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah, a devout practicing Muslim, dropped into zone coverage, locked on Brady's eyes.  He broke hard, jumped the route and intercepted the pass, galloping 39 yards to the endzone.  What happened then has folks in a bit of a dither, and may just be a 1st Amendment issue.

After crossing the line, Abdullah went to his knees, sliding across the turf before coming to a halt just inside the back line.  Still on his knees, he laid his forehead on the turf.  To anyone with an ounce of worldly awareness, it was obvious that he was praying in the Muslim fashion.  The official threw the flag, citing Abdullah for excessive celebration, explaining that the source of the foul was the players bent knee slide across the grass.  But the flag wasn't thrown until he prostrated himself.

Now, post-TD religious acts are not rare in the NFL.  Players regularly kneel, cross themselves, or point heavenwards.  But to date, no one has been penalized for those acts.  The league's explanation is that the player's foul was related to the slide, not the prayer.  If that were the case, why wait to toss the laundry?

The excessive celebration penalty was intended to curtail what was becoming a scripted dance competition, or incidents like Terrell Owens signing the ball with a sharpie pulled from his sock and tossing the pigskin into the crowd.  To penalize a simple knee slide stretches the play-doh to the breaking point.  

Which raises the ominous shadow of another possibility.

No one can know what was in the mind of the official who threw the flag except that official.  But what if he reacted to the public display of Islamic devotion?  If that was the motivation, then will future acts by Christians and Jews also be penalized?

As it turns out, it is the league's stated policy never to penalize religious demonstrations.  This was their statement the next day when they retracted the penalty.  Small comfort to Chiefs fans, since the short kickoff thanks to the 15-yard penalty gave the Pats a rare runback and set up backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo for a drive which resulted in a touchdown.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees what many believe are our most important and fundamental rights.  Freedom of speech, press, and peaceful assembly, and the ability to petition the government for redress of grievances.,

Then there's the religion clause.

This clause has been the subject of a lot of angst.  Specifically, it states:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

The intent, given the experience of the founders, was clear.  A goodly number of those who arrived on these shores had made that hazardous Atlantic crossing specifically to escape the dominating, some would say oppressive, presence of the Church of England, or the Holy Roman Empire.  As far as they were concerned, there would be no Church of America, at least not one mandated by the congress.  But since all our founding documents are replete with references to God and Heaven, it seems clear that while the founders wanted government out of religion but still wanted religion to be a part of government.

Atheists and agnostics have long desired a national environment where they see no religious symbology or iconography in public at all.  That seems a bit insecure to, since I can see a lot of secular things and not be offended at all.  But the problem and the source of the argument is the second part of the anti-establishment clause, "...or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."  Freedom of religion has never meant freedom from religion.

Given the events which have transpired over the past 15 years, it's understandable that some people may get the heebie-jeebies over anything Islam.  But even those Americans would not want the government to suppress religion in any form that doesn't directly impact the rights of other people.  Our traditions run deep.  And to an American, freedom is far more important than fear.

That's not to say we can't draw the line at elements of  Sharia Law such as honor killings.  Even for us, tolerance has its limits.  But praying after a touchdown is hardly the act of an extremist.  And Husain Abdullah is manifestly not a terrorist, although after that pick-6, Tom Brady may disagree.

The National Football League is confronting an uncommon and harsh intrusion of reality into it's bubble.  Domestic violence, and mental illness due to concussion are but two of the issues which are looming large in the public's eye.  They appear to have erred in their handling of some players' violent acts against women and children, and the revelation of how this violent game has impacted players into advanced age has tarnished the image of the NFL, and in some respects, the game itself.

They are now making belated efforts to repair the damage.  But in the case of this penalizing of the free exercise of religion, this is one ball they'd better not fumble.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Learning How to Wait

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

I'm sitting here this evening with my eyes on the computer, but my ears pegged to the broadcast of a baseball game.

Baseball has had a huge influence on my life, in ways both substantial and subtle.  While I've always been a fan of "the game," my loyalties have been tied like heartstrings to the fate of the Kansas City Royals. 

Tonight, hopefully, will be special.  If the Royals can hang on to their 3-0 lead over the Chicago White Sox for nine more outs, they will gain entry to that post-season tournament we call "the playoffs."  Before you sigh and intone "so what?", let me explain.

In 1985, the Royals made the playoffs.  No real surprise, since they had been there in 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1980.  But this time, they survived all the way to the World Series, a memorable seven-game dogfight against their cross-state rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals.  After a controversial play in game 6 gave the Royals one more desperate breath, they absolutely destroyed the Redbirds in game 7 to bring home the World's Championship of Major League Baseball.

The Royals were a dominant team, combining airtight defense, superior pitching and enough offense to do the job.  They remained competitive through the rest of the '80's, but beginning in the '90's and on into the first decade of the 21st century, the team sank as far as a team can go.  There were several 100-loss seasons in that time, and the tight-fisted owners pedaled away star players in favor of keeping the salaries under control.  Fans grew disillusioned and began staying away in droves.

A change in leadership and a re-invigoration of the farm system (including a heavy investment in culling talent from the Dominican Republic) began to show dividends.  This year was the year everyone talked about as the season when their impressive talent would mature into championship material.  And that has finally been the case.

There have been dry spells, and times when the offense for a game consisted of mistakes by the other team and sacrifice flies.  But tonight (and now three outs to go) the Royals will step through the golden door into the rarified air of the post season.  

It's been 29 years

It's the longest playoff drought in North American sports.  For the fans, it's seemed much longer.

True, it's a wildcard spot, not a division championship.  A disastrous set against the Tigers pretty much took care of that last week.  But it's still the playoffs.  And as long as your team is still playing, the possibility of "winning it all" still exists.

Realistically, I doubt the team will go far.  While the pitching staff is one of the best, and the defense is darn near airtight, you still have to plate runs, and the Royals' offense is...well...the word "pathetic" seems to be apropos.  Certainly, if they survive long enough to take on the mighty Angels, they better be able to push spikes across the plate.

Still, it can be done.  Across the Truman Sports Complex parking lot from Kaufmann Stadium is Kansas City's other team, the Chiefs.  I will gloss over the Super Bowl drought for them, which this year turns into 44 excruciatingly heart-breaking years.  But the last time they went to the Big Dance, they went as a wildcard team, having lost the division championship to the Raiders, they beat the Jets, and then the Raiders to qualify for Super Bowl IV against the Vikings, which they won in convincing fashion.  So however humbly the Royals arrive at the dance, they still have the same chance every other team does.

Being a Kansas City sports fan is an exercise in patience and hope.  And forgiveness,  No lover has ever had their hearts broken, smashed, stomped on, crushed like the fans of this modest midwest metropolis.  A lesser populace would have abandoned both teams long ago.  But being a fan of the Royals and Chiefs is a lot like marriage.  You have good days, and you have bad days.  But you never forget how much you love them.

One out to go.

Pop-up.  Salvy Perez under it.  The ball descends.  It hits the glove.  And stays there.

There you go.  The Royals are in the playoffs.  And however short or long their stay will be, at least they got there.

29 years?  Feels like it was just yesterday.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Hiking, Part 12



Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

Today we went back to the Potomac River, a place I haven't hiked since spring.  I remember how enchanting it was, the paths lined with bluebells, and those wonderful sunny days after a winter that just wouldn't go away.  I decided to start a bit upstream from Great Falls Park, another park called Riverbend.  Using the GPS, we located the visitors center, a modernish-looking structure set on a low rise overlooking the river.  We picked up the trail and headed north.  

This particular stretch is part of the Potomac Heritage Trail, a system of trails that stretch from Stafford County, Virginia, south of Washington DC, all the way to the Conemaugh Gorge near Johnstown, PA.  Added together, the primary and secondary trails add up to a whopping 830 miles.  If you were to stay on the main trail itself, you would pile up some 425 miles, if I've done the math right.  The section we were on today is actually two trails, one on each side of the Potomac.  The trail on the east side is called the C&O Towpath, which provided mule power to haul flat boats up and down the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.

You would think that walking along a river might be a pretty easy, flat path.  In truth, the trail does have it's easy portions, but then it meanders inland and you end up climbing and descending the bluffs, some of which are pretty doggone steep.  So it ends up being a mixed bag, which is a good thing especially if you have a new hiker along with you.

The first mile or so was flat and in some places, pretty sandy, deposits from frequent flooding.  This is a section easy on the eyes, with the forest to your left, and to your right the waters of the Potomac River, today a vivid blue under flawless early autumn skies.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Questions, Answers...and Patience

"We are often confronted by questions
which we cannot answer
because the time for answering them
has not yet come."
-- Thomas Merton

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

Recently, a friend lost his dear wife to cancer.  My friend is a man of science and is thus a pragmatist by nature.  There are many others like him who look at the world as a technical problem awaiting a technical solution.  Within them, there is a gnawing frustration that science could develop the technology to travel to other planets and map the human genome, but has yet to find a solution to cancer.  The knowledge that evidence is mounting towards an eventual cure is cold comfort to someone who is dealing with the acute pain of  the loss of the most important person in their life.

Scientific knowledge is a progression of sorts.  Each discovery is added to and enhanced by succeeding generations gifted with much better technology and improved processes, and in some cases, better brains.  Leonardo Da Vinci was a brilliant scientist.  Unfortunately, he was trapped in the 15th century.  It is reasonably stunning to project what his accomplishments might be if he were brought forward in time and equipped with even your average desktop computer and cad software.  If any of the physicians who struggled against the Black Plague of the 14th century knew as much as the average Mom today about infectious bacteria the plague might have been slowed or even halted.

There are about a hundred thousand questions we ask today that future generations will look back upon, shake their heads, and say sadly, "If only they knew..."  We have to have patience, dedication, and a firm belief in the premise that there are no unanswerable questions, given enough time.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Star-Spangled Banner, and the People Who Still Make it Wave


Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
 
 
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
 
 
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
 
 
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
--Francis Scott Key
Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

The words are familiar to every American, a song we’ve sung countless times and listened to even more often.  Most people don’t know that, even though the words were penned on a British ship in Baltimore Harbor in September of 1814, the song did not become the anthem of our nation until a congressional resolution was passed on March 3, 1931, and signed by President Hoover.
That’s an interesting tale in itself, as it wasn’t until Robert Ripley (Ripley’s Believe It or Not) pointed out that the United States as yet had no national anthem.  The tune came from John Stafford Smith, who originally composed it as “To Anacreon in Heaven” for the Anacreontic Society, a men’s social club in London.
It is a difficult song to sing, covering a musical span of one note over an octave and a half, as countless singers can attest.  But it is the history behind the words themselves that give the song it’s powerful meaning, and subsequent national status.
Of late, the anthem has come under fire from some, saying that the song glorifies war.  Maybe its time to take a closer look.
By 1814, Britain had defeated Napoleon in Europe, and was now free to send the bulk of her now-veteran troops across the Atlantic to deal with those pesky former colonials. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hiking, Part 11





Bull Run Mountain

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

It couldn't have been a more perfect day.  Clear sky, low humidity, temperatures in the low 70's, and a day off to boot.  If Amazon sold days like this, their site would crash and burn.  The first hint of fall weather has arrived after summer threw one last high hard one at us last week.

Following Cheryl's instructions, I picked a place we hadn't gone yet.  About 15 minutes west of Manassas right off I-66 is a real treasure.  The Bull Run Mountains are a 15-mile stretch of peaks which form the easternmost range of the Blue Ridge.  The two are separated by the beautiful Loudoun Valley, an Eden of streams, hills, forests, and fields that stretch gently across the landscape.  The mountains connect with the Catoctin range in Maryland (home of Camp David) and the Pond Mountains south of I-66.  

Like many similar areas of Virginia, there is a great deal of interest in preserving it as much as possible in it's natural state.  To that end, the Bull Run Mountain Conservancy was formed in 1995, and took custodial care of a 15,000 acre tract starting just north of I-66 in Thoroughfare Gap and running north along and either side of the three parallel ridges.  Today, the "headquarters" sits at the end of Beverly Mill Road which is where the trail head is located. The area was an important part of local history, starting with the establishment of a mill along Broad Run in 1750.  The mill operated, under several families, until 1951.  The shell of the original mill building still stands, an impressive 7-story structure with walls made of native stone.  This was a remarkable feat of engineering, since rock walls tended to fall over if built too high.  

The location of the mill, sitting in a convenient gap in the mountain range, became an important location during the Civil War.  The South used the mill as a place to store beef for the Army of Northern Virginia.  In August 1862, opposing forces were gathering for the Second Battle of Manassas.  The Union sent  two brigades to block the gap and keep Southern General James Longstreet's corps on the west side of the mountains.  Longstreet eventually came up with a plan to take possession of the heights on either side of the gap and forced the Union forces to retreat.  This opened up the way for Longstreet to march for Manassas where he was able to land the crucial blow that gave the South the victory.  Later on, when it became apparent that the North would take possession of Thoroughfare Gap, the Confederates burned the mill and the enormous supply of beef before departing.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Justice, Mercy, and Grace: Defining Discipleship

Louis Zamperini, Olympic Champion
and Disciple of Jesus


Copyright © 2014 
by Ralph F. Couey

Then came Peter to him and said, "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?  Seven times?

Jesus saith unto him, "I say not unto thee until seven times, but until seventy times seven.  Therefore is the kingdom of Heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought before him which owed him ten thousand talents.  But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.

The servant therefore fell down and worshipped him, saying, "Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all!"

The lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.  But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants which owed him a hundred pence, and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, "Pay me that thou owest!"

His fellow servant fell down at his feet and besought him, saying, "Have patience with me and I will pay thee all!"  But he would not and when and cast him into prison till he should pay the debt.

His fellow servants saw what was done, they were very sorry anc came and told their king all that was done.  Then his lord, after he called him, said, "Oh, thou wicked servant!  I forgave thee all that debt because you desired my mercy.  Shouldst thou not also have had compassion on they fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee?"

"The king had the servant delivered to the tormentors until he could pay all that was due unto him.  So likewise shall my Heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one their trespasses."

--Matthew 18:21-35

This scripture tells an interesting story.  A servant had somehow encumbered himself with a debt of 10,000 talents.  This was a sum of currency that would require at least a lifetime to repay, and actually may have been the kind of debt that was never meant to be paid back, only as a way to bind a servant to master. The modern equivalent might be called a student loan.  But the king called in the debt.  The servant, realizing he was facing an impossible burden, went to the king and begged for relief.  The King was moved by his plea and forgave the entire debt.

But this was not the only debt of this story.  As it happens, the servant held the debt of another servant, in the sum of 100 Denari, a much more humble sum, although it still represented about three months wages.  The forgiven servant then did something that qualified him to be on the list of the dumbest people in the Bible. He went to the servant, grabbed him by the throat and demanded full payment of the debt.  Of course, the second servant could not pay, so the forgiven servant had him thrown in prison.

But this was a secret that would not be kept.  Other servants who witnessed the incident, went to the King and told him what happened.  Angry, he summoned the servant.  When the man appeared in his presence, the King thundered, "Should not you have shown the same mercy to this man as I showed to you?"  The King turned the wicked servant over to be tortured until his debt was repayed.

Some might call this  by that familiar phrase, "poetic justice."  But there are two other concepts in play here:  Mercy and Grace.

In my day job, I work for the Department of Justice, the symbol of which is a set of scales.  In order for justice to be served, the scales must be balanced.  As long as one side hangs lower than the other, justice cannot exist.  The scales can only be balanced when force is applied.  In the literal sense, that means add weight to the higher side until the force of gravity evens the scales.  In practice, it means that when someone commits a crime, justice means they are arrested, arraigned, indicted, tried, convicted and either imprisoned or in the case of capitol crimes, put to death.  If someone has been wrongly accused and found not guilty, they are set free.  These days, the use of DNA evidence has helped to free people who were wrongly convicted.  More prosaically, when on the freeway we are victimized by a speeder weaving in and out of traffic, and we later see that same driver parked on the shoulder with a State Trooper behind, we like to say that justice was done.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Hiking, Part 10


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

In 1936 during the worst years of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt ordered that land be set aside for the purpose of giving inner city children and their families a place to go where they could discover nature outside the grim habitat of the city.  This area, originally called Chopawamsic Recreational Demonstration Area, was established as a summer camp, with the buildings and infrastructure constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, part of the Works Progress Administration as a way of providing employment as well as teaching valuable skills to young men.  Using locally harvested materials, the CCC built camping cabins, trails, and bridges.  People started coming to the area in 1936, spending as many as 5 weeks in the woods.  When World War II broke out, public access was halted and the area turned over to the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, as an area for training covert operatives for the war effort.  After the war, the land reverted to public use.  Today, the original area was split, with Quantico Marine Corps Base on the south and the now-named Prince William Forest Park on the north.  The park, operated by the National Park Service, occupies some 19,000 acres, the largest preserved forest tract in the DC area.  It is considered to be the finest example of Eastern Piedmont Forest existing.  It contains some 37 miles of hiking trails and tantalizing bits of history.  The park has the most original CCC building inventory in the U.S., some 153 buildings, all of which are still in use.  The park is located south of DC near the intersection of VA-234 and I-95.

This area had been on my "oughta-visit-there-sometime" list for awhile, but in planning my hiking ventures, I stayed to the west, thinking that anything closer to DC would be too urbanized for my taste.

Okay.  I admit it.  I was wrong.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Age and the Shifting of Circadian Rhythms

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

As long as I can remember, I've been a nightowl.  My perfect day was defined by a mid-morning wakeup and a bedtime that lay beyond the boundary between yesterday and tomorrow.  Of course, life has a way of not bending to one's druthers, hence every job I've had up to this one has forced me out of bed as early as 4 a.m. (still the middle of the night by any measure).   

A decade ago, the bosses at the factory where I was gainfully employed insisted on rotating us to an off-shift once a month. Usually because of staffing levels, that meant working third shift.  Having children at home, that was for me the shift from hell.  Circadian rhythms mandate that when it's dark outside, humans should sleep.  Daylight was a time to be up and active.  Our children were of the active type (if you hear silence, better go investigate) so it was nearly impossible for me to be able to sleep during the day.  So when I returned to work that night, I was already tired and ended up fighting sleep all night long.  When you're working around machinery, that's a dangerous state to be in.  As the week wore on, I got even more fatigued.  The last night I worked that schedule, I actually fell asleep driving a forklift with a one-ton load of steel.  I remember entering the drive lane at one end of the plant, and then suddenly I was at the other end.  I was  danger to myself, my co-workers, and the plant's equipment.  I parked the truck, shut down and cleaned the presses I was running and went home, leaving a note for the day supervisor.  Back on day shift the next week, I had a long talk with the leadership who agreed that it would be best for me to rotate to 2nd shift, which they were willing to do.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Changing Seasons



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

It's been an odd summer, at least here in Virginia.  While there have been some hot miserable days, most of the season has been comparatively temperate.  Not that anybody is complaining.  After the awful summer of 2012, this year was positively wonderful.  Two weeks ago, I read that in Western Pennsylvania that the summer has been so cool that leaves were beginning to turn in mid-August, the earliest anyone can remember that happening.

I enjoy the changing seasons.  Every three months, the world changes in so many remarkable ways.  As they cycle through their assigned three month span, they drive the clock of my life.

Each season has its charms, and we fill that time with the events that give them meaning for us.  But everyone has a favorite time of the year, and we are approaching the season that makes my year.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Hiking, Part 9

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

I had been looking forward to this day, since circumstance and responsibility kept me off the hiking trails for the last two weeks.  It has been a stressful period and I needed some time in the woods.

After perusing the maps, I chose an AT access along US 522 southeast of Front Royal.  A check of Google Maps Streetview confirmed the presence of a pullout there large enough to park a few cars.  As I left home early in the morning, I noted with satisfaction that it would be a spectacular late-summer day for Virginia.  Temps would stay in the low 80's with low humidity, a great day for hiking.

I found the pullout and after parking and gearing up, I headed south.  There was a lot of up- and down-hill to this section, but I had picked it because 4.2 miles in I would meet Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park.  During the initial ascent, I saw to my right a really nice overlook off a beautiful meadow, the view somewhat restricted by a tall chain link fence, which would accompany me for nearly the whole way.  I'm not sure who owns that property, but they sure wanted it protected.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Civil War: Events of November 1864

On November 4th and 5th, Rebel cavalry under Nathan Bedford Forrest along with two captured Union boats attacked the Union supply depot at Johnsonville, Tennessee, causing major damage.

Abraham Lincoln defeated his former commanding general of the Army of the Potomac and was awarded his second term as President of the United States.

William T. Sherman began his march to the sea on November 10th. Two days later, he sends a message to General Thomas at Nashville.  It would be the last communication from Sherman until December 13th.

On the 14th, Sherman divided his army into two columns of 30,000 men each, providing a left and right wing to his march.  By the 16th, he had marched almost 100 miles, destroying the cities of Rome, Cartersville, and Marietta.

At Griswoldville on the 22nd, a cavalry action took place, after which Sherman's troops pushed back two regiments of Georgia militia, continuing the Union march.

Another action took place at Buckhead Creek on the 28th when Federal cavalry defeated a Confederate attempt to halt Sherman's advance.

On November 30th, Confederate forces under General Hood attempted to assault the fixed fortifications at Franklin, Tennessee.  He had a brief success penetrating the center of the Federal line, but a heroic counterattack pushed his forces back.  Hood sent his army into the stout defenses repeatedly, essentially destroying his men in the effort.  The Union Commander, John Schofield, was able to extricate his soldiers and pull back to Nashville where he joined up with George Thomas.  Hood lost 14 of his generals either killed, wounded or captured in this battle.


Civil War: Events of October 1864

On the 2nd, Jefferson Davis gives P. G. T. Beauregard command of the Department of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.

On the 4th, Confederate General Hood moved north along the Western and Atlantic Railroad, attempting to sever Sherman's supply line, attacking blockhouses and encampments at Acworth and Moon's Station.

Confederate forces under Samuel French attacked Union troops in entrenched positions protecting the W & A Railroad in the Allatoona Pass on the 5th.  Despite fierce fighting, the Federals under John Corse held their ground.

In the Battle of Tom's Brook on October 9th, Sheridan ordered his cavalry to attack Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry which had been harassing his rear.  The Union troopers chased the Southerners for 10 miles, capturing 300 Confederates.  The battle was nicknamed "The Woodstock Races" for the speed of the Confederate withdrawal.  Having burned everything of value in the Valley all the way to Staunton, Virginia, Sheridan withdrew.

On October 13, Maryland voters ratified a new constitution abolishing slavery.

In what was undoubtedly delightful news for General Lee, his old warhorse General Longstreet returned to action after recovering from a friendly fire wound at The Wilderness.

Civil War: Events of September, 1864

On the 1st, Confederates, in the face of Sherman's advancing army, began evacuating the key city of Atlanta.  The next day, the city was surrendered by Mayor James Calhoun.

John Hunt Morgan, the Confederate General who in 1863 undertaken a highly successful raid into Indiana and Southern Ohio, was surprised and killed by Union cavalry on September 4th.

The state of Louisiana took a big step towards re-admittance to the Union when, on September 5th, voters who had taken the oath of loyalty to the United States, voted to ratify a new state constitution which abolished slavery.  On that same day, Unionists in Tennessee met in Nashville with the aim of re-starting the state government, as well as participating in the national elections in the fall.

On the 7th, the USS Wachusett captured the Confederate warship CSS Florida at Bahia, Brazil.

Confederate General Joe Wheeler completed his raid into North Georgia, returning to Southern lines on the 10th.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Has Enough Been Given?

Order of the Purple Heart
Photo from the United States Marine Corps

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Written content only

In recent months, yet another Middle Eastern crisis erupted when a band of Sunni militants calling themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria -- ISIS -- formed themselves an army and began taking back the nation of Iraq.  For a stateless group, they have been shockingly successful.  But they have proven themselves to be singularly sadistic conquerors.  So intractably brutal are they that even al-Qa'ida cut ties with them in February of this year.  ISIS is a hard-line jihadist group with the aim of establishing an Islamic Caliphate in Iraq and Syria, rigidly enforcing Sharia Law.  In the cities they have conquered, civilians have been brutally executed for no other reason than being Shia Muslims or Christians.  This murder has included the beheading of children, according to the United Nations.  What is just as shocking has been their treatment of women, kidnapping, torturing, raping, and killing them.

The United States expended the lives of over 4,000 soldiers removing a dictator from power and turning the country over to it's people.  Included in that effort was the training and equipping of some 65,000 Iraqi soldiers to defend their country, allowing US combat troops to be withdrawn by December 2011.  

ISIS, consisting of an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 soldiers should have been overwhelmed by the Iraqis armor, artillery, and soldiers.  But in what anyone in the west would consider an act of cowardly betrayal, the Iraqi Army melted away, the individual soldiers whispering "Insha'Allah", literally, "If Allah wills it" as they ran.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

My 500th Post

Copyright © 2014 By Ralph F. Couey

November 3, 2006.  That was the day I went to the Blogger website and officially opened "Race the Sunset" with a post about Ben Rothlesberger's motorcycle accident.  Tonight, some 7 years and 9 months later, I am penning the 500th post on this blog.

Writing was, in my youth, something I avoided with every trick of deception I could muster.  But as I grew older, I realized that in my life's experiences I had acquired a voice, and something to say.  We were living in Somerset, Pennsylvania at the time, a place where winter generally begins in mid-October and doesn't relinquish it's grip until mid-May, with an average of 100 inches of snow hitting the ground in between.  That leaves a lot of long winter evenings in which to explore the inner reaches of the mind and soul.  I began to write in fits and starts, learning a lot about content and how to construct a sentence along the way.  And how to self-edit.  Eventually, I acquired enough confidence to submit some pieces to the local newspaper.  The first thing published was an entire page devoted to the beginning of motorcycle season.  I still have the aluminum print plate, although it's faded quite a bit.  

My foray into becoming a columnist began with a strict ration of one piece per month.  Eventually that increased to once per week.  I remember with great joy and pride the day when the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat editor told me, "You were just too good to keep out of the paper."

A few months later, I began to submit to the other local paper in Somerset.  I was told that due to the close proximity of the two papers that I would have to write separate columns for each.  Now I had gone from writing one piece per month to writing two per week.  In addition, I picked up an occasional column in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and a few other smaller papers in the northeast.  I was having the time of my life. I was an honest-to-God newspaper columnist with a loyal following.  

But the only consistent thing in life is change. My day job, a small federal agency, was shut down, my co-workers scattered to the four winds.  I ended up in Virginia, after cutting my ties to the two Pennsylvania papers.  After all, I reasoned, how could I be a "local columnist" from 200 miles away?  I had, by this time also acquired a bit of an ego with regards to my writing and blithely assumed that I could pick up another columnist slot there.  Things however came crashing down to reality.  My submissions to the many local papers were completely ignored.  In a short period of time, I went from being a columnist to just another free lancer with a dream.

Hiking, Part 8

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Words and pictures

Watching the weather forecasts approaching my hiking day gave me some cause for concern.  After a couple of weeks of delightful October-in-July, summer came back.  It was going to sunny and H3 (Hot, Humid, and Hazy) with temps reaching into the low 90's.  I normally don't do well in this kind of weather, but I sucked it up and went ahead.

Today's target was a stretch of the AT (Appalachian Trail) from US 50 southward into two really interesting areas, Sky Meadows State Park and the and the G.R. Thompson Wildlife Management Area.  The designated place to park when tackling this stretch is a parking area which can be accessed via a kinda scary driveway off Blue Ridge Mountain Road.  I touched on this in an earlier post, remarking that the driveway drops off so suddenly that when you first pull off the road, you literally can't see where you're going.  Pulling back out is an adventure because you can't see the traffic coming south until your front end is well out onto the roadway.  Looking for an alternative, I spied, via Google Maps, Liberty Hill Lane, a gravel road that leads off into the woods.  There appeared to be room for one or two cars to park there, and it was in close proximity to where the trail picks up on the south side of the highway.  Arriving there, I found a sufficient space to park my vehicle (in the shade, no less) and was pleased to discover and access path leading to the AT.  I geared up and headed south.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hiking, Part 7

Jagged edges

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey


I've been saving this one for one of those rare days off when I actually had nearly the whole day available to me.  So after I dropped my granddaughter off at day camp, I turned northward and made the 90-minute drive to Gathland State Park near Burkittsville, Maryland.  

The park is named for George Alfred Townsend who was a Civil War press correspondent, one of the youngest to report on the war from the front lines.  He also covered the assassination of President Lincoln, and the subsequent pursuit of the killer, actor John Wilkes Booth.  He was a well-known and prodigious writer, at one point penning some 18,000 words per day.  In a time when inkpens had to be dipped in ink and written on foolscap, this was an amazing level of output.  After the war, he remained one of the most popular of Washington correspondents, having gathered a huge audience.  

When he was 47, he began building an estate on land he purchased in Crampton's Gap, a wind gap cutting through the otherwise contiguous South Mountain.  This land was also the site where the Battle of South Mountain was fought in September 1862.  Among the structures that he had built out the abundant native stone was an arch dedicated to war correspondents who were killed while covering wars.





The Memorial Arch.

What remains of his mansion.

After his death, the land was given to the state for a park, which is known not by Townsend's name, but his pen name, "Gath."

The AT (Appalachian Trail) passes right through this property, descending from the northern part of South Mountain, across the gap, and back up onto the southern ridge.  Last week, I hiked the southern ridge, part of it anyway, from Weverton, north of Harper's Ferry.  It was a brutal climb, and looking at the topo map I saw that the part starting from Gathland was a much gentler ascent, so I decided to give this one a try.

Traffic being what it is, it took me almost two hours to get there.  But upon arrival, I saw the beautiful property, and two parking lots.  I pulled in, geared up, and headed south.


There are two access points for the trail, one being a path that begins right off the upper driveway.  But if you want a bit of a ceremony (and don't mind the rocks) you can pass through an arch that was meant to be part of Townsend's mausoleum, although he didn't use it.   Once on the trail, the climbout is much gentler than it's southern counterpart.  Part of that is because the elevation at the gap is 400 feet higher that the point just off the Potomac River.  But the path is still strewn with rocks.

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...

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.

This is not the first time that politics has impacted a team name.  In the 1950's during the virulent anti-communist Joe McCarthy era, the Cincinnati Major League Baseball team, in trying to steer clear of any ideological taint changed their name from the "Reds" to the "Redlegs."  Apparently nobody knew that the original Redlegs referred to the roving bands of anti-slavery terrorists who roamed the border states before, during, and after the Civil War.

There are a lot of other teams closely monitoring this controversy, namely every team that carries a name even remotely associated with First Americans.  The likely next target will be the Kansas City Chiefs.

While the team and it's passionate fanbase have used the name in its First American context, the name actually refers to Kansas City Mayor H. Roe Bartle, whose nickname was "Chief", and the one primarily responsible for bringing the team from Dallas to KC.  The original team logo...




...portrayed a First American in ceremonial headdress racing across six midwestern states with a football in one hand and a tomahawk in the other.  This was a quick and dirty adaptation of the original Dallas Texans logo which showed a cowboy, complete with 6-guns, racing across the state of Texas.


After 1963, however, the First American logo disappeared from official team use and was replaced by the simple arrowhead...


...familiar to all football fans now.  The logo, interestingly enough, was an adaptation by Chief's owner Lamar Hunt of the San Francisco 49'er logo, with the interlocking letters inside an arrowhead instead of an oval.  The arrowhead itself, by the way, has been dated back to Europe, Africa, and Asia as much as 60,000 years ago, a part of the armory which included bone knives and stone axes.  So the current logo is more reflective of the legacy of homo sapiens in general and not a single iteration of it.

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.