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

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Sea and Serenity


Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
both image and written content.

The ocean draws me; inspires me. Heals me.  To stand on the shore of a continent and gaze out to sea is to experience humility.  And infinity.

Our planet is mostly water.  So are we, for that matter.  The life that evolved to be us arose from the oceans, and even today salt water flows through us.  So it's perhaps not surprising that the allure comes from so deep inside of us.

The sounds of the sea inspire deep thought, or no thought at all, as the mind surrenders to the peace of one's soul.  I don't know anything that is more peaceful than the rhythmic beat of the surf.  An impulse, generated thousands of miles distant begins to rise as it approaches the shore.  At a certain point the wave curls forward and the water falls to the sand with a sort of muffled "boom."  Afterwards comes the hissing of the foam as it races across the sand, loses momentum, and slides back.  The sound is soothing, the sight hypnotic.  And it is endless.  To listen to that steady beat is to feel release.  All the sadness and anger, the burdens of life are released and replaced by a sense of balance;  of peace.  

At no time are one's emotions so touched as at sunset.  The shadows lengthen and the light, filtered through the horizon, changes to a softer, more contemplative tint.  The clouds along that horizon begin to pick up and reflect the sun's rays, turning them from white to burnished gold.  On a calm day, that beautiful light is mirrored by the surface of the sea, and the whole world takes on a scintillating beauty found nowhere else.

It is a time and a place for reflection.  People seek these moments when answers to difficult questions remain elusive.  It is here that those answers reveal themselves, as gentle in their arrival as the soft breeze on velvety summer's night.  

Eventually, we must turn away and return to the noisome clamor of our lives.  We go, however, renewed and refreshed; imbued with a new sense of possibility.  And submersed in a new serenity.

For it is in the murmur of the sea where we shall find the peace we seek.


Plagues and Possibilities


Copyright © 2014 by Ralph Couey

This past year, I received a gift from my sister in the form of a book entitles "A Distant Mirror" by the inestimable Barbara Tuchman. Ms. Tuchman can best be described, not as an historian, but a writer who loves history.  This is a benefit to the reader of her many books, as the writing style is a more lyrical narrative that is easy to read, easy to follow, and a great source for learning.

Her list of books includes "The Guns of August", the history of the complex interrelationships among the European powers that led directly to World War I.  It was a book that seemed to have a beneficial influence on President Kennedy as he maneuvered the U.S., and the world, through the crucible that was the Cuban Missile Crisis.

My sister chose the book on the strength of my research into our family history.  I had been able to peel back the years into pre-Medieval France, capturing a connection, admittedly still ephemeral, to the powerful clan of knights known as de Coucy.  Tuchman's research revealed new details to me about this powerful family, at one point considered stronger than the throne of France.

However interesting that was, I found myself captured by the recount of the human tragedy we know as the Black Plague.

Between 1348 and 1350, a pandemic of Bubonic plague grew out of central Asia, spreading along the primary trading route known as the Silk Road.  The disease hit that region hard.  Rumors reached Europe claiming that as many as 23 million had died in India and some 20 million in China.  The Mongol hordes penetrated to the gateways of Europe, bringing the plague with them.  During the siege of the trading city Caffa in the Crimean, the Mongols catapulted infected bodies over the city's walls,  In terror, the inhabitants fled.  Some went by ship to the port of Marseilles in southern France.  The primary vector of infection, the fleas of infected rats, went with them.  From there, the pestilence spread with terrifying speed.  Within a year, people all over Europe were dying at rates that defy modern comprehension.  Exact numbers are hard to come by, but it is estimated that as much as 60% of all Europeans perished.  World wide, the human population was reduced by 100 million people.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Why We Go to the Show

Mentally, he's on the road aboard Honda's new Valkyrie.

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

Every year, I attend the traveling International Motorcycle Show, lately sponsored by Progressive Insurance.  A big part of my motivation to do this stems from my heartfelt commitment to The Ride, lovingly accumulated over the past 20 years.  The other motivation is rooted in my dislike of the first two months of the year, a period of time I have come to call "The Long Dark Tunnel."  The show hits Washington DC usually in mid-January, thus providing a nice reminder that despite the gloom and cold of Winter, spring, and another riding season is on the approach.

There's a lot to see at these shows.  The major manufacturers display their entire lines, and unlike most dealerships, people are encouraged to swing a leg over and sit on every one.

The criteria a choice for a particular bike is different for every rider.  The first criteria is deciding what kind of riding a person is going to do.  That determines the type of motorcycle to buy.  Sport bikes, the powerful high-speed types commonly referred to as "crotch rockets," sport tourers, almost as fast but designed for the long haul, standards (also called nakeds for the lack of body panels), cruisers, the iconic beefy American design.  Adventure tourers, also called dual sports, which appeal to those who prefer the back woods and trackless deserts along with regular paved surfaces, dirt bikes, basic frame-and-engine designed purely for off-road use, and of course, the big baggers, the touring bikes which carry loads of luggage and every comfort and convenient device ever conceived for motorcycles.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

The Flight of Time*


"Time Flies"
A Custom Wood Carving from
http://www.beauhavenwoodworking.com/


*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, April 4, 2010
as "Perception Governs View of Time"

Copyright © 2008 by Ralph Couey
Written content only

A couple of years ago, I penned a sentence in another essay about the passage of time:

“As children, we rush along, impatient to grow up. We them spend our adulthood sadly wondering why we didn’t take our time.”  That sentence has been bouncing around inside my brain since, teasing and tormenting me in the way that elusive ideas sometimes do.

We humans have an uncertain relationship with the passage of time. Scientifically speaking, time is always the same. Whether seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, or decades, they all pass at the same rate. The last five minutes of a timed test, or five minutes of a root canal is the same five minutes. What changes is our perception of that time.

It’s a universal part of the human experience that when times are good, the minutes tick by like fenceposts alongside a speeding car. In bad times, those same minutes seem to crawl by at a speed that would make a glacier look like Jamaican Gold Medalist Usain Bolt. Also, as we grow older, the passage of days seems to accelerate. But science aside, perception is what governs our view of time.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

A Year By What Measure?


Super strands of galaxies
From unseenmoon.wordpress.com
 
 

Copyright ©2014 by Ralph Couey
Except image.
 
This calendrical thing we call "a year" is, of course, the calculation of the time it takes for the Earth to complete on lap (or orbit, if you prefer) around our star.  That's 365 days, measured as a fraction over 24 hours, the time it takes for the Earth itself to make a complete spin on its axis.  Those days are broken into 12 months which at first were established according to the phases of the moon.  Nearly everyone knows this.
 
I was thinking the other day (admittedly a hazardous undertaking) about time and space and a question occurred to me. 
 
How do we really know we've made the lap?
 
If I'm going to take my dog Tweeter for a walk around the block, I have a fixed point for starting and ending.  But space has no fixed reference point because everything is in motion.
 
The Earth orbits the sun, which in turn orbits the center of the Milky Way galaxy.  The Galaxy moves in a complex gravitational dance with other galaxies within the local group.  The local group, arrayed as part of a larger strand and superstrand of thousands of other galaxies moves in response to their interactive gravitational fields.  And the whole ball of wax continues to expand outward from that mysterious point in space and time where the Big Bang brought it all into existence.  Here on the surface of this planet, reference points on land are fixed and recognizable.  (Yes, I know the continents are drifting around on the mantle, but let's not megger this thing up any worse, okay?) 
 
So if there are no reference points, how do we know we've made that circle?  There's no finish line, and since the sun's surface is a constantly changing oatmeal-looking mass of incandescent gas and magnetic fields, no one can point to a place that might be used as a start/finish line.  It would seem that trying to determine a finish line in space would be like trying to find your car in a shopping mall parking lot while someone is driving it around.  The only clue really are the cycle of the seasons.