About Me

My photo

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, May 27, 2014

The Sands of Infinity



The Vegas everyone knows...

...And the stark beauty of the desert that I know.

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
pictures and written content,
except for quoted and cited portions.

Life, it seems becomes a series of patterns, some by design, others we just fall into.  For us, one of these patterns has become our trips to Las Vegas.

No, we're not gambling junkies.  The Vegas of today is so much more than slot machines and table games.  Entertainment is the best anywhere.  The hotels themselves, designed around specific themes, are spectacular to see and visit.  For us, there is the additional attraction that my wife's family visit there two to three times per year, and since flying there is way cheaper than flying to Honolulu, the opportunity to be with her family is priceless.  These visits usually occur in May or June, once the vise of tax season is loosened for these accountants, and again in October around her Mom's birthday.  These dates are usually when hotel rates are the least expensive.  The week we were there, rooms at the iconic, if brooding pyramid, the Luxor were going for the bargain basement rate of $58 per night.  But we always stay in Old Las Vegas, known as downtown, a cluster of hotel casinos flanking the now-roofed over Fremont Street.  These are the names that made Las Vegas in the early days.  The Fremont, The Golden Gate, Four Queens, and the Pioneer Club, with the trademark neon cowboy, known as Vegas Vic, mounted over the front doors.  The nice thing is that these hotels are close together, making it easy to walk from one to another.  On the strip, it can take 20 minutes just to walk next door.  At night, the neon blazes, self-explaining Fremont's acquired nickname of "Glitter Gulch."

And there's another reason.  While there this time, I clicked over my 59th birthday.  What that means, other than varicosity and arthritis, is that retirement is fast approaching, and it is important that we choose where to spend what remains of our lives.  The last thing we wanted was to live in a place where we'd sit around and wait to die.  Las Vegas is full of things to do.  We can be active and engaged in a variety of ways.  Plus it puts us closer to our adult children in Denver and L.A.  

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Hiking, Part 4


Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

Today my wishes lost out to various demands, and as a result, I spent a good portion of the day engaged in those duties to which adults are required to perform.  My intent was to head west to the AT segment near Ashby's Gap, but as I didn't get freed up until nearly 1:30, I decided to keep it local.

The Civil War Battle fought only 20 minutes from my home is known by two different names.  In the South, it was known as the first and second Battle(s) of Bull Run, referring to the stream which bisects the site.  The Union referred to it as Manassas, named for the town a few miles to the south.  Today, the battlefield is a well-preserved 4,500-acres of fields, forests, and streams.  There are also hiking trails.


The two major trails cover each side of Virginia Route 234, AKA Sudley Road.  The trail on the east side of that road, the side with the visitors center, is 5.5 miles.  The one on the west side of the road is 6.5 miles.  The trails are mostly easy, although there are a few steep hills to climb.  It is a picturesque place, mostly quiet except for wildlife and the well-muted sound of traffic from VA 234 and US 29.  It is a lovely place in the springtime, when the new growth is all greened up, especially so on a clear, sunny day.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Thinking About a Motorcycle?*


A wedge of Honda Pacifc Coasts
Photo taken by an unnamed IPCRC member

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat 3/28/2006

Copyright © 2006 by Ralph Couey

Gas prices have continued their volatile roller-coaster ride, and consumers seem to know instinctively that they could zoom once again, as dramatically as a climbing fighter jet. With that in mind, people are looking at two-wheeled conveyances with a far more speculative eye.

It’s tempting. Even big motorcycles can average better than 30 miles per gallon, while scooters can average better than 60 mpg. Practicality aside, motorcycles are just plain fun to ride.

I’ve ridden the better part of 20 years and well over 250,000 miles, the memories of which still bring plenty of smiles.  Knowing the benefits that riding has accrued to me, I encourage people to entertain the possibility of purchasing a motorcycle or scooter. However, it’s important that folks go into this purchase with their eyes wide open.

If you are a new rider, and even if you have some past experience, the rider safety courses offered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation are extremely valuable. Over the space of a few days, you will learn skills that would otherwise take years to acquire on the road.

I will never forget the reaction of one veteran biker. At the end of the course, when he was called up to accept his certificate and card, he said, “I thought this would be a waste of my time. In fact, I learned things here this weekend that the school of experience couldn't teach me in 25 years of riding.”

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Hiking, Part 3

Appalachian Trail

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

This week's sojourn took me to the grandaddy of all the eastern U.S. hikes, the Appalachian Scenic Trail.  This trail, known colloquially as "the A.T." stretches some 2,200 miles from Mount Katahdin in central Maine to Georgia's Springer Mountain in the north-central part of that state.  It started as an idea borne by a forester named Brenton MacKaye in 1921 and publicized by Raymond H. Torrey in the New York Evening Post.  The states along the intended route came onboard and one of the early trail activists, Myron Avery, was the first to "section hike" the trail (doing the entire length in sections, rather than one long hike) in 1936.  The first documented "thru-hike" (doing the trail in one continuous hike) was in 1948 by Earl Shaffer of York, PA.  Shaffer thru-hiked the trail in both directions, becoming the first to accomplish that feat.  By 1971, the trail's course was permanently established.  There is an international Appalachian trail that continues for an additional 1,900 miles into New Brunswick in Canada, although this leg is not officially considered part of the AT.  

Every year, hundreds start the long walk in Georgia in early March and April, usually finishing the trail in Maine by August and September.  The trail was created to be hiked, and as such has shelters along the trail spaced at a day's hiking distance, usually 15 to 20 miles.  

Virginia's part of the AT is about 550 miles long, running from Harper's Ferry to Damascus.  You can access the trail at a number of locations, although convenient places to park your car are a bit difficult to come by.

I ordered two section maps covering northern and central Virginia from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and after perusing both, I identified two places where I could climb aboard.  One is just off Virginia 7 and Blue Ridge Mountain Road near Bluemont, and the other at the south end of that road, just off of US50 as it passes through Ashby Gap, choosing the latter to start my hike today.  After a late start, spending some wonderful hours with my grandson while his Mom ran some errands, I headed west on US50 towards Ashby Gap.  This is one of my regular motorcycle runs, so I anticipated little trouble in locating the parking area off Blue Ridge Mountain Road

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Gathering and the Family Dinner

The Reagan family dinner
Publicity still from CBS Television

Our family dinner
 The Tavern

"You can't forget how important coming together is, whether it be a mom and a son, a dad and a daughter, whether the family be ten people, or twenty people, or a million people.  
Dinnertime is the perfect time for that.  Dinnertime is the perfect time when you can sit down, you can offer thanks to your kids for making you laugh, or to your parents for supporting you, 
or to a god for looking out for you.  
You can just close your eyes, and open them again 
and realize that you have the opportunity every day to change your life, 
or change someone else's.
Dinnertime is a great time to think about that."

--Dillon, age 22
From "Dinnertimes: Stories of American Life, 1912 to 2012

"Sitting down to a meal together draws a line around us.
It encloses us and strengthens the bonds that connect us
with other members of our self-defined clan,
shutting out the rest of the world"
--Miriam Weinstein

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

This week we had as guests my wife's sister and her two daughters.  It's always a happy time to have family in for a few days, especially since my wife is always so homesick for Hawai'i

Yesterday, at their request, we drove up to Gettysburg and toured the battlefield and the visitor's center.  Today, we slept in a little and after I got back from my run, we drove to the quaint little village of Upperville, Virginia and broke bread at the Hunter's Head Tavern.  This delightful place is ensconced in a converted home, built around 1750.  It has a good-size patio and garden out back, the perfect backdrop to an evening meal.

From the moment we arrived, we chattered happily, sharing memories and anecdotes, those bits and pieces of life that so clearly define a family.  We sat at the table and enjoyed a delicious meal, as the food always is at the HH.  But the best part of the evening was the sheer joy at simply being together.

There were twelve of us altogether seated around the weathered old table sharing stories and gossip, reveling in the tales of travels to Asia and Europe shared by our two nieces.  It was a wonderful time, a precious all-too-fleeting time.

Civil War: Events of June 1864

On June 1st, Joseph E. Johnston continued his stubborn defense against William T. Sherman with a skirmish at Allatoona Pass.  On that same day, Union General Don Carlos Buell resigned his commission.  He had been shelved after his failure to defeat, and then pursue Braxton Bragg at the Battle of Perryville in October of 1862.  Grant had offered him a command, but Buell, a man of immense pride, declined on the grounds that it would be personally degrading for him to serve under William T. Sherman or Edward Canby because he outranked them both.  In Grant's opinion, it was "the worst excuse a soldier can make for declining service."

On June 2nd, Union General John Sturgis left Memphis leading a force of 8,100 with orders to pursue and destroy Confederate Cavalry General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

On June 4th, Joe Johnston continued his slow, stubborn defense of Georgia in actions from Dallas-New Hope, Lost Mountain, Pine Mountain, and Brushy Mountain.

June 5th and 6th saw a small series of skirmishes between Union troops under Joseph Mower and CSA's Colton Greene at the Battle of Old River Lake in deep southeast Arkansas.  the results were inconclusive, but both sides were able to claim victory.  The Union advance was delayed by the Southerners, but Union troops were able to advance toward Lake Village.

On June 8th, the Republican National Convention renominated Abraham Lincoln for his second term, with Andrew Johnson as his Vice Presidential nominee.

Civil War: Events of May 1864

Starting on May 1st, Federal troops returned to Alexandria, Louisiana where heavy skirmishing will persist for several days.

A broad spring offensive was undertaken by the North on May 4th as Union forces crossed the Rapidan River in Virginia, and three Federal Armies pushed deep in Georgia.

Also on May 4th, the controversial Reconstruction Act passed in the U.S. House.

From May 5th through the 7th, Union and Confederate forces clashed in the Battle of the Wilderness.  For three days, the two forces fought in the dense forest, sometimes setting fires that consumed wounded soldiers on both sides.  Casualties were heavy, the Union suffering some 17,000 dead and wounded, while the toll for the South was around 11,000.  In previous contexts, this would have constituted a Union defeat and would have sent the Army of the Potomac scurrying for the safety of Washington.  But Grant, instead of marching north, disengaged and moved south around Lee's flank towards Spotsylvania Courthouse, his goal being the interposition of his army between Lee and Richmond.  The movement surprised the Union troops who, when they realized that they were on the march instead of retreat, broke into song while marching.  It was the first glimpse of the brutal, grinding strategy of attrition which would, over time, result in the eventual destruction of the Army of Northern Virginia.