About Me

My photo

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 30, 2014

Hiking, Part 2A

Mather Gorge, Great Falls, Virginia
A long way to fall...

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Words and pictures

I decided to spend a little time talking about preparedness.  As I said, I'm new to this hiking thing and each time I go, a little more education is acquired.  On this last trek through Riverbend Park, I took a tumble backwards down a steep slope after banging my noggin into a low-hanging limb. I ended up with only a couple of gashes on my hands.  It could have been much worse.

I thought about that a lot today, and how important it was to remember my old Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared."  So I put together a small first aid kit which will accompany me on future trips. The contents consist of two types of bandages, a roll of gauze, a roll of medical tape, a bottle of anti-bacterial spray, a small bottle of iodine-based wound cleaner, a pair of scissors, and a small roll of duct tape.  The last might seem to be a bit odd, but I think with duct tape and a couple of sturdy sticks, I could make a serviceable splint, should the need arise.

Right now, I travel light, carrying only a Camelbak 2 liter reservoir, which is fine for safe trails in relatively populated areas.  But if my plans...or goals, if you will...come to fruition, then I will be tackling trails this summer in the Shenandoah and parts of the Appalachian Trail where it winds through Virginia.  A big part of the preparation involves gathering information on the character of those trails before I go, and selecting the appropriate equipment to take along.  Obviously, Virginia being a "buggy" locale, insect repellent, salve for bites and stings, and since I was at least at one time allergic to bee stings, probably an Epi pen as well.  This may be overkill, since I survived my last encounter with a bee when the little bugger flew inside my motorcycle helmet during a ride, and proceeded to take his errant navigation out on my head.  Other than the stinging pain, I suffered no anaphylactic emergency.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Hiking, Part 2

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

Great Falls Park in McLean, Virginia is a great place to hike.  The scenery is terrific and you have your choice of trails from the ridiculously easy to the just plain ridiculous.  As I mentioned before, the trails through this park tie into a larger trail system that follows the Potomac River for about 45 miles.  Just north of Great Falls is another location, Riverbend Park.  While not as "traily" as Great Falls, there are still several paths to be explored.  I had to be back in town for a mid-afternoon doctor's appointment, and having lost a morning battle to my pillow, I got a later start than I intended.  Nevertheless, I parked in the northernmost parking lot at Great Falls and after stretching out, I headed north.  The day was overcast and cool, one of those days where you kinda need the sweatshirt, knowing you'll be sweating underneath.

The character of the river undergoes a rather startling transformation. North of Mather Gorge, the Potomac is very sedate.  There are a few rocks, but no rapids.  I don't know who the first riverman was to make this trip, but I'm sure he was real surprised.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Hiking: Good for the Heart, and the Soul

Great Falls Park, Virginia

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

Almost three years ago I woke up one humid June morning and decided to start exercising.  Since then what was a 1-mile walk has become a 4.5 mile run four to five days per week.  As odd as it sounds, it's been fun, once the muscles get warm and loose.  Along with the burst of endorphins, there is that special feeling of accomplishment.

I do most of this outdoors, even running on cold days, mainly because of my detestation for treadmills.  I love being outdoors.  The sun, the sky, the fresh air all combine to lift exercise into exhaltation.

My cardiologist has been ecstatic with the results.  He says my heart is far healthier than the average for my age, which is really good news for someone with five stents contained therein.  But over the winter, I read about the long-term results of that steady pounding on the joints.  I'll turn 59 this year and I'd like to keep my legs underneath me for as long as possible.  My GP Doc suggested that I take up hiking.  I rolled that around in my mind for a week or so, then went to the Internet in search of possible places to take this new activity.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Why We Ride*


Hull Canyon, south of Jerome, Arizona

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat
June 6, 2010
as "Tuck Away Pieces of Joy for Later Recall"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

An open road stretches before me under a clear sky, the horizon pierced by the blue peaks of distant mountains. The world glides by in unmatched grandeur. Grasslands bend in concert before prairie zephyrs. Across endless deserts, each rock, draw, and tumbleweed is starkly defined in the clear air. And in those mountains, it begins to bend, twist, and dodge, seemingly alive. Overhead, a dome of blue marks not a limiting roof, but the edge of infinity. Beneath, the engine sings its song among the trees, the steady beat of pistons pounding the pulse of life.

I am intensely alive. I have nowhere to be, and all the time in the world to get there.

Motorcycling is difficult to explain, even to other riders, a conversation that usually starts and ends with…

“You know.”
“Oh, yeah.”

The quest to capture the essence of that experience defies articulation. Oh, we can talk endlessly about sunny spring days gliding along country lanes, the air rich with the scents of an awakening world…

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Big Bang Theory and William Shatner

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

I discovered the hit television comedy "The Big Bang Theory" later than most.  But once found, it became must-see television.  The premise, for any of you who may have been under a rock for the last few years, is a group of three scientists and an engineer, hard-core geeks all, who work at an analog for Cal Tech.  Leonard is an experimental physicist, Sheldon a theoretical physicist, Raj, a particle astrophysicist from India, and Howard the engineer, and lately, astronaut, incidentally the only non-PhD in the group except for Penny.  Sheldon and Leonard share an apartment across the hall from Penny, an aspiring actress.  Howard lives with his mother, a prototypical Jewish mom, and Raj lives alone.  Much of the humor derives from the collision between Penny's world and the science fiction and comic book-dominated universe shared by the four guys.  As the show has matured, Sheldon acquired a girlfriend, Amy, a neurobiologist (played by real-life PhD Mayim Bialik), and Howard married a microbiologist, Bernadette.  Raj, however, remains without a regular girl after a long series of disastrous dates.

For someone who grew up on science fiction, notably Star Trek, Star Wars, Lost in Space, et al, this was a series made in heaven.  The writing is always good, if esoteric, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I "get" the sci-fi references.  I also understand the characters, which may or not be disturbing.

The show has intersected with real life icons such as Neil Degrasse Tyson, Stephen Hawking, comic book legend Stan Lee, Bill Nye the Science Guy, astronaut Mike Massimino, Battlestar Galactica's Katee Sackhoff, and Star Trek actors Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, LeVar Burton, and George Takei adding to the joy of the legion of dedicated fans.  Leonard Nimoy has lent his inestimable talents as well.  For some time, fans have dreamed and schemed of a way to bring William Shatner, Captain Kirk himself to the show.  I have an idea I'd like to share.

Friday, April 11, 2014

April**



Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Johnstown, PA  Tribune-Democrat
March 27, 2011
 as "Spring ushers in life reborn"

*Waterbury, CT Republican-American
April 9, 2011
as "Ode to April, the gateway to spring"


"No Winter lasts forever, no Spring skips its turn. 
April is a promise that May is bound to keep."
 -  Hal Borland

Ahhh, April!  Stand we now on the cusp of spring, the season of rebirth and renewal.  Behind us, winter reluctantly slinks back into the cold cave of its slumbers.  For long months, it has reigned supreme.  But now, finally, it is retreating; beaten, vanquished, cowering in defeat.

Oh, how we have waited!  Through those short gloomy days and long cold nights we could almost feel the life draining from us.  We were teased with days of sun and thaw, only to see the ground covered the next morning in yet another blanket of white. 

"We need spring. We need it desperately;
and, usually, we need it before God is willing to give it to us."
-  Peter Gzowski

That Other Shoe**


Airport picture from the FAA website. No attribution listed.

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey
Written content only

*Chicago Tribune
May 27, 2011
as "The view from the other side of the counter"

*Somerset, PA  Daily American
May 28, 2011
as "Check Yourself"

As summer time approaches, doubtless many are planning to hit the road, or the skies, enroute to destinations ranging from Grandma’s to the Grand Bahamas. Doubtless also is the almost dead certainty that our national air transportation system, already creaking at the seams, will rupture in ways certain to test the already-thin patience of travelers.

As fuel costs have soared, airlines have been forced into cutting services and staff.  Adding to that are the horror stories of passengers “imprisoned” for as long as 10 hours as their aircraft sits on the tarmac while food runs out and toilets overflow. And hovering over this whole mess are the counter-terrorism security measures which now include body scans and diaper searches.

And ever-present in the back of all our minds is the reminder that the horrors of September 11th could happen again.

Humans can take only so much, and people sometimes erupt, spewing their venom in every direction.  On the receiving end of that lava flow are the visible airline employees

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Son Rise



Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

It’s early morning; the sun has just risen.  It is quiet and peaceful, such a contrast to the chaos of yesterday.  Jesus had been arrested, betrayed by one of his own disciples (with a kiss, no less).  Throughout the long day, He had been beaten, insulted, whipped, and rejected by the very  people He had blessed and healed.  After a long, agonizing walk uphill carrying a heavy wooden cross, He was crucified.  And most remarkably, the last moments before his died, He asked God to forgive those who had killed him.
His body, once taken down from the cross, was given to Joseph of Arimathea by the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate.  His remains were prepared according to tradition, although hurriedly because the Sabbath was about to begin.
For those who had followed Him in His ministry, the brightness of this morning had been dimmed by the knowledge that the light of their world had been taken from them.  They mourned not just the death of a man, but the death of their last hope.  It seemed that the heavy hand of Rome would never be lifted; the corruption of their government would never be cleansed.
Into the graveyard very early on that bright morning came three women.  In their hands thy carried myrrh and oils with which to anoint the body of Jesus.  Suddenly, they stopped short.  They saw that the large stone sealing the entrance to the tomb had been rolled away.  The Roman soldiers guarding the tomb were in a seeming stupor.  They leapt to the logical conclusion:  Somebody had stolen the body of Jesus.  Inside the tomb, they saw the empty shroud.  But the also saw two angels clad in shimmering white.  One angel spoke to the women, saying, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but He is raised.  Behold, here is the place where they laid him.”

Monday, April 07, 2014

Loss...And Life

Leia
2001-2014

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Image and written content, except quotes.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened. ” - Anatole France

They come into our lives, small, innocent and utterly helpless.  In those first weeks, they are completely dependent upon us for food, shelter, health, and most importantly, love.  After a while, we no longer look at them as animals, but family; even children.  In return, we receive their complete love and devotion; playmates, soul mates, and on sad days, the perfect companion.  They make us laugh, give us comfort, and when it seems that the whole world has turned on us, they greet us with unbounded joy when we return to the sanctuary of home.

Humans first began keeping animals somewhere between 15,000 and 30,000 years ago.  They were, of course, working animals, helping the humans in various ways, including providing security.  We found that once an animal identified a family as their "pack" they would protect the members of that group, even at the risk of their own lives.

Today, when a person brings a pet into their home and life, it is mainly for companionship.  Over time, a lot of love becomes invested in such an animal, be it dog, cat, snake, or parakeet.  But the lives of these animals are short.  Even the most long-lived of them is less than two decades.  So there will inevitably come a day when that beloved pet passes from this life and we are left with a particularly aching sorrow.

A couple of weeks ago, we received a text from one of our daughters in Colorado.  Her cat, named Leia, had been found in intense pain.  At the Veterinary Hospital, she was diagnosed with a kidney stone.  Further tests showed that Leia had been in chronic renal failure for some time.  One of her kidneys had apparently shut down perhaps as much as two years ago.  As the hours passed, her condition became more acute.  Finally, her last kidney ceased to function and this 13-year-old beloved pet passed away.