About Me

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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 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.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Seeking the Glory of Autumn**

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Chicago Tribune
October 14, 2011
as "The peak is here"

*Somerset, PA Daily American
October 15, 2011
as "Peak is here"
After eleven long months of waiting, October, my favorite month has finally arrived.

I’ve written a lot about my love of autumn, maybe too much. But I can’t help myself. I love forests, but when the chlorophyll is withdrawn from the leaves and their natural colors reveal themselves, a dormant part of myself comes alive. 

It is the month I actually make time to spend in the woods, camera in hand, or winding along the roads through these mountains trying to capture forever these all-too-ephemeral days.

We are so very fortunate to be in an area that rarely disappoints us leaf hunters. Vermont and New Hampshire may boast and brag, but the Laurel Highlands is truly a fall foliage paradise.

We live in what is called “Fall Zone 2” a…well…tree-shaped area of Pennsylvania. The roots and trunk start in the east in Pike, Monroe, and Northampton counties and runs west as far as Centre County where it “branches” northwest to Erie and southwest to Fulton, engulfing the rest of the western half of Pennsylvania. As far as I can determine according to several authoritative websites, the peak of these counties should arrive this weekend. The warm summer and abundant (in some cases over-abundant) rainfall, along with the prompt arrival of cool weather has provided the set-up for what I’m told should be one of the most spectacular years in recent memory.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Friendships and the Pain of Farewell*

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
October 17, 2011
as "The only constant in life is change"

Our environment is often spoke of as nature, the sun, moon, trees, climate, all the elements of our world. But we also exist in another atmosphere; one of people, friends, loved ones, and acquaintances. They occupy our home and workplace; where we play and worship. They become a part of the very air we breathe.

In recent weeks hard times have hit home in my world. Layoffs have been in the news a lot, an unwelcome accompaniment to hard times.  

But now it’s personal. 

People…friends who have been a beloved presence in my life have gone away. It’s been a sad time, this parting.  But the most admirable thing is the courage with which they faced the coming change. They refused to be bitter or angry. They talked instead about possibilities and how they believed in themselves, refusing to surrender to self-pity. 

Above all, they spoke of faith in God. “Everything happens for a reason,” one said, “and it’s up to me to discover that reason.”

When my time comes I wonder if I can be that brave; that faithful.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Civil War Events of October 1861

On October 3, Union forcers under Joseph Reynolds fought an inconclusive action against Confederates under Henry Jackson.  The Union’s aim was to dislodge Confederate troops from a camp near present-day Bartow, WV in order to clear an invasion route into Virginia.  Jackson’s forces were in the throws of sickness that had reduced their effective numbers by 2/3.  It was cold, wet, and miserable when Reynolds attacked the camp.  Rebel sentries had left their posts without relief which allowed the Union forces to enter the camp.  Upon hearing the sounds of battle, the 52nd Virginia Infantry ran to the fight, keeping the Union from over-running the camp.  The battle raged for some five hours before Reynolds retreated to Cheat Mountain.
A new development in warfare was demonstrated before President Lincoln on October 4th.  A hot air balloon intended to be used as an observation platform floated into the skies outside of Washington, thus inaugurating the use of aerial platforms in battle.
On that same date, the CSA government signed treaties with the Shawnee and Seneca Indian tribes.
In England, the division of opinion over the American Civil War was demonstrated in editorials by the two major newspapers.  The London Post on October 5 backed the idea of an independent Southern government, while the London Times in an earlier editorial backed the restoration of the Union.
On October 6, Winfield Scott relieved General Robert Anderson of his command of the Kentucky Department after Anderson suffered an emotional and mental breakdown.
Continuing to reach out to the Native tribes, the CSA concluded another treaty with the Cherokee on October 7th.
General William T. Sherman was given General Anderson’s command on October 8th.
On the 11th, William S. Rosecrans took command of the Federal Department of Western Virginia.
On October 12, the ship Theodora left Charleston Harbor carrying two CSA commissioners bound for England and France.
Also on the 12th, the CSA ironclad warship attacked the Union warship Richmond on the Mississippi River.
The CSA began selling postage stamps on the 16th.
A growing conflict between CSA Generals Johnston and Beauregard came to a head when President Jefferson Davis stepped in on the 19th to try to settle the dispute.
On October 21, a series of reconnaissance probes undertaken by Union General in Chief  McClelland resulted in the Battle of Balls Bluff.  Union troops attempted a crossing of the Potomac River into Virginia, but lacked sufficient boats to carry the entire force.  In the battle, CSA forces pushed the Union troops to the edge of the bluffs.  In an attempt to evacuate, overloaded boats were capsized and some troops drowned, their bodies floating as far south as Mt. Vernon.  While an action that didn’t accomplish much strategically, it had far-reaching political effects.  A sitting U.S. Senator Edward Dickinson Baker was killed in the action.  This being the third lost battle by the Union (including Manassas and Wilson’s Creek), Congress established the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War which would be an albatross on the necks of Union commanders for the balance of the war, and would lead to political infighting among Union Generals.  A participant in the battle, Lt. Oliver Wendell Holmes, survived a near-fatal wound to eventually become Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
On October 22, the Confederate Army of the Potomac was placed under the Department of Northern Virginia.
On that day the first coast-to-coast telegraph line was completed and on the 24th, the first transcontinental telegram was sent from San Francisco to Washington.  This development ended the famed Pony Express.
West Virginians overwhelmingly voted in favor of becoming a new state under the Union on the 24th.
On October 31, and aging and infirm Winfield Scott was relieved from duty as Supreme Commander of the United States Army.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Collection of Summer Haiku

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

The days are now hot
Air is hazy and humid
My forehead is damp

The school doors open
Finally free, we run home
Students are now kids

Dad packs up the car
“Buckle up for adventure!”
The journey begins

Outside the windows
A brand-new world passes by
I’ll have tales to tell

The trip is over
But summer is not yet done
There’s yet time for fun

The ballgame with Dad
Peanuts and sodas we share
Bugs flit in the lights

The Fourth of July
Barbecue’s smell fills the air
Fireworks at night

Back-to-school shopping
New clothes, paper and pencils
Where has summer gone?

One last summer fling
Play like there’s no tomorrow
Because there isn’t.

School year starts today
Sadly we get on the bus
Why is Mom smiling?

A Collection of Spring Haiku

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

The snow is melting
The new grass reveals itself
My spirit awakes

The sun has come out
The air is finally warm
Put the coats away

Open the windows!
Let the fresh breezes blow through!
Refresh my stale soul!

Digging in the dirt
I plant the new year’s seedlings
The earth smells alive

On the garage shelf
I see my old baseball glove
“Wanna have a catch?”

I hear the thunder
The lightning flashes above
The spring rain falling

It’s snowing in March
But it doesn’t make me sad
I know it won’t last

Rivers are flooding
The people are in danger
Homes are washed away

Clouds begin to spin!
A twister is touching down!
Flee to the basement!

Suddenly I hear
The birds are singing again!
Music to my soul

A Collection of Winter Haiku

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

The trees have gone bare
They shake in the frigid wind
The sight makes me sad

Rain can only fall
Snow floats down on Angel’s wings
Softly touching me

The grass was once green
The snow now covers deeply
Hiding until May

Awake in the dark
I hear cold winds through the walls
From ‘neath warm blankets

Winter is lonely
Folks hide inside from the cold
I walk without friends

My shovel in hand
I contemplate the new snow
Sparkling in the sun

Come in from the cold
Stomp the snow from heavy boots
Cocoa and the fire

Walking in the woods
The air is cold and silent
Is it death or sleep?

I feel so tired
I don’t want to go outside
Let me hibernate

Deep in winter’s grip
A long, dark tunnel I see
How I yearn for spring!

A Collection of Fall Haiku

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

I've never tried Haiku before, but Autumn is such a special time of year for me, I thought I'd attempt a few.  These are written in the classic 5-7-5 English Haiku format.

Sunlight through the leaves
The fall colors blaze brightly
The cool breeze rustles

A stream reflects fall
I look down from the stone bridge
The still water glows

Our steps stir the leaves
We smell the perfume of fall
Her hand warm in mine

A Sunset in fall
The sky turns a deep purple
The clouds like gold wreaths

The sun rises late
The day has become so brief
The hours precious

There’s football today
Teams tussle in the cool air
A sweater feels good

Pumpkins on the porch
The glow through evil eyes
Carved by smiling kids

A princess arrives
“Trick or Treat,” she sings with hope
Candy hits the bag

The wind passes through
Leaves fall from far above
Cover me in gold

Night is dark and cold
I can feel the frost forming
I breathe moonlit clouds

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Conundrum of Place Names*

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat
October 9, 2011
as "What's in a name?"
Every community has place names that are, to say the least, odd-sounding whose explanatory origins have been lost in the mists of time
When I first came to Johnstown, I was looking for a place to live.  I called one landlord asking about the vacancy on  “Men-O-Her.”  The landlord replied, “Menocker.”  I responded, “Geseundheit.”  I heard another person refer to the locale of her apartment as being “in the bucket o’ blood.” 
I’m sure there’s a great story there.
One of the hardest things to figure out was the ward system.  A ward is a political subdivision of a city.  I know this.  But the real estate ads are full of locations like the “8th Ward” or the “6th Ward.”  Being new to the area, I had no idea where these places were. It didn’t help that nobody ever bothered to publish a map.
For a while, Giant Eagle grocery stores ran a video outlet called “Iggle.”  It only took me three years to figure out that “Iggle” was how people in Western Pennsylvania pronounce “Eagle.”

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Rhythm of Life**

Words and image Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Chicago Tribune
October 7, 2011
as "The rhythm of life"

*Somerset, PA Daily American
October 8, 2011
as "The Rhythm of Life"

I love the changing seasons.  To experience the world as it shifts from summer to fall, to winter and spring, and back to summer is to take comfort in the orderliness of a universe that is impervious to the mistakes and missteps of man.  It’s the way we mark the passage of time that goes beyond clocks and calendars.  

The shift from summer to fall is my most favorite time.  I don’t do well in heat and humidity, so I tolerate summers.  But in mid-September, the air begins to cool.  They sky sheds its milky, hazy summer film to be replaced by a blue that is vivid beyond words.  The nights shift from cool to cold, and some mornings, a coating of frost sparkles on the grass.  The leaves begin their shift from green to a riotous orchestra of brilliant color.  Even the sunlight changes.  Freed of atmospheric haze, the light angles through the forests brilliantly illuminating the changing foliage.  

One morning last week, the alarm went off at its normal time of “too early.”  I’m not a morning person, so the process of going from sleep to full functionality is long and difficult.  It is in this time of year that the shortening day adds an unwelcome degree of difficulty to that process.

I don’t mind getting up early when the sun has beat me to it.  Even rising in the grey light of pre-dawn is acceptable.  But now, when the alarm goes off, it’s still completely dark.  I’m now engaged in a battle between my brain that stoutly insists it’s time to get up, and my body that steadfastly proclaims, “Are you kidding?  It’s still dark!”

Friday, September 16, 2011

"In the Arms of an Angel" and the Healing of Flight 93

Sara Mclachlan was at the Flight 93 National Memorial Dedication service and sang two songs. One was "I Will Remember You," and the other was "In the Arms of an Angel."  Both were so incredibly apropos that it's hard to imagine that they were not written especially for the grieving family members.

"In the Arms of an Angel" really touched me. I was able to feel at least a portion of the incredible sense of loss felt by anyone who has ever unexpectedly lost someone they loved.  With Ms. Mclachlan, the words are only half the story.  Her soft and sadly sweet voice lends a poignancy that the words alone can't convey.  The video is available on You Tube, and I would encourage you to watch it.  The lyrics are printed here as a way of remembering the family and friends of those who were lost, and who grieve still.

Spend all your time waiting for that second chance
For the break that will make it ok
There's always some reason to feel not good enough
And it's hard at the end of the day

I need some distraction oh beautiful release
Memories seep from my veins
They may be empty and weightless and maybe
I'll find some peace tonight

In the arms of an Angel fly away from here
From this dark, cold hotel room, and the endlessness that you fear
You are pulled from the wreckage of your silent reverie
You're in the arms of an Angel; may you find some comfort here

So tired of the straight line, and everywhere you turn
There's vultures and thieves at your back
The storm keeps on twisting, you keep on building the lies
That you make up for all that you lack

It don't make no difference, escaping one last time
It's easier to believe
In this sweet madness, oh this glorious sadness
That brings me to my knees

In the arms of an Angel far away from here
From this dark, cold hotel room, and the endlessness that you fear
You are pulled from the wreckage of your silent reverie
In the arms of an Angel; may you find some comfort here

You're in the arms of an Angel; may you find some comfort here

My Lap-Band Life: 8 Months In

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

After a bad month, I resolved to pay closer attention to my diet, but as the month progressed, I realized that it was taking more food to fill me up.  Instead of going 5 to 6 hours between hunger pangs, I was only able to go about 2 to 3 hours.  So this time when I saw the Doctor, I was the same weight as last month.  I asked, nay demanded, an adjustment and he cheerfully put in about a quarter of a CC.  I could tell the difference immediately.  Now, three days later, I'm already down 5 pounds and I have my portions back under control.  My wife also pointed out that I had been eating more carby foods, which was undoubtedly adding to my hunger problems. So I'm back on the wagon as far as portions and food choices go, and re-energized after some, if not promising, at least concrete information on my job situation.  Last night, I slept a solid 8 hours, something I haven't done in a couple of months.

I'm still losing inches, and my pant and shirt sizes are going down, albeit much slower for which I have only myself to blame.  I can find most of the wardrobe I need at consignment sales and at Goodwill.  But a nice dress shirt (needed for work) is harder to find, since the shirts that end up at Goodwill are so limp and worn that they won't hold a press any longer.  So from time to time, I've been buying a shirt here, a shirt there, when I find really good sales.  That has helped upgrade my appearance.  My old fat shirts are mostly gone, but the few that are left are beginning to look goofy.  The shoulder seams are a good 3-4 inches down my upper arm and the short sleeves now go halfway down my forearm.  All the excess material around my waist actually makes me look bigger.  When standing up to do presentations, if I turn around, my guests see all that extra material gathered up in the back around the waist. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Random Thoughts on Calendars and Seasons

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey
September 15th.
Man, wasn’t it August just 20 minutes ago?  Time is absolutely flying by these days, and for once I can’t blame it on my busy life.  I am busy, but not the kind of busy that usually causes the clock and calendar to shift to warp speed.  This may that part of growing older that I’ve read about, that as the years pile up, the days seem to move much faster.
But whether I want it to or not, September is officially half over.  October, my favorite time of year is rapidly approaching.  It’s the one month of the year that I wish would slow down, take its time and drift languidly through its 31-day lifespan.  But as usually happens, there is a significant gap between what I want, and what actually is.
The heat and humidityof summer has finally left us here in the mountains.  The first breaths of cool air have blown down from Canada, and we are now in that time of year when weather shifts wildly and sometimes rapidly.  Two days ago, it was warm, humid, and still.  Tonight, we will have our first frost of the season.  This does create difficulties in dressing one’s self, especially for motorcycling.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Where Do We Go From Here?**

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Chicago Tribune
September 16, 2011
as "A legacy to share"

*Somerset, PA Daily American
September 17, 2011
as "A legacy to share"
The anniversary has passed.   All weekend long, speeches were made, songs were sung, and ceremonies were conducted across the country while we as a nation solemnly marked the passing of a decade since the terror attacks on September 11, 2001.
The United States has worn an open wound for ten years.  The trauma of that day, and the days that followed were at times almost too difficult to bear.  Almost 3,000 people, innocents all, whose only crime was going about their normal lives on that day, were murdered in four coordinated acts of sheer hate.
But on this September 11th, we saw signs that perhaps the wound is beginning to close.  We will wear that scar forever, but perhaps now we are starting to heal.
There are now permanent memorials in place and open to the public at all three sites.  The names of those who were lost on that terrible day have been inscribed in stone, to be passed to future generations to honor and remember.
As adults, we measure time by the growth of children.  The children who were barely in elementary school are or will be high school graduates.   We don’t really see significant changes in ourselves over ten years, but in our children we see how time has passed.  Their lives, like ours, were forever altered; their futures will be far different than ours.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Call of 9/11*

Image and Words Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
September 18, 2011
as "The call of 9/11"

The tenth anniversary has past.  The first heat in the breathless race to establish a memorial for the crew and passengers of Flight 93 has been won.  In a field near Shanksville, along one side of the Pentagon in Arlington, and around the empty footprints of two towers in New York City, people gathered.  Across the country, small memorials were dedicated, speeches were made, and words were written.  Everywhere, Americans paused to remember a day that changed us all.

As I sit here, brief images of this past weekend’s events flash by.  We arrived early and spent time talking to others nearby.  Though strangers, we were linked by the common purpose in being there.  We spoke of the common thread of where we were and what we were doing when we first heard the news out of New York; how we felt when we knew our country was under attack.

Every American who was alive, awake, and aware on September 11, 2001 will forever share that common bond.  Because for Americans, everything that happened that day was personal.  

I remember George W. Bush’s words of faith and country; Bill Clinton’s words about the courage of choice; and Joe Biden’s powerful words of how September 11th, 2001 changed us all; as a country, and as individuals. 

I remember the somber tolling of the Bells of Remembrance as the names were read by the family members, and the catch in my throat at the words “…and unborn child.” 

Friday, September 09, 2011

Promising the Past to the Future*

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat
September 11, 2011
as "A commitment to remember"
Ten Years.

Yes, it’s been that long since the bright sunshine of a late-summer’s day was darkened by the cloak of terrorism.  America hadn’t experienced the ravages of war since the silence of an April day in 1865. But on September 11, 2001, our country was brought face-to face with war’s brutal realities.

The recollections remain, enduring in crystal-clear digital video and photo images.  And in our hearts, the memory of almost 3,000 innocent humans who lost their lives, and the living pain of countless thousands who mourn them still.

It was a day that began with sheer mind-numbing disbelief; shock, horror, and fear.  But it was a day that ended with a rare feeling of national unity.  

For those associated with Flight 93, on this day, we remember the past; but we also dedicate a future.

This morning, people will gather at a new memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  After a decade of ceaseless dedicated efforts, the Flight 93 National Memorial has been dedicated.

The Man Cave**

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Chicago Tribune
September 23, 2011
as "The man cave"

*Somerset, PA Daily American
September 24, 2011
as "The man cave"

Women like to joke about men. No surprise there. One of the sources of those giggles is that space in the house that men can claim as their own that we call the “man cave." I suppose that's a sort of “funny ha ha” reference to our more primitive natures. Of course, everyone knows that women are a more advanced form of life.  

Well, more complex, anyway.

Every man needs to have a space over which he is the absolute monarch, especially those of us who married…shall we say…women of an assertive nature.

It can be a corner of the basement or the entire garage, but never anywhere in the main part of the house. It is where we are free to be our dirty, messy, sometimes smelly, unshaven selves, free of frilly bedspreads, fluffy pillows, and towels and weird-looking soap that must never be used. It is that place where we can explore, experiment, and create, and not clean up afterwards if we don’t feel like it.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Happy Trek-Day!

From actionflickchick.com

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey
(except image above and quoted segment below)

“Space; the final frontier.
These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise.
Her five-year mission:
To explore strange, new worlds;
To seek out life, new civilizations.
To boldly go where no man has gone before.”

With those stirring words, on September 8, 1966, Star Trek was born.  Conceived by Gene Roddenberry, it was intended to be a “wagon train to the stars,” using space, a ship, and the people aboard her to tell the story of the future.

It was a hopeful future.  War, poverty, racism, hunger all were things of the dim, distant past.  Earth had come together in a global government and formed an interstellar Federation of Planets peacefully uniting newly-discovered civilizations.  Warp drive powered faster-than-light ships, making interstellar exploration and commerce possible.  The transporter made possible instantaneous transportation over thousands of miles; tricorders provided explorers all manner of information about the environment.  Cancer was eradicated, along with most other terrible diseases.  Broken bones, torn blood vessels, and damaged organs, all could be healed without surgery.

But conflict hadn’t become extinct.  The Federation fought regularly with the Klingons and Romuluns. 

The ship, called a “starship” rather than a space ship, was named “Enterprise,” a name familiar to Americans.  The original aircraft carrier was the most decorated ship in World War II.  Enterprise was the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in 1960 and the Navy is under considerable pressure to bestow that name on the lead ship of the new CVN-21-class carriers.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Sanctity and Responsibility of Remembrance**

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Chicago Tribune
September 9, 2011
as "Today we make a promise to future generations"

*Somerset, PA Daily American
September 10, 2011
as "Today we make a promise to future generations"

Ten Years.

It’s been that long since a brilliant late-summer day was darkened by a series of violent acts, driven by anger and hate.  America, a land that had since 1865 escaped the ravages of war, was brought face-to face with its brutal realities.

The recollections remain, preserved by digital video and photo images that will endure forever.  And in our hearts, the memory of almost 3,000 innocent humans who lost their lives, and the living pain of countless thousands of loved ones and friends who mourn them still.

September 11, 2001 was a day that began with mind-numbing shock and disbelief.  But it was a day that ended with Americans bonded by a new sense of national unity. 

For those associated with Flight 93, this is a day to remember the past. But it is also about dedicating a future.

This morning, after a decade of ceaseless, dedicated, sometimes heart-breaking efforts, the Flight 93 National Memorial will be dedicated.

The story of Flight 93 is one that has resonated deeply.  From across the country and around the world, people have been drawn to this field of honor. 

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The Selfless Essence of Leadership*

Copyright Words and Image © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Johnstown, PA  Tribune-Democrat
September 25, 2011
as "Hail to the Chiefs"

Every year, the United States Navy selects a deserving few First Class Petty Officers for advancement to Chief Petty Officer. The magnitude of this achievement cannot be overstated.

In Navy culture, the Chief occupies a special place. Of all the ranks, from Seaman Recruit to Admiral, none is more respected and revered. 

Chiefs are the technical experts within their rating or specialty. But the rank goes way beyond expertise. A sailor has more direct contact with the Chief than any other person in the chain of command. Thus, no other person has a more direct or powerful influence over their life and career. The tasks performed on a daily basis are assigned by the Chief. An individual’s work is monitored and measured under the eyes of the Chief. But the Chief is also primarily responsible for the sailor's morale, health, welfare, and training, making sure they are technically competent and ready for advancement when the time comes.

But most importantly, the Chief is the one person whom sailors must trust absolutely, the one they know will come to their aid in times of trouble; the one person who will hold them accountable, but won't abandon them. This is the key element in the life of a young sailor far from the safety net of home and family. In their wisdom and leadership, Chiefs are that steadying influence in an often chaotic life.

The Valley of a Dream*

Near Town Hill, Pennsylvania
Words and Image Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Somerset, PA Daily American
October 1, 2011
as "Finding Willoughby"

In the last several years, I've made enough trips between Somerset, PA and Washington DC to, as they say, wear a rut in the road.  I've gone often for business reasons, but mostly for the pleasure of being with family.  The drive takes around 3 hours -- longer if we get caught in the massive evacuation that takes place every Friday afternoon.  To be honest, I'm often surprised that anyone is still in town after seeing those epic backups on the outbound Interstates.

As often as I've traveled that route, it wasn't until recently that I took the opportunity to gaze out the side windows.  When we drive places, it’s hard not to become locked into the duel of traffic and the press of time.  Even as passengers, we tend not to take notice of the land as it zips by.  But lately I’ve noticed that this trip, so often taken, really is a pretty drive.  As the mountains give way to gently rolling hills, and eventually to coastal plain, you can see everywhere the dense forests carpeting the landscape.  I began to notice little things, details that over the years I had ignored.  For example, trees are not all the same shade of green.  Looking at those hillsides, you can see an orchestra of different species.  Giant oaks, graceful elms, sycamores, and maples each one an individual, yet an integral part of the greater symphony.  Off the sides of small bridges, I see glimpses of tranquil streams under the shady arc of trees. 

But my favorite place lies just outside of Breezewood, PA, where I-70 leaves the turnpike and takes that big bend to the south.  Just past the exit for Town Hill, PA, the road jogs suddenly to the east along a path carved out of a mountainside.  To the left, the trees thin out and below lies the most picturesque sight of the entire trip.

I don't know the name of the valley, or even if it has one.  From the elevated position of the highway, the land below seems heart-breakingly beautiful, reminiscent of perhaps Southern England or Eastern France.  The terrain gently rolls, lined by dense stands of forests in its low points.  The hills themselves were cleared of trees perhaps long ago replaced by the striking geometry of crop fields.  On other fields is the perfect green of grass where pastoral herds of horses and cattle drift along, almost cloud-like.  Barns and farmhouses dot the landscape here and there, and standing like a sentinel, the graceful steeple of a perfect white-painted country church.

The valley is almost storybook in its perfection and peacefulness.  Gazing down from the highway, I am transported to a different time and place, where life runs at a more sedate, peaceful pace.

I don't know anything about the valley or the people who live there, only to wonder if they know how lucky they are to live in a place of such peaceful beauty.

Someday, instead of droning on past, I should separate myself from the stream of traffic and go down into that valley.  I don't know what I'll find.  It’s a sad fact that for things far off, beauty rarely retains that quality when examined close-up.  Maybe what keeps me from taking that drive is the fear that reality will not be the dream I see from above. 

But I am an optimist by nature.  I always look for the good in situations and people.  Who knows what new experience will welcome me? 

One of my favorite “Twilight Zone” episodes revolves around a man whose high-pressure job has become a living hell.  His wife, ambitious and vain, treats him with scorn.  A gentle soul, his life has become unbearable.  On his daily commuter train ride back home, he seemingly falls asleep only to wake up in a town called Willoughby.  It is an existence apart from his, a peaceful page from the 1890’s where life was easy, simple, and moved at a far gentler pace.  He is drawn to that idyllic existence, choosing to go there, leaving his old life behind.  He sought peace and tranquility, and found it.

Perhaps this valley is my Willoughby; a place where the gentle pace of a forgotten time calls to me in the din of my frantic pace of life.

In that unnamed valley, I see not so much to a different place, but the dream of another time.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Kawasaki VN900LT: My Take

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey
I don’t think there’s a more difficult thing for the American male than to admit a mistake, especially when it comes to the purchase of a particular motorcycle.
I’ve been riding for 18 years and over 200,000 miles.  My passion for riding started with a job some 35 miles from home.  The commute was becoming a real burden, with gas at that time a killer $1.14 per gallon.  My better half had thus far resisted my entreaties with that consummate skill all wives possess.  But by this time, the kids had become old enough that she decided I could risk my neck in the cause of the family budget.
I acquired my first bike, a 1981 Suzuki GS550T, for $500.  It was a sharp-looking standard, cheap enough to buy and maintain while I learned how to ride.  I dropped it a few times, but the only casualties were the turn signal lights, which stuck out from the forks.  A nearby salvage yard managed to keep me supplied with fresh ones.  I rode a lot in all weather conditions (save snow and ice) and that bike taught me a lot.  Over time, I moved up to a 1980 Yamaha XS Eleven Special, then a BMW K75RT, and a Honda PC800 Pacific Coast, with which I enjoyed an enduring 100,000-mile relationship.  However, once I sold the PC, we went into a period of financial trial that forestalled the purchase of a new bike for two agonizing years. 

Finally in the spring of 2009, I bought a 2007 Kawasaki Vulcan 900.  I had that bike for about two months before having my third accident.  I was distracted by a car that had started to pull out of a parking lot across my path and thus didn’t see the guy who had stopped in front of me.  I applied the brakes, which were quite a bit more reactive than what I was used to, and locked up the front wheel.  My lane positioning was completely wrong, riding in the “grease pit” portion of the lane, so the bike snap-rolled to the left and went down hard.  I was saved from a broken leg by the crash bars, but still managed to crack a rib.  With my own elbow.  Fortunately, this happened right in front of a hospital, so I had two doctors by my side in seconds.  I survived.  The bike was totaled.
It took a couple of months for me to heal up.  (A busted rib is a whole new kinda pain, let me tell you.)  But I managed to find a 2006 Vulcan 900LT with fewer miles for a real good price, so I bought it.

Civil War: Events of September 1861

Ulysses S. Grant takes command of Union forces at Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
On September 2, the battle of Dry Wood Creek (known in the South as the Battle of the Mules) was fought in Vernon County, Missouri.  After winning the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, Confederate-loyal Major General Sterling Price, leading some 6,000 poorly trained and underequipped Missouri State Guardsmen, occupied Springfield.  Soon after, he headed towards Ft. Scott, Kansas.  En route, they encountered a 600-man Union cavalry force under  the command of Colonel (and Senator) James H. Lane.  (a caricature of Senator Lane appeared in the Clint Eastwood movie “Josey Wales.”)  The Union troopers surprised the Southerners, but in a fight lasting about two hours, Price’s numerical superiority eventually decided the dispute.  Because of this battle, Union troops abandoned southwestern Missouri.
On September 3, Confederate General Leonidas Polk, concerned about the Federal build-up in the west, ordered General Gideon Pillow to seize Columbus, KY on the Mississippi River.
On September 4, Pillow succeeded in taking Columbus.
But on September 6, Union General Grant took Paducah, KY without opposition.

Being the Weird Guy in the Yellow Helmet*

Copyright © words and photo 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Somerset, PA Daily America
October 22, 2011
as "Seeing life through different colored glasses"
I’ve been accused of being a little weird at times.  I suppose there’s some truth to that.
My particular brand of strangeness usually involves puns or my inexplicable lack of fashion sense.  I love puns, because I am a purveyor of words; words are my playground, and finding twists of irony and nonsense in them is one of my favorite games.
Where I really get the odd looks is when I dress myself.
I am partially color blind, which makes color matching difficult.  Fortunately, my favorite colors are blue and gray, which I can identify easily.  Most of my wardrobe is some variation of blue, white, or gray.   (On a side note, what’s the difference between “gray” and “grey”?)
Where I run into trouble is in matching the few greens and browns hanging in my closet.  When my wife is at home, I ask her to interpret for me.  When I pull a pants and shirt out of the closet and I see her shudder, I know I’ve picked the wrong pair.  Sears used to have a line of children’s clothes called “Roos” which could be mixed and matched by the type of animal on them.  I think someone needs a line of “Roos” for men.  At least for me, anyway.
As most of you know by now, I ride a motorcycle for reasons best explained on my motorcycle-themed blog, “Soul of a Motorcyclist.”  I’m always concerned about my visibility to other motorists on the road, so I bought a bright yellow Nolan helmet last year.  It seems to have worked because I’ve had far fewer close calls this year.  I see the double-takes from people, which is good, since inattentional blindness means if they look once, they probably don’t see the motorcycle.
Plus, bright yellow just makes me happier.