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

Monday, March 24, 2014

What We Want, What We Can, What We Will Do


"Three things are necessary for the salvation of man;
to know what he ought to believe,
to know what he ought to desire,
and to know what he ought to do."
-- Thomas Aquinas

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Except cited and quoted portions.

Every human ever born came into this life with a dream.  Separated from all the other wants and desires, it is a dream that arises from the recognition by the soul of the gifts and talents singular to that person.  Essentially, it is the assessment of what can be built using the raw materials available.

That collection of specialities is different for every person.  My son is a genius of sorts in the computer field.  Consequently, his work language is largely mathematical.  When I look over his shoulder, I see a page filled with number and notations, pi, theta, delta, sigma, tau, omega...   It is a language that, alas, will forever be indecipherable to his father. You could say that it's all...um..."Greek" to me.

I have become a writer, of sorts.  No, I haven't written The Great American Novel, though I have been a columnist.  While I can't translate mathematics, I have been able to recognize the momentum of thought and emotion from the heart and mind and translate that into words, phrases, and sentences.  Most times, that process is slow and frustrating.  But occasionally, the walls are felled, the gates are opened, and those impulses flood directly from the heart to the fingers, at a rate which challenges the hands to keep pace.

This is, for all intents and purposes, what I want; my desire, if you will.  For everyone else, that desire is particular to each one.  It may be the elegance of a perfect equation, or the production of something beautiful from a piece of wood, a lump of clay, a jar of paint.  My sister, a career educator, has spoken of that magical moment when a teacher witnesses the light of comprehension dawning in the eyes of a student.  I remember the words of a mother after seeing her child, now an adult, graduate from college.  "In that moment, I realized that all the effort, all the pain, all the worry and sleepless nights over the last 21 years expended in trying to shape a life had finally been justified.  My child has achieved; therefore as a mother, I have also achieved."

Monday, March 17, 2014

Motorcycles and Hard Economics

The Object of My Dreams and Obsessions
Taken by Ralph Couey in Fort Valley, Virginia

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph Couey
Picture and written content

Ownership, or more accurately, the relationship with a motorcycle is unique in a person's experience.  It is transportation stripped to its bare essences, and thus a journey is less one of physical necessity and more of a spiritual exaltation.  As I have written ad nauseum, the hours and miles spent in this kind of communion are priceless for those who truly understand the essence of the ride.

But, like all things, this comes at a price.

Motorcycles are a different animal than cars.  They require a great deal more attention to details such as tire pressures and oil change intervals than do cars.  Mainly because when something breaks on a car, the owner is still inside a steel cage wrapped up in a cocoon of seat belt and airbags.  When something breaks on a motorcycle, it can, and does, result in very mortal outcomes.  Safety requires upkeep, which requires $$$.

My mechanical skills are limited, as are my collection of tools.  Hence, when my bike needs something, I turn to my local factory-trained neighborhood wrench.  This is especially true in that time of year when winter is finally driven back into it's dark, cold cave for another year.  The sun warms the air, the snow disappears, the spring rains wash the road of sand and salt.  And after months of painful dormancy, motorcycles hit the roads.

The Need for Endless Speculation

MH 370
From www.ibtimes.co.uk

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Written material only.

It was a Saturday, March 8th.  A Boeing 777, one of the most advanced and safest airplanes in the world lifted off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport for a regularly scheduled flight to Beijing in the People's Republic of China.  The flight was tagged by the International Air Transport Association as Malaysian Air Flight 370.  By all expectations, it was expected to be a routine trip.  But 40 minutes into the flight, something went terribly wrong.  For reasons that were, and still remain, utterly unknown, the aircraft made a hard turn to the west, descended almost 40,000 feet in one minute, and then vanished.  The transponder and other communication devices had been deactivated, apparently in a deliberate attempt to evade detection.  The engines continued to ping satellites, a maintenance-related automatic communication back to the engines manufacturer Rolls Royce in England.  The last surmised location of the airliner could have been either over the southern Indian Ocean, or near Kazakhstan.  

Today, nine days later, the aircraft, and the 239 souls aboard, remain missing.  

This incident, or incipient tragedy, has consumed the attention of the world.  Even a pending war between Russia and it's former client state Ukraine over the Crimea seems to have taken a back seat.  A big part of the attention has to do with the shared incredulity that in this age of GPS, satellites, radar, and a sky filled with some 90,000 airplanes each day that something as big as a jumbo jet could simply vanish without a trace.

This is, unfortunately, not the first time.  Since 1910, some 160 aircraft have disappeared from the skies, without leaving a single clue as to their fate.  Perhaps the most well-known and most researched was the loss in 1937 of a Lockheed Electra with pilot Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan somewhere near Howland Island in the Pacific.  The last passenger plane to disappear was a de Havilland Twin Otter under the banner of  Merpati Nusantera Airlines which disappeared in 1995 while flying across the Molo Strait enroute to Ruteng, Indonesia, along with its 13 passengers and crew.  Bad weather was the suspected culprit.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things, Part II

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

I have been fortunate in that I have been well-traveled.  To date, I have been to 49 states and 28 countries and as many others who have trekked similar distances, those experiences have fundamentally altered my view of life.  

In my youth, I accompanied my Dad on his summer journeys related to his church work.  This meant hitting the road for two of the three summer months mostly taking in church camps across the country.  We traveled far and wide, he and I, bonding in ways that kept us close even through my tumultuous teen years.  The dominant memory of those summers can be encapsulated into the experience of sitting in a campsite sanctuary on countless humid evenings listening to his sermons as the power of his voice competed with the sawing chorus of cicadas in the dark woods beyond.  Those were good years.

Later on, I joined the Navy. In the next 10 years, I saw not only the world, but learned a lot about the people who populate those places we Americans rarely think about.  I also learned that people in this country who complain about being poor really don't know about the privation and struggle that is true poverty.

Throughout all those years, and all those miles, several places have stayed with me, having planted themselves in my heart.  These are a few of my favorite places.

Streets of Hong Kong
From Bugbog.com

Hong Kong has been called many things, the most well-known eponym being "The Pearl of the Orient."  I first set foot in this jewel during April of 1981.  I had been aboard my first ship for a couple of months, fresh out of "A" school.  It was my first foreign port, and I fell in love with the city within minutes of beginning my first liberty ashore.  Hong Kong has been for a long time a major financial and economic hub in the Far East.  When I was there, the colony still belonged to Britain, and the English imprint was noticeable although far more understated than I had expected.  The incredible thing about this city is its energy.  It is a pulse of excited urgency that seems to rise from the sidewalks right through the soles of your shoes.  Life here is lived at full throttle and its impossible to not be affected.  The people of Hong Kong are every day consumed by the business of survival.  Most live in hovels that are little bigger than a fair-sized closet, but they are only there to sleep.  The rest of the day is spent doing business.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Time, Age, and Documents

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
My mind is on a journey, but not one on a road that is straight in this dimension.  Sometimes I see my thoughts in the way of a housefly frantically bouncing from one window screen to another, trying desperately to free itself.  My attention span is thus ephemeral.  There just seems so much to ponder.

Last week, I overheard a conversation between two ladies in an elevator.  It seemed that one of them had suffered the death of her father the previous year and she talked at length about how difficult things were at the end.  It seems that he had never expressed a preference for either burial or cremation, and this seemed a terribly important, and difficult, thing for them to resolve.

It was a moment like so many others riding in that nondescript vertically-moving cube when the lives of complete strangers intersect for a few moments of time.  Usually, what is said there, and heard there, flits from my conscious thoughts.  But this conversation left me with some thinking to do.

I must confess that I look at death differently from most.  Buried somewhere in this blog, like a dusty box in the attic, is a posting about an incident that happened in the spring of 2003.  After decades of suffering mindless abuse, my heart finally put its "foot" down, and put me on notice.  Two arteries were almost completely clogged and I ended up in the Cath lab at Boone Hospital in Columbia, Missouri.  During the procedure, my heart quit and I..."went away" for awhile.  The resulting experience, complete with the de riguer tunnel and white light, left me with a certainty that death...what we call it, anyway...was in fact life, just on a different level.  I'll spare you the details, except to say that I felt a lot of different emotions, but fear was not one of them.

I don't fear death.  Lest you think me crazy, let me hasten to add that I still fear the process of dying (big, big pain baby here), the actual transition has lost its mystery.  I know now what to expect.  I also know, based on that experience, that I'm not yet done here.  I will know when that particular bus arrives.

Monday, March 03, 2014

A Few Thoughts on the Rudeness of March Snowstorms


"Winter is nature's way of saying
"Up Yours."
--Robert Byrne

Copyright ©2014 by Ralph Couey

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with snow.  When it first falls in November or December, I welcome its artistry, if for no other reason to cover up the dull brown of late fall.  Snow is expected, in fact desired around the holidays, and through the long dark tunnel of January and February.  But when March rolls up, I don't think its unreasonable to begin to look for some breaks in the weather.  Now, I don't live in Syracuse, Duluth, or Billings, where snow probably falls up through Memorial Day weekend.  I have chosen to live in more temperate climes.  After the Snowmageddon winter of 2010, Virginia enjoyed three years where actual winter weather was rare.  This year, however, winter made a return appearance.  Snow totals are up, not as high as 2010, but the thing that has made this year so hard to bear has been the unremitting cold.  

I'm older and my circulation is not what it once was, so I'm much more sensitive to the cold than in the past.  So this endless day-after-day cycle of frigid temperatures has the effect of wearing a person down.  Now, we have had a few days where the sun shone and the mercury soared into the 60's but that tease was immediately followed by another long stretch of cold.  Also, I ride a motorcycle and am regularly afflicted with what we riders call PMS, an acronym which stands for Parked Motorcycle Syndrome.  I am, by nature, a cautious rider, so even on warm winter days, the collection of sand, salt, and cinders on the roads makes riding a more dicey proposition.

Today, another large storm passed through this area, the second large one in a couple of weeks, this one dumping some 8 inches of fresh powder.  Once again, we left the warm sanctuary of the house to join our neighbors in shoveling.  I've never liked shoveling snow; and as I get older, I like it even less.  I'm beginning to understand the attraction seniors have for places like Orlando and Phoenix.  Soon it will be time for me to decide which I dislike more.  Oppressive heat and humidity, or shoveling snow and persistent cold.

A Few of My Favorite Things, Part I

Copyright ©2014 by Ralph Couey
Images from various sites on the Internet

Humans have designed and built incredible things, but I think the most miraculous are those machines that helped man to, in the words of John Magee, break the surly bonds of earth.  The ability to fly was once the sole province of birds.  But since the Wright brothers first powered flight in 1903, the ability to soar into the sky has become so common that it is difficult to find someone in this country who has never rode in an airplane.

Flying initially was a way for the military to improve the way they went about their business.  But entrepreneurs soon saw the market for global air transport.

It is perhaps ironic that some of the most beautiful aircraft that ever took to the skies were those whose business was dealing death.

I fell in love with airplanes at an early age.  My father traveled a lot, and I remember many evenings when we would make the trek to old Municipal Airport, literally in the shadow of downtown Kansas City, to see him climb aboard a multitude of airliners bound for destinations throughout the world.  When he was home, sometimes on Sunday afternoons, we would go to the airport and park in a lot set aside for people to watch the planes take off and land.  I thought that was just a perfect way to spend an afternoon with my Dad.  Though I chose the sea from which to serve my country, I remain fascinated by flight.

Over the years, some airplanes have become favorites of mine, for various reasons.  Probably the first favorite I had was the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.  This rugged, yet beautiful plane was the mainstay of the US Army Air Force during the daylight bomber campaign against Germany.


It was fast, for its day, had long range, a heavy bombload, and could defend itself with 10 to 12 machine guns.  For my Dad and I, the old TV show "12 O'Clock High" was must-see programming, and it was in those episodes that I grew an affection for the Fort.  I was at Long Beach Airport one afternoon when a B-17 paid a short visit.  After asking, I was allowed to stick my head into the door and hatch, seeing the interior for the first time in person.  And breathless I was when the plane taxied to the end of the runway and that signature roar of those four Wright Cyclones thundered across the field as the plane raced down the runway and soared into the sky.