About Me

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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Civil War: Events of August 1863

August 1st: Admiral David Porter assumed command of Federal naval forces on the Mississippi River.  That same day, Union forces began a sustained bombardment of entrenchments surrounding the vital port of Charleston.

On that same day, Union General Frederick Steele launched the Little Rock campaign, to capture the Arkansas capital.

The next day, Lee's retreat from Gettysburg, and Meade's less-than-enthusiastic pursuit ended with both lines stabilized on either side of the Rappahannock River.

On August 5th, President Lincoln sent a letter to Nathaniel Banks stating that he would never return a negro freed under the Emancipation Proclamation to slavery.

Three days later, on the 8th, General Lee, in response to the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg, submits his resignation to President Jefferson Davis.  Davis refuses to allow his best General to leave the fight.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Adrift and Alone

Earth from the rings of Saturn
From NASA Cassini spacecraft
Copyright © 2013 by Ralph F. Couey
Written portion only, except quoted sections
“Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us.
On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of,
where every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.
The aggregate of our joy and suffering,
thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines. 
Every hunter and forager, every hero and coward,
every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child,
inventor and explorer, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there
-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."
--Dr. Carl Sagan
"The Pale Blue Dot"

We look around every day and see crowds.  Cities alive with bustling humans going about their business.  Freeways jammed with cars, trucks, and motorcycles, always going somewhere.  Even outside the urban areas, it's still a crowded place, chockablock with trees, plants, animals, and insects.  We tend to think of earth as a place running out of space.

Then something happens.  A picture, always worth a thousand words, appears before us, tapping that sense of awe within and putting the percolating details of life in proper perspective.

This week, NASA leaked the very first pictures of Earth taken by the Cassini space probe, currently orbiting the ringed planet Saturn.  At first you don't see it.  Then, you do.  A small bluish speck glowing by reflected sunlight against the empty backdrop of the universe.  Your mouth falls open just a bit; maybe you take an involuntary gasp. 

Astronauts and Cosmonauts have all talked about that magical moment of perspective when they first see their home planet from space.  Suddenly, a world and its people once thought of as being bisected and divided by borders and boundaries is seen, not as a collection of geopolitical states and races, but as one organism, fragile and alone, hanging in a vast ocean of...nothing.

It is a humbling thing to behold.  We, as a human race, tend to think highly of ourselves, of our place in the universe.  To be fair, there are those of us who do produce large splashes in our particular pond.  But we have always considered us to be favored by creation, what- or whom-ever the author.  In our early history, earth was thought to be at the center of the universe, that the sun orbited around us instead of the other way around.  When Copernicus first proposed the idea of a sun-centered system, he was brutalized by the religious authorities of the day, who thought he was somehow insulting God.

The truth is that the earth and her teeming billions are but one planet in an otherwise unremarkable solar system floating around the galaxy, not close to the busy center, but shunted off to the side.  Even our galaxy, vast and seemingly crowded with hundreds of billions of stars is but one of hundreds of billions floating throughout the known universe. 

Monday, July 08, 2013

Favorite Rides: Fort Valley Loop

Copyright © 2013 by Ralph Couey
Maps from Microsoft Streets and Trips,
and Google Maps
 
 
160 miles
3 hours
US29, US211, US11, Edinburg Gap Rd., Ft. Valley Rd., VA55, VA626.
 
This enjoyable jaunt takes in some beautiful Virginia countryside with a couple of history lessons thrown in.
 
This run starts in the parking lot of the Manassas National Battlefield Park visitors center.  This large park is the site of two major engagements during the Civil War.  In July 1861, public pressure was strong for a march to Richmond, the Confederate capital, to quickly end the war.  Union Commander Irvin McDowell pleaded for more time to train his very green troops and officers, but the political pressure overcame his objections and he was forced into battle. 
 
It was expected, by the public at least, to be an easy victory.  People from Washington came out with baskets to picnic on the battlefield and watch the fight.  But it turned into a bloody rout.  McDowell's orders were poorly executed by his untrained officers and after a heroic stand by an unknown VMI Colonel named Thomas Jackson, hereafter known as "Stonewall," the Union troops were routed.  Throwing aside their weapons the fled for Washington, along with the terrified civilians.
 
A little over a year later, in August 1862, Robert E. Lee was on the offensive.  He sent Jackson's Corps on a wide flanking march to capture the Union supply depot at Manassas Junction.  After two inconclusive engagements, Jackson dug in on a ridge.  Convinced he had Stonewall trapped, Union Commander John Pope committed most of his troops on a direct assault against Jackson.  Unknown to Pope, however, another corps of Southern troops under James Longstreet broke through at Thoroughfare Gap, marched to the battlefield and hit Pope's forces in a massive flanking attack.  Pope's army was crushed, the remnants sent into retreat.  This time, the Union troops didn't flee all the way to Washington, but collected themselves at Centreville.  It was a disastrous defeat just the same.
 
Leaving the visitor's center, turn right on Sudley Road and go up to the US29 intersection, by the Stone House.  Turn left and head west.  After about 18 miles, you'll have to navigate some heavy traffic through Warrenton.  Look for the turnoff to US 211 and take it.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Favorite Rides: The Winelander Run

Copyright © 2013 by Ralph F. Couey
 
For six great years, I hosted a two day motorcycle ride which I called "The Winelander Run."  The route started in Kingdom City, MO and ran through Fulton, Columbia, Rocheport, Jefferson City, Hermann, and ending up in Hannibal on Sunday. It was a great run, and a great weekend with fun had by all who attended.  This was the Ride Brief I provided to the riders before we started.
 
Winelander Run
Welcome to the Annual Winelander Run!  I am very happy to have you along today and hope your ride will be enjoyable.  First, a few rules for safety and fun enhancement:
 
1.  Fill your tank before the ride starts and at all designated fuel stops.
2. When possible, use the approved staggered method of riding.  Don’t ride directly behind the bike in front of you.  On twisty roads, however, stretch the spacing out and use as much as the road as you need.   
3.  No passing. That is, maintain your position in the group through out the ride.
4.  After the ride has started, please don’t leave the group unless you suffer a breakdown or a medical problem.
5. Each person on the ride is responsible for the rider behind him when making turns.  If you have lost sight of the rider in front of you, continue straight ahead, assuming that he will wait for you at the next turn or change in route number.
6.  While in the curves, ride at a pace that is comfortable for you. When you come out of a curve, use the straightaway to catch up.
7. Do not tailgate.  However, in congested areas, keep the formation tightened up and staggered as much as you safely can as you approach traffic signals so that the group moves through the light as a unit.
 
Now a few notes about the route.
 
1.  This is “critter country” that we’re riding through.  We shouldn’t see many deer during the day, but there are plenty of dogs, cats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, etc., so be alert.  Also, the great Missouri turtle migration starts about this time, so watch for little helmets with legs and avoid them.
2.  There are places where you will see me slow down a bit.  Some are curves where there is always a spray of gravel around.  There are other places where I have often seen deer cross in the past, so if you see me slow down and begin to scan the roadsides, there’s a good reason.
3.  If you need to stop for gas or to pump bilges (an old Navy term) give three long beeps on your horn and I’ll pull over at the next available spot.  We will take breaks about every 60 minutes or so.  The travel distance to Hermann on this route should be about 190 miles.   I have scheduled the fuel stops within a mileage range that should not present a problem.  
 
 Here’s the route for Saturday (220 miles, 5 hours):