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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, July 29, 2014

Hiking, Part 7

Jagged edges

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey


I've been saving this one for one of those rare days off when I actually had nearly the whole day available to me.  So after I dropped my granddaughter off at day camp, I turned northward and made the 90-minute drive to Gathland State Park near Burkittsville, Maryland.  

The park is named for George Alfred Townsend who was a Civil War press correspondent, one of the youngest to report on the war from the front lines.  He also covered the assassination of President Lincoln, and the subsequent pursuit of the killer, actor John Wilkes Booth.  He was a well-known and prodigious writer, at one point penning some 18,000 words per day.  In a time when inkpens had to be dipped in ink and written on foolscap, this was an amazing level of output.  After the war, he remained one of the most popular of Washington correspondents, having gathered a huge audience.  

When he was 47, he began building an estate on land he purchased in Crampton's Gap, a wind gap cutting through the otherwise contiguous South Mountain.  This land was also the site where the Battle of South Mountain was fought in September 1862.  Among the structures that he had built out the abundant native stone was an arch dedicated to war correspondents who were killed while covering wars.





The Memorial Arch.

What remains of his mansion.

After his death, the land was given to the state for a park, which is known not by Townsend's name, but his pen name, "Gath."

The AT (Appalachian Trail) passes right through this property, descending from the northern part of South Mountain, across the gap, and back up onto the southern ridge.  Last week, I hiked the southern ridge, part of it anyway, from Weverton, north of Harper's Ferry.  It was a brutal climb, and looking at the topo map I saw that the part starting from Gathland was a much gentler ascent, so I decided to give this one a try.

Traffic being what it is, it took me almost two hours to get there.  But upon arrival, I saw the beautiful property, and two parking lots.  I pulled in, geared up, and headed south.


There are two access points for the trail, one being a path that begins right off the upper driveway.  But if you want a bit of a ceremony (and don't mind the rocks) you can pass through an arch that was meant to be part of Townsend's mausoleum, although he didn't use it.   Once on the trail, the climbout is much gentler than it's southern counterpart.  Part of that is because the elevation at the gap is 400 feet higher that the point just off the Potomac River.  But the path is still strewn with rocks.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hiking, Part 6

The Potomac River Near Harper's Ferry from Weverton Cliff

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

I managed to free up a few hours today and went to a location that has been on my anticipation list.

Harper's Ferry, West Virginia is one of those places where history rises from the dry pages of textbook into dazzling reality.  The town sits at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and was from its beginnings a busy location for river commerce and industry.  Today, the National Parks Service has preserved the historical part of the town in an interactive historic park.  The town would, by itself, be a very interesting visit, but the view of the two rivers from the point of land where they meet is breathtaking.

The AT (Appalachian Trail) passes through the town, in fact the Conservancy has an office there.  From there, you can trek southwards along the crest of Short Hill Mountain as it meanders towards Shenandoah National Park.  I chose to go northwards today.

I left my vehicle in the Park n' Ride lot near Weverton and was able to jump right on the trail, as it passes right behind the lot.  Having consulted the topo map, I knew I was in for a challenge.  South Mountain begins on the north bank of the Potomac and rises precipitately to nearly 1,200 feet.  The initial climb is a series of switchbacks as the trail ascends about 600 feet in the first half-mile.  It's not just the steep climb that makes this one so challenging.  The path is well strewn with rocks which requires careful consideration as to where to plant one's foot.  Fortunately, I remembered my trekking poles this time.  There were three occasions when I stumbled, slipped, and tripped on the rocks.  Only those poles kept me from executing an epic face-plant.


At about 900 feet elevation, the way began to flatten out, but the rocks were still there.  It seems as if that end of the mountain is slowly falling apart, dumping rocks down the slopes ranging from pocket-sized to house-sized.  I saw several places where the dedicated volunteers had cleared some good sized rock slides from the trail.  This climb took me awhile, about an hour and 15 minutes, but once I got to the 1,200 foot level, the trail became a lovely, soft springy loam that felt really great on the feet.  I encountered two other hikers, both male, who were fully geared up, their packs topped by foam bed pads.  I don't know if they were through hiking or just spending a night or two, but it was nice to see other people out doing the trail.

When you get near the top of the ridge, there is an overlook called Weverton Cliff that provides a lung-sucking panorama of the rivers and the town below.

 Yup.  I clumb it.


The day was very humid, but not extremely hot, so while I shed a couple of gallons of sweat, I never felt dangerously overheated.  I did take the opportunity to try out a couple of new items.  One was a belt-mounted device from the OFF company, which sprayed a fine mist of insect repellent into the air while I was walking.  It seemed to work pretty well.  The bugs would get close to my face, but never touch it, and I survived the day without a single insect bite, and it was a very buggy day.  The other thing was a huge floppy bucket hat that I found at Costco.  Kind of odd-looking, the brim was large and oval shaped, so it gave good coverage of my face and the back of my neck.  Partway uphill though, I had to flip the front brim up, as I found it difficult to see ahead of me.  The other think I liked was how well it kept the sweat out of my eyes.  Ballcaps (my usual choice) do a fairly good job, but this hat, as ugly as it looks was way more effective.  And had I been caught out in the rain, it would have kept my face and eyes clear.  

 Not quite Indiana Jones...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Redskins in the Crosshairs -- Chiefs Next?


Copyright © 2014 by Ralph Couey
Written content only.

In 1988, the National Football League franchise located in Washington DC won Super Bowl XXII, thumping the Denver Broncos 42-10.  Washington was quarterbacked by Doug Williams, the first African-American QB to not only play in, but win the Big Game.  It was also the first of what would be countless public demonstrations and protests concerning the team's nickname, "Redskins."

The nickname, many believe, is a word born out of racism dating back to the first time white Europeans pushed into the tribal frontier.  The issue is rapidly coming to a head, with the National Patent Office stripping the team of their copyright on the name.  Across the country, two sets of voices are being raised, one which demands that this term be banned from not only the NFL, but all teams in all sports.  The other set of voices contends that in the modern context, the term is much more closely related to the team and not to that group of people who have come to be called "Native Americans."

Football aside, I have a bit of a problem with that term.  Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a native American because human life did not arise here spontaneously as it did in Africa some 200,000 years ago.  Over the millennia continents have drifted, and sea levels have fallen and risen.  This created pathways of migration.  Everyone here on these three continents (North, Central, and South America, respectively) came here from someplace else, mainly across the Bering land bridge beginning about 16,000 years ago, by the latest estimate.  I prefer the term "First Americans."  It is more accurate, plus it retains the honorific of them being the first to take possession of these lands.


 Team owner Dan Snyder has planted his foot firmly in the rich soil of tradition, vowing to never change the team's name.  But protests are gathering momentum and there seems little doubt that at some point in the near future a Waterloo -- or Little Big Horn -- will be reached when irrevocable action will be taken.

This is not the first time that politics has impacted a team name.  In the 1950's during the virulent anti-communist Joe McCarthy era, the Cincinnati Major League Baseball team, in trying to steer clear of any ideological taint changed their name from the "Reds" to the "Redlegs."  Apparently nobody knew that the original Redlegs referred to the roving bands of anti-slavery terrorists who roamed the border states before, during, and after the Civil War.

There are a lot of other teams closely monitoring this controversy, namely every team that carries a name even remotely associated with First Americans.  The likely next target will be the Kansas City Chiefs.

While the team and it's passionate fanbase have used the name in its First American context, the name actually refers to Kansas City Mayor H. Roe Bartle, whose nickname was "Chief", and the one primarily responsible for bringing the team from Dallas to KC.  The original team logo...




...portrayed a First American in ceremonial headdress racing across six midwestern states with a football in one hand and a tomahawk in the other.  This was a quick and dirty adaptation of the original Dallas Texans logo which showed a cowboy, complete with 6-guns, racing across the state of Texas.


After 1963, however, the First American logo disappeared from official team use and was replaced by the simple arrowhead...


...familiar to all football fans now.  The logo, interestingly enough, was an adaptation by Chief's owner Lamar Hunt of the San Francisco 49'er logo, with the interlocking letters inside an arrowhead instead of an oval.  The arrowhead itself, by the way, has been dated back to Europe, Africa, and Asia as much as 60,000 years ago, a part of the armory which included bone knives and stone axes.  So the current logo is more reflective of the legacy of homo sapiens in general and not a single iteration of it.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

An Island of Unity in a Sea of Discord

Soccer Madness
Americans celebrate in Kansas City's Power & Light District
© Kansas City Star

C 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Written content only.

Every once in awhile, it happens.  We argue, fight, divide ourselves over issues social and political to the point where you think that the whole thing's about to come apart.  The "United" part of the title "United States of America" becomes a dark joke.  The divide widens as people have seemingly lost the will to be one country.

Then, out of that darkness, a chant begins.  One or two voices at first, then more pick it up.  And suddenly, we are all standing shoulder to shoulder; arm in arm, our differences forgotten, shouting "USA!  USA!  USA!

For two weeks, that was us.  America was in the World Cup of Soccer, and winning.  We made it all the way to the round of 16 before losing a heartbreaker to Belgium despite a heroic superhuman effort by goaltender Tim Howard.

But for those two weeks, America was spellbound; entranced.  People gathered in public places all across the country, watching the matches on huge televisions.  Even people who were completely clueless about soccer (you mean we LOST and yet we STILL advance???) were drawn in and caught up.  In Washington, politicians continued to bicker endlessly.  But for two priceless weeks, none of us cared.  Team USA was our passion.