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.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Thunder and the Thrill*

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Johnstown, PA  Tribune-Democrat
May 15, 2011
as "Twisters: Frightening, yet fascinating"

I’ve always been fascinated by weather.  I grew up in the Midwest – “Tornado Alley”-- a million-cubic-mile severe weather laboratory.  During the spring and summer months, I watched, engrossed, as dark, ominous cloud masses boiled up from the southwest.  The winds gusted, bending trees and sending loose objects flying.  Thunder roared; lightning flashed.  Rain gushed from the sky like a waterfall, sometimes accompanied by the clattering of hail.  And in the middle of it all, the hair-raising sound of sirens spooling up.

Sure, it was scary.  But I couldn’t tear myself away.

A few years later, I was a Boy Scout on a 10-mile hike. As we emerged from a forest, we saw about a mile or so to the north a twister touch the ground, tear across some fields and then lift back into the clouds.  It was my first tornado, an awesome and frightening, yet exhilarating experience.

I wanted to be a meteorologist.  (I once thought that weathermen were called “meter-ologists” because of all the meters they had to read.)  But alas, my brain remained opaque to advanced mathematics.  Instead, I became a storm spotter, and for the last 18 years I’ve been a student of the sky.

There is a terrible beauty to a thunderstorm; symmetry and incredible power.  On the prairie, you can watch them from afar as they form, mature, and dissipate. I would watch them drift along the horizon, majestic to the eye, even knowing that beneath them, havoc is being wreaked.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Terrors of Modern Dentistry**

Copyright © 2008 by Ralph Couey

*Chicago Tribune
May 6, 2011
as "In a manner of speaking"

*Somerset Daily American
May 7, 2011
 as "In a manner of speaking he followed the code"
Root Canal.

Nowhere in the extensive American lexicon can be found words that strike a deeper or colder terror in the heart and mind.  “IRS Audit” is a distant second place by comparison.  The expression has become so closely associated with excruciating pain that its use has leaked into common colloquial expression: 

(From the girlfriend) “My parents want to meet you.”
(From the boyfriend) “I’d rather have a root canal.”

(From the wife) “My mother’s coming to visit.”
(From the Husband) “I’m scheduling a root canal.”

As a class, orthodontic procedures of any kind are far from being anyone’s favored activity.  It can only be a break-even proposition.  You either walk out with clean teeth, or a mouth full of hardware and exotic polymers. 

One day, two years ago, I was having lunch.  I was deep into Tennyson and minding my own business, when I heard an audible crunch, which was immediately followed by a pain that lanced right through my eyeball.  I immediately grabbed water and flushed my mouth.  Big mistake.  The now-exposed nerve root shot back with a pain so intense that it actually caused my eyes to cross. 

Gas Goes Boom*

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat
May 1, 2011
as "Putting pump prices in perspective"

Gasoline prices have boomed.

Duh.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you don’t need me to tell you this.  And since everything else we buy is delivered by something burning either gas or diesel, those prices have gone up as well.

Up until now, watching this annual trampoline dance as gas prices bob up and down has been an annoyance.  But now, things are getting critical.  People are going to have to make hard choices in the coming months as household budgets stretch even tighter.  And if things don’t improve by winter, there’s going to be some very cold houses around here.

The only people who seem to be benefitting are those lucky individuals who went long on gas futures, and those who have oil company stocks prominently placed in their investment portfolios.  The rest of us got stuck with the bill.

I paid a visit to the Energy Information Agency website.  Part of the Energy Department, these are the folks who tabulate a wealth of statistical data about energy prices across the nation.  I pulled up the chart of retail gasoline prices (regular grade, reformulated), published April 25th which shows the national average price for regular gas at $4.01 per gallon.  A year ago, April 26, 2010, regular was $2.92, and going back to April 27th of 2009, the price was $2.11.

So, in two years, the price has gone from $2.11 to $4.01.  That’s a 90% increase.  To give you an idea of what that means, let’s say you bought a house in April 2009 and paid (purely for argument’s sake) $100,000.  If your home value tracked along with gasoline, it would be worth $190,000 today.  We’d all be saying “What foreclosure crisis?”

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Go West, Old Man


Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey 

I’ve always been cursed with the condition most people call “itchy feet.”  I can’t seem to want to settle in one place for very long.  “Putting down roots” is an idea foreign to my very nature; perhaps even repellent.   

In recent weeks circumstances in our nation’s capital have introduced a measure of uncertainty to my job.  The possibility exists that we may have to leave this place for another, as yet unknown. 

Somerset is where we’ve lived, but I’ve never been able to call it “home.”  This is not the fault of the town, or the wonderful people who live here.  In fact, when I search my heart, there really is no place that wears that sign. 

I spent most of my young life in Missouri; Independence to be exact.  We moved there from California when I was six, and it was there I lived until I joined the Navy 19 years later.  Sure, I had friends and that’s where I went to school.  But my parents have both passed, and I haven’t seen those friends for decades.  On those rare occasions when I visit my sister, I find the town to be full of memories, to be sure.  But now it is merely one stop I made along my journey. 

My father was an executive minister with our denomination.  His duties required him to travel far and often.  He was an enthusiastic photographer, and when he came home, we would gather in the living room with the lights off and he would show us the slides of the places he had been.  Japan, Africa, the Pacific Islands, Europe, Asia, Central and South America…it seemed that only China and Russia lay beyond his reach.  I remember those nights well.  As those pictures flashed upon the screen, I dreamed of also visiting distant lands.  Perhaps it was the example of his travels, and the knowledge he brought home of places wild and exotic that planted in me the seed of curiosity that has now bloomed into a full-grown tree of restlessness.   

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Singing the Song of the Open Road*


Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
June 5, 2011
as "Road Trip Memories"


The sun is just rising into a clear sky, the day still fresh, new, and unspoiled.  After one last check of the loaded bike, I turn the key and punch the starter.  The engine roars, and with a final good-bye, the bike rolls down the driveway and onto the road.  My spirit soars; I have answered the call of the open road.

Every spring, I suffer the pangs of adventure.  I try to satisfy, or at least allay them with 200-mile Saturday rides, and taking the long way home from work.  But as the weather warms, and the day lengthens, I cannot help but open a road atlas and dream.

Dramatic landscapes float through my mind, much like a high plains thunderstorm gliding across the sky. In those visions is a voice, subtle and seductive.  It calls me to escape the box of my everyday life for the lure of the unknown and unexplored; the realm beyond the far horizons. 

I love maps.  A map is the canvas upon which my dreams are paintedv; a portrait of limitless plains, powerful mountains, shifting deserts, and shoreline highways. My eyes follow the multi-colored lines on the page, but in my mind, I feel the sun on my shoulders, the wind in my face, and the exultation of a questing and restless spirit.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My Lap-Band Life: Three Months In

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

Things have slowed considerably this month.  Over the past four weeks, I've only managed to lose an additional 4 pounds, but again, the Doctor said not to worry.  He's happy with my progress, so I guess I need to be less impatient.

Physically, I feel great.  No pain, no discomfort, in fact at times, I have to remind myself that I even had anything done.  I still struggle with eating too fast and taking too big mouthfuls.  That's the only time I get uncomfortable.  the food will sit in the pouch for a couple of minutes, and then drop on through.  This causes a bit of an ache, but nothing more than an annoyance, mainly at myself for forgetting.  I also at times find myself eating a little too much, which means I spend some time feeling like I'm about to throw up.  Again, proper punishment for my transgressions.

I'm walking more each day at a really good pace.  One day last week, I did three miles in 45 minutes, which equates to a 4-mph pace, which is really hoofin' it.  I'm amazed at how light on my feet I feel.  Once I get stretched out and warmed up, I can now really push myself to go as fast as I possibly can.  Oh yeah.  About P90X?  After the second day, I strained my back and was laid up for about a week.  Guess I'm not as young as I thought!

Criminal Stupidity: Legislating Against Folly

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

There are a host of laws on the books designed to protect people from each other, and sometimes, ourselves.  They run the gamut from drunk and disorderly, to murder.  In most cases they are perfectly adequate for that task.  However, in recent years we have seen an inordinate amount of human actions that defy logic or sanity.  There’s even a popular website called “The Darwin Awards” that celebrates “…those who assist natural selection by removing themselves from the gene pool.” 
The Internet brings the opportunity for immortality to everyone with a video camera, unfortunately, spurring some people to undertake acts of high, even fatal risk.  It’s bad enough when these things happen in isolation, and the only one affected is the risk-taker.  But it seems that increasingly such acts now occur in public places where innocent bystanders are affected.
I track reports of motorcycle accidents on one of my blogs, not out of any gothic fascination, but with the idea that all riders can learn from accidents.  Knowledge is not only power, it increases the likelihood of survivability.  Most involve other vehicles, drivers turning left or pulling out in front of an approaching motorcycle.  But recently, some accidents have occurred for which the blame has to be placed solely on the motorcyclists’ risky behavior.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Old Words, Old Parchment, New Hope*

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
April 23, 2011
as "Founding Fathers' words still ring true"

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

On a cold, gray day in Washington, DC, I stood in a line. I normally don’t do this voluntarily, an aversion acquired in countless trips to Disneyland.  But this line was different.  At the other end lay the opportunity to view the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of rights; our nation’s foundational documents.  

The United States started out as a humble collection of settlements on the frontier of an unknown continent.  Over about a century and a half,  those stubbornly ornery bunch of raw colonials eventually threw off the heavy hand of King George III, and declared independence.

The decision to throw off the heavy hand of England was a courageous one.   Britain was then the most powerful nation on earth, its empire spread across almost every ocean and continent. For the erstwhile colonists to brazenly challenge that power was incredible enough. That they succeeded was miraculous.

Once inside, I ended up outside a huge rotunda.  Before me are two massive and ornate titanium gates. A guard appears, talking in a heavy accent, West African unless I miss my guess. There’s something very appropriate about that.   After a few brief instructions, we enter.

The lights are dim, the air is cool. Above me, the domed ceiling rises majestically.  I see two massive murals depicting the founding fathers. They flank two huge granite columns topped with eagles, at the base of which lie America’s most precious written documents.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

A Portrait of Greatness********

Linoln's last photograph
From the National Archives, Washington, DC

*Chicago Tribune
April 22, 2011
as "Lincoln's Last Portrait"

*KWGN Television/CW 2 Denver, CO
April 22, 2011
as "Lincoln's Last Portrait"

*Allentown, PA  Morning Call
April 22, 2011
as "Lincoln's last portrait"

*Newport News, VA Daily Press
April 22, 2011
as "Lincoln's last portrait"

*Fort Lauderdale, FL South Florida Sun-Sentinel
4/22/2011
as "Lincoln's last portrait"

*WTKR Norfolk, VA
April 22, 2011
as "Lincoln's Last Portrait"

*Orlando, FL Sentinel
4/22/2011
as "Lincoln's last portrait"

*Somerset, PA Daily American
April 23, 2011
as "Lincoln's last portrait"

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

Years ago in what seems to have been another life, I was a music major. I had always been around classical music since it was Dad’s favorite. But in performing those masterpieces, I gained a new appreciation for their beauty and majesty.

One piece in particular has always stirred my heart.

Aaron Copland was asked to write a musical portrait of a famous American. It was 1942; the country needed inspiration, and so Copland chose Abraham Lincoln.

It’s a remarkable story. From a simple frontiersman, Abraham Lincoln rose to the most powerful office in the land during our nation’s darkest hour.   His words are revered to this day, touchstones of strength and leadership, particularly in these times when great statesmen are needed, but are seemingly nowhere to be found.

Copland’s symphony “A Lincoln Portrait” wedded excerpts from the President’s speeches with a musical composition of gravity, dignity, and inspiration.

But the real power of “A Lincoln Portrait” is in the narration. Over the years, it has been performed by a long list of distinguished actors, citizens and politicians including Henry Fonda, James Earl Jones, President Obama, and Pirate great Willie Stargell.  At one performance in a South American country, the words spoken by a fiery Latino actress actually sparked a revolution.

The narration opens with the stirring words: