About Me

Pearl City, HI, United States

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Hope, Love, and The Hunger Games

Image by Kendra Miller
Image used under terms of license by Creative Commons

Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey
Written content only.

Like so many others, I waited with great anticipation for the release of the fourth and final installment of the Hunger Games movie franchise.  I was roped into watching the first movie, thanks to an epic Pennsylvania snowstorm and an insistent offspring.  But it didn't take long for the story to get my attention.  After the second movie, I purchased the books on Kindle and read the entire trilogy.  When it was first publicized, I dismissed it as a JATM (Just Another Teen Movie).  But the story, I found, went so much deeper for me.

The success of the franchise shows that I am not alone in the tone of resonance it struck with millions. Since everyone who hasn't been living in a hole in the ground over the past four years knows about the story, I won't re-hash it here.  But I have been exploring in my mind and heart exactly why this story has gotten my attention.

There are some political science-related themes artfully buried within the tale.  The danger of a government using war as an excuse for taking full control of it's population.  The danger of having a pampered populace whose every need is met by the government and thereby loses its own sense of self-determination.  The hazards of class warfare.  Oppression creates rebellion, and past a certain point, people will give up their lives rather than live in bondage.  

And in the last film, those who lead a revolution should never lead a government.

But what I found most interesting was the elements of hope and love.

Hope and love.  Two concepts inescapably intertwined by human nature.  Love cannot exist without hope; nor can hope survive without love.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Tree of Our Lives

Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey

"Christmas waves a magic wand over this world,
and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful."
--Norman Vincent Peale

During this season, we will see around us the signs and symbols that are so much a part of Christmas.  They are an interesting mix of religious and secular.  The Nativity scenes, the wreaths on the doors, the lights on buildings everywhere...all combine to lift spirits.  Most of these symbols are universal, and thus have lost a bit of their meaning to us personally.  But the one symbol of Christmas that touches in a very personal way is the Christmas Tree.

For our family, it is the centerpiece of the decorations adorning our home, and when the tree goes up and the lights go on, usually on the day after Thanksgiving, it is the Peanuts gang singing to us, "Christmastime is here."

There are several reasons.  First of all, it's just beautiful to behold.  No matter how many times I walk past it, it catches my attention for at least a few seconds.  And those are happy seconds.  When the tree goes up, the boxes of ornaments come out of storage, and the whole family pitches in on the decorating.  Whether old or young, adult or child, it is a happy time to be together.

Monday, November 23, 2015

To Stand in Unity

Paris, 11/13
© 2015 TASS

Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey
Written content only
except quoted and cited passages.

It was around 7:30 pm on the US east coast when the first reports came in. "Several incidents of gunfire and explosions reported in Paris, France." In a world where reports of violent, bloody terror attacks have become depressingly common, those initial reports raised a good many eyebrows. But it wasn't long before we knew that what was happening in the City of Light was, in fact, a professionally planned and executed attack against the people of Paris. As the details became known, we became glued to television and media sites on the Internet, breathless as new details came in. The death toll started at 13, then 18, 28, and the number kept rising until the count of the victims at the Bataclan Arts Center became known. In all, 130 innocent Parisians, all out for a night on the town, were murdered by gunmen of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or Levant), otherwise known as ISIS/ISIL.

In most cases, such news is reported as an aftermath. In this case, however, when the news was breaking around the world, the attacks were still on-going in what turned out to be seven different locations.

I was in Paris just this past June. It was a delightful stay, highlighted by the French people who could not have been friendlier or more helpful to a confused Yankee tourist. The police presence was obvious, and was joined by soldiers of the French Army who walked the streets and subways of Paris with automatic weapons, not slung over their shoulders, but carried across their chests, loaded and ready for immediate use; their heads on a swivel, their eyes watchful.

© 2015 by Ralph F. Couey

That ISIS is capable of such violence is old news. Since the group's genesis in 1999, it has grown steadily in numbers and capability. In the last year or so, the group, now an army, has steadily marched through Iraq, leaving a trail of tortured and beheaded civilians -- including women and children -- in their wake. ISIS now has an armed presence in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Pakistan, Nigeria and the North Caucasus. It also has members positioned in Morocco, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, the Indian Sub-Continent, and Turkey. Most disturbing for the United States, ISIS, through a professionally-run social media campaign, has attracted an unsettling number of adherents here.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

This Moment of Triumph

A journey ended,
a purpose fulfilled,
a dream come true.
© 2015 CNN.com

© 2015 by Ralph F. Couey
Written content and hat picture only.

As dawn broke, I gained consciousness with a smile, unusual for a Monday morning.  The reason for that smile was that my mood was still soaring in the wake of the delirium of joy experienced the night before.

Hours before, the Kansas City Royals had come from behind once again (a mere two runs this time), tying the game in the 9th inning on an insanely risky piece of base running by Eric Hosmer.  It took three extra innings before a 5-run outburst finally put the stubborn Mets down for the count.  Then came the penultimate moment.  The one dreamed of and desperately awaited.  Wade Davis, the stoic Silent Assassin, fired a 1-2 fastball across the inside corner at the knees.  The Umpire emphatically punched the air signalling strike three, but the batter, Wilmer Flores, was already on his way back to the dugout before the gesture was barely begun.  The game, the Series, the season was over and the Royals in New York and their fans in Kansas City simultaneously leapt for joy.

The Kansas City Royals have won the World Series.

It is difficult, if not impossible to overstate the meaning and importance of this triumph.  30 years ago, a similar celebration erupted at the victorious end of a different World Series.  But the bright lights of victory were followed by an inexplicable collapse.  Other than a brief and irrelevant appearance in the playoffs in the strike-shortened season of 1981, 29 years would pass before the Royals once again played meaningful baseball.  For a goodly (or badly) part of that stretch, the Royals were laughing stocks, the butt of a thousand cruel jokes.

In 2000, David Glass brought his cost-cutting talents to the ownership position.  The team promptly embarked on a long string of almost comical ineptitude, but Glass managed to save the team financially, putting them back in the black.  Most importantly, he vowed to keep the team in Kansas City.   In June 2006, Glass hired Dayton Moore, an executive with the highly successful Braves organization, a man with substantial experience in player development.

It proved to be a management team of vision and patience.  Moore and Glass knew they could never compete for free agent glitterati, so they instead began to search out young talent who not only possessed baseball skills, but also the proper mindset.  The Royals mined the Caribbean and struck a motherlode of talent.  A few MLB experts as early as 2011 could detect the nascent glow on the horizon of what had been a very dark sky, heralding the dawn of a new era.  In 2013, the Royals finished with a winning record.  It was only the second finish above .500 in 19 years.  The baseball world took note, but not serious note.  After all, this was the Royals.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Unsolved Mystery of the Kansas City Royals

The Silent Assassin with a rare, but well-earned display of emotion.
© 2015 Kansas City Star

Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey
Written content only

The Kansas City Royals are headed for the World Series.  Again.  There is a delicious sense of justification in this spectacular achievement, considering that nobody, and I mean nobody among the experts thought they would finish higher than third in the AL Central Division.  You see, according to them, last year was a fluke, a one-and-done thing by a team that had the temerity to believe they could in fact win it all.  Of course, they didn't, leaving Alex Gordon on third in the bottom of the 9th in Game 7 of last year's Fall Classic.  But they did eke out a win against Oakland and blew past the Angels and Orioles, sweeping both.  In the World Series against the Giants, they fought and scratched, and occasionally dominated the Bay Area Boys, taking them literally to the last pitch of the last inning of the last game.

After an off-season spent listening to reporters from MLB Television and ESPN reduce that momentous achievement to something that belonged in a book by a fellow named Ripley, the Royals stormed out of the gates, winning the first seven in a row.  They took sole possession of first place on June 18th and never looked back, clicking along at an astounding .650 pace.  From that point on, they were the best team in the American League, and second-best in baseball behind those pesky Redbirds at the other end of I-70.

Being a KC ex-pat, I have to follow the team through whatever internet resources I can locate.  This became difficult.  Through the latter half of June and into July, August, and September, I experienced the daily frustration of looking for news stories about the Royals.  But going to the MLB.com and ESPN websites, I had to dredge past a mountain of articles about teams from New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, and L.A.  If I wanted to read anything at all about the two best teams in baseball, I had to use the search box.

I do understand that among the national sports media, one has to kowtow at least a bit to the MMM's, or Major Media Markets.  After all, that's where the numbers (read: $$) are.  But to steadfastly ignore the game's two best teams for the better part of two-and-a-half months seems almost a dereliction of journalistic duty.  Had the Yankees and Mets that that dominant for that long, I have little doubt that we the reading public would have seen nothing else.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Hiking, Part 33

Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey

Having been entranced by Shenandoah National Park last week, we decided to go back again today.  Looking at my trusty trail book, I decided we'd try the Jenkins Gap trail, heading up to Compton Peak.

We drove back out to Front Royal, and then turned south to the park entrance.  Once in, we headed south on Skyline Drive to the parking area near mile post 12.  It took a moment to locate the trail access, but find it we did and we headed out.

It was another picture-perfect fall day in Virginia.  I know that we will pay the price in January for this great weather now, so better to take every opportunity to be outside.  The trail was rolling in a very picturesque way, and was a pleasure to hike.  The trees were closer to peak color that last week, and the smell of autumn was definitely in the air.  We swung along comfortably for about a mile and a half.  At that point, I began to get curious.  We were supposed to reach the side trail to the peak by then.  But no side trail presented itself.  I should point out that there were a lot more people on the trail that I was used to seeing on hikes.  Most of these were day hikers like us, but at one point we encountered a couple of trail codgers, guys who just "had the look" of AT veterans.  We stopped to talk to them, finding out that they had put in near Roanoke and were working their way northwards.  When asked where we were bound, I replied confidently, "Compton Peak."  This remark produced some furrowed brows, and as we continued on, I could see them consulting their map.  "Excuse me."  At this salutation, I turned around.  "Did you say you were headed for Compton Peak?"  After my affirmative response, they came carefully and politely toward me, holding their map up like a talisman.  After some consultation and comparison, they pointed out with respect and care, that we were headed in the wrong direction.

Friday, October 16, 2015

A Place of Peace

Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey

In my time here in Virginia, I've taken the opportunity to visit several of the Civil War battlefields that dot the landscape.  It is always a thought-provoking time, as it should be when one comes face-to-face with the Nation's history.

There is a...well...a sense that can be felt by anyone who makes the effort to open themselves up to such things.  As I've written before, anyplace that has been visited by violent death has a different feel to the land.  You see and hear the quiet, broken only by the wind and wildlife.  But underneath that veneer of calm lies something else; a tense feeling of disquiet, as though those who died here never truly found rest.  

If a person is perceptive enough to recognize such things, it can make the experience of visiting a battlefield more complete, perhaps reaching at least an ephemeral understanding of the events that transpired so long ago.

On this particular day, my wife and I visited the historic village of Appomattox Court House.  This village, a separate entity from the town of Appomattox, started out as a stop on the stage line that ran from Richmond to Lynchburg.  Accordingly, its sole building at first was the Clover Hill Tavern, built around 1819.  In 1845, the village was established as the seat of Appomattox County.  There was some growth initially, a courthouse, jail, and a few other government buildings, but the anticipated train line ran instead to Appomattox Station, about three miles away.  The village began to languish as businesses moved to be close to the railroad.  By the time the Civil War arrived, the village consisted of five houses, along with the tavern and courthouse.  For most of the war, the area remained relatively peaceful.  However as April 1865 approached, this small, inconsequential community became the focal point of the entire war.

After staging his breakout from the siege of Petersburg, the remnants of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia fled to the west, hoping to eventually turn south and meet up with the Army of the Tennessee.  Lee's men were hungry and exhausted.  Supplies had been largely cut off by the Union's interdiction of the railroads.  Still, they marched.  At least most of them.  Lee's army had been a highly cohesive one, but the combination of the long march, no food, and a sense that the war was in its last days poked a hole through which starving deserters flowed like so much grain.  In the time it took to march from Petersburg to the battle at Sailor's Creek, it is estimated that this army bled some 30,000 soldiers.  

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Hiking, Part 32

Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey

We heard that in the Shenandoah the leaves were near or at peak, so with a day off from work, we headed west.  Usually for leaf enjoyment, all we have to do is drive down Skyline Drive.  This time, we decided to explore one of the plethora of hiking trails that criss-cross this magnificent National Park.

After entering the park at the north end south of Front Royal, we drove to the first visitors center at Dickey Ridge.  After consulting the map, we decided to do two trails that are normally (sort of) connected.  The first one was the Fox Hollow Trail. This is a short 1.4-miler that drops down the slope of the ridge to the site of the farm of one Thomas Fox. His family farmed this 450 acres for over 100 years before being displaced by the establishment of the Park in 1935.  The family cemetery, one of 100 such in the park, is at the lower end of this loop trail.  The trail itself starts across the road from the visitors center and starts downhill from its intersect with the Dickey Ridge Trail.  The leaves are nice, predominantly yellow, though you can see that the winds have been at work here, as there are noticeably bare branches and the ground is covered with a fresh layer.

After a fairly straight trek, the trail takes a sharp bend to the right and you find yourself at the cemetery.

 That small black metal cross on the left signifies a Confederate Civil War veteran.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Hiking, Part 31

Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey

Autumn is my favorite time of year, and October is for me the best month.  Regular readers of this blog are undoubtedly heartily sick of reading those words, but repetition doesn't make them less true.

Today was a gorgeous picture-perfect early fall day. The sun, after a solid week of clouds, wind, and rain made a return appearance and brought with it a soul-satisfying 70 degrees.  My wife and I had intended to hike together, but a last-minute obligation kept her otherwise occupied.  She asked me to stay fairly close, so I made the short trip down the road to the Manassas Battlefield National Park.  The park contains some 5,000 unsullied acres preserving the sites of the first two major Civil War Battles in 1861 and 1862.  There are two trails, one of them a 5.5 mile loop on the east side of Sudley Road, and the other a 6.5 mile loop on the other side.  The character of the topography has been preserved, and where there were woods and fields in 1861/1862, woods and fields remain today, one of the best preserved of the battlefields from that war.  The two trails are loops, and if I had to return home early, there was the ability to cut cross-country back to the parking lot.

I arrived mid-morning, and the air which had been distinctly chilly had begun to warm nicely.  The sun's angle was notably lower in the sky, even as noontime approached and those low slanting rays gave the light that distinctive autumn feel.  The grass had begun to acquire that tawny look that so characterizes this time of year and while the leaves are still largely green, there were isolated patches of color to catch the eye.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Life and Disaster

Joaquin stalkin' across the Caribbean
© 2015 NOAA

It looked like it would be an interesting week. Last Monday, two rather grim forecasts began to approach a disturbing symmetry. First, an epic Nor'easter, one of those legendary Atlantic coast storms, would slam into the local area bringing tropical rainfall, high winds and certain flooding. Then, the day after, a full-fledged hurricane, at one point a vicious Cat 4, would storm ashore, making landfall right over the nation's capitol region. And after the Nor'easter's 6 to 10 inches of rain, the hurricane would dump an additional 10 to 20 inches along with a 10-foot storm surge into the Chesapeake, up the Potomac River, and into downtown Washington DC. Historic communities like Georgetown and Alexandria, cities with an almost 300-year history, would be inundated and destroyed. Freeways, bridges, roads, and the Metro light rail would be washed away, effectively paralyzing the entire region. Government would be forced into Continuity of Operations mode, shifting control and authority to remote scattered classified sites. First responders, overwhelmed by the disaster, would require the military to regain and maintain control. Hundreds of thousands would be made homeless; hundreds would die. The entire area would never be the same

No, this wasn't the script for a new disaster movie. This was the actual forecast faced by the six million people who live in the DMV, local shorthand for DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

But as time unfolded, both events turned out to be pretty much a local fizzle. The Nor'easter was far milder than forecasted. Don't get me wrong, we still got a ton of rain, up to 6 inches in some places, and pretty good winds. Trees were knocked down, some power was lost in the region, and there was some road damage. The beach areas along the Eastern Shore were beat up some and shoreside communities had some flooding. The hurricane, responding to a couple of pressure systems in the atmosphere, peeled off to the northeast and is headed steadily into the colder waters of the North Atlantic where it will meet its eventual demise.

All things considered, we were lucky. Some areas in the Carolinas took up to 11 inches of rain from those systems, and a lot of damage was done there. But it could have been much, much worse.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Hiking, Part 30

Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey

Today we went back to Harpers Ferry, but instead of tackling the precipitous ascents of either Loudoun or Maryland Heights, we decided on a much easier trek, the C & O Canal Tow Path.

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was one of several projects envisioned by George Washington as a way to connect the east coast with the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley.  The C&O, or "Grand Old Ditch" as it came to be called, was built for the express purpose of transporting coal from the Allegheny Mountains eastward.  It was started in 1828 and completed in 1850, stretching 184 miles from what is now the Georgetown area of DC to Cumberland, Maryland and operated until 1924.  The route resulted in elevation changes totaling 605 feet, requiring some 74 locks and 11 aqueducts.  The boats were long and narrow, usually around 60 feet long and 7 to 10 feet wide, and could carry up to 130 tons of cargo. The unpowered boats were moved up and down river attached to teams of mules who were led along the towpath alongside the Canal.  

Floods were the bane of the Canal's existence and it was a major inundation in 1924 and the onset of the Great Depression of 1929 that put the final nail into the coffin of the Canal.  It languished for a number of years until 1938 when it was acquired by the National Park Service.  Eventually, some 22 mile of the canal from Georgetown was restored and in the 1940's, passenger boats were plying the waters north of Georgetown.  In 1961, President Eisenhower designated the Canal a National Monument, and by 1971, Richard Nixon signed into law the act creating the C & O Canal National Park. The canal's zero mile marker is on the Potomac River directly opposite the historically infamous Watergate Complex, a name that probably came from the opening gate to the canal, literally a "water gate."  This is especially ironic when you consider that it was Nixon who signed the law that created the Canal park.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

9/11 and The Inevitable Fade of Memory

Photo © 2011 by Ralph F. Couey

"Time moves in one direction;
Memory in another."
--William Gibson

Copyright © 2015
By Ralph F. Couey

Tomorrow marks the 14th anniversary of the events which transpired on September 11th, 2001.  On that bright, beautiful late-summer morning, terrorists took command of four airliners.  Two were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.  A third crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and the fourth dove into a old strip mine near Shanksville, Pennsylvania after passengers and crew, alerted by what had already occurred, assaulted the terrorists, nearly reclaiming control of the aircraft.

As the images of the disaster poured out of our televisions, America was stunned.  We knew that terrorists did attacks, but they were always far away; Europe, Africa, the Middle East.  Surely, this couldn't happen here.  But on that day, the shock, sorrow, and anger that had been felt by others was brought home and deposited squarely in our laps.

America has been surprised before, most notably at Pearl Harbor in 1941, and again in Korea in 1950, and the question of "how?" is always asked.  The answer is usually tied to failures of intelligence or training and leadership.  But there's something larger at work, from a purely philosophical context.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Hiking, Part 29

 Harpers Ferry south
Elevation Profile

Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey
Photos and written content

Today was hot.  Today was humid.  Today was not a good day to hike.  But I was feeling very restless, and decided, perhaps rashly, to hit the trail, rationalizing that I would be in the shade for most of it.  So I got my hiking stuff together and hit the road.

I had been eyeing the Harpers Ferry area for some time.  The area has a lot of trails, even if you don't necessarily want to do the AT.  Loudoun Heights and Maryland Heights, where Stonewall Jackson's men hauled their artillery during the first Civil War battle fought here in September 1862.  It wouldn't be the last, as the town changed hands eight times by the time the war ended in 1865

Harpers Ferry sits at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers which meant that the area was always fated to be important both economically and strategically.  Quaker colonist Robert Harper received a patent in 1734, giving him control of 125 acres between the rivers.  He established a ferry across the Potomac, making the location the gateway to the agricultural treasure of the Shenandoah Valley.  Settlers who intended to carve out a plot of land in the valley rode the ferry across the river.  In 1763, the Virginia General Assembly officialized the settlement under the name, "Shenandoah Falls at Mr. Harper's Ferry."  Thomas Jefferson, when he visited in 1783, was awed by the sight.  He called it, "...perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature."

Monday, August 31, 2015

Loving the Enemy We Don't Want to Think About

From Wajahat Kazmi

Copyright © 2015
By Ralph F. Couey
Written content only,
except quoted and cited passages.

"You have heard that it was said
'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
But I say to you, love your enemies;
Bless those who curse you;
Do good to those that hate you,
And pray for those that spitefully use you
and persecute you."
--Jesus Christ

Over the past few weeks, I've been engaged in what is called a "Life Audit."  It has been an interesting journey, to say the least.  In this process, I've been confronted with questions that required a deep, introspective, and sometimes troubling exploration of the innermost parts of my attitudes and personality.  This is not an exercise for the faint of heart, or for those who lack courage.  An honest question requires an honest answer, even when that honesty is distinctly painful.

The list of questions posed required me to spend quite a bit of time poking into some of the darker places of my mind and heart, and that is difficult, for it required me to dredge up and face aspects of my heart that I would have been much more comfortable ignoring.

One of the things I found was that when I get angry, frustrated, or just grumpy my zone of awareness shrinks down to a small circle which more often than not is occupied only by me.  In that state, I am unable to acknowledge, or even see anything pleasant or positive.  I become very sensitive to those things that I already know will upset me even further.  The result of that being that I isolate myself away from others because I already know that in that state I am not pleasant company.

I was asked what, during the day, motivates me to be positive, and what I look forward to each day.  I was also asked what constituted a perfect day, and a perfect week.  I took this seriously, and in the deep contemplation of those questions, I found some things which I nicknamed my "inner uglies."

Once I dragged them out, it was very uncomfortable to look at them.  I had thought that those kinds of things were not a part of my makeup, but there they were, red-eyed and snarling, staring me down.  It was kind of like biting into a slice of bread and tasting mold.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hiking, Part 28

Copyright © 2015 
by Ralph F. Couey

We went back to a put-in from two weeks ago, mainly because the time restrictions from that day meant only a limited foray down that particular segment. We drove to the small parking area located at VA route 55 and route 725, about 40 minutes from home. We geared up and set out, finding the trail about 10 yards to the west of the parking area. It was a spectacular day. The overnight passage of a cold front left a sky of brilliant blue and an cooler atmosphere almost bereft of humidity. The forecast called for highs in the mid-80's but very comfortable.

We headed down the path to a small wetlands, helpfully bridged by a plank walkway. Once through the fen, we crossed a set of railroad tracks and began the first ascent. Now just because it was less humid didn't mean we wouldn't sweat. That first climb ascended some 650 feet in about a mile. The trail helpfully switchbacked, but it was still a daunting climb. About three-quarters of the way up, we entered a very rocky and bouldered area. It was here that I had mistakenly gone off-trail on the last visit, so today I paid close attention to the white blazes on the trees. The path zigged twice through this area, so rubbled that the trail, at least from the ground perspective, seemed to vanish.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Dumb Things We Do

Yep.  Dead.

Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey

Doesn't matter how smart one is.  Or how educated.  Or incisive.  Experience, wisdom, whatever else a person may have, it will never save us from that one stupid act.

Monday was a brutally hot and humid day here in Virginia.  The temperature was in the mid-90's and with the humidity, the heat index was into triple digits.  So after running a couple of errands, we decided to spend the balance of the afternoon in the neighborhood pool.  We changed, slathered on some sunscreen, gathered a couple necessary items, and headed out in high anticipation of cool waters.

Once there, I put on my reef walkers, remembered to take my ID wallet out of my pocket, and walked into the water.  It was, as anticipated, a glorious feeling.  After stretching my legs, I started swimming some slow laps.  My mind was happily empty of any worry or burden, and I had thus enjoyed myself for about 30 minutes and on one return lap, my vision fell on the table where we had placed our stuff.  Suddenly my brain went on high alert.  As I neared the wall, I reached for my waistband, and sure enough, my trustworthy, advanced, and very expensive Note 3 was hanging there.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Hiking, Part 27

Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey

"Come by the hills to the land where legend remains.
The stories of old fill the heart and may yet come again.
Where the past has been lost
And the future is still to be won,
And the cares of tomorrow can wait 
'till this day is done."
--W.Gordon Smith

We pass our days consumed by the pressures of commitment and requirement.  Our vision becomes restricted to the time between now and the next place we have to be.  Thus chained, the hours pass unnoticed; life goes by unheralded, until the moment when we stop, look around, and mourn the waste of the gift of time.

That was me.  I was trapped on that treadmill.  I watched the days slide by, frantic to lose them, but utterly unable to stop them from their inevitable fade.  But I found a way to pause time.  I found a place where clocks were irrelevant, where the very air carried the scent of serenity.

Last year, I took a walk in the woods.  It wasn't very far or ambitious, but I found that in that relatively short space of life, I was able to let go...and just be.

Virginia is full of such places, but my best days have been spent on parts of the Appalachian Trail that passes through this Commonwealth.  From Harper's Ferry in the north to Damascus in the south lies 550 miles of meandering trail lined with dense forest, bright meadows, imposing rocks, and wildlife.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Alex Gordon, Len Dawson, and Defeating Adversity

© 2015/ Jamie Squire, Getty Images. 
Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey
It was a Wednesday night, the 8th of July, just before the All Star break.  The Royals were in first place in their division, proud owners of the best record in the American League, and the second-best in baseball behind only that other team from Missouri.  But in the space of less than a minute, everything went sideways.  Tampa Bay Rays' Logan Forsythe launched a drive to deep left field.  Alex Gordon, as he has done so many times before, took off in pursuit.  Usually such a play ends with the ball in Gordon's glove as he slams into the wall.  But this time, as he approached the wall, he tried to pull up.  And then he went down.  I, along with a few tens of thousands of other Royals' fans listened, quite fearfully, as it appeared at the moment he may have suffered a season-ending, if not a career-ending injury.  Later, we were told that what we initially thought might be a blown knee or broken leg, has been diagnosed as a grade-2 strained groin muscle. This is a painful and serious injury to be sure, but one that has a better and brighter light at the end of the dark tunnel of his absence from the lineup.
In the hours following that moment, I endured my worst fears. But out of the depths of the past came a memory of September 1969. The Chiefs were off and running on what every instinct in your body knew was going to be The Year. Then Len Dawson went down with a knee injury.   All the hopes and dreams for a season of glory seemed to have collapsed.  At least for the fans.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Hiking, Part 26

Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey

It was a typical Virginia summer day.  Which is to say very hot, oppressively humid, not usually a good day for hiking.  But there was no severe weather in the forecast, which has not been the case in the two-and-a-half weeks since we returned from Paris.  After perusing some options, we decided to go east instead of west, heading into, or at least close to D.C. to tackle the Mount Vernon Trail

The Trail is a paved multi-use path running from Alexandria down to George Washington's Mt. Vernon estate.  Usually, a trail like this includes the risk of running afoul bicyclists who, in their minds, believe they're on part of the Tour de France.  I've run into (or more accurately, been run into) by users of this ilk while running the W&OD trail through Vienna. With this in mind, I decided to put in at Fort Hunt Park, a good 14 miles south of DC proper.  I'm not the only one who shares this opinion.  Websites like Yelp are full of caustic and vitriolic comments about the few racers who frequent this trail, all of whom are universally described by a rather earthy word that begins with D.

Friday, July 03, 2015


Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey

The overcast which had been persistent all morning was reluctantly giving way.  The sun pierced the clouds occasionally, the light giving color to the land.  It was cool and breezy, but this was June.  And this was Normandy.

Places where violent death has occurred have the same feel.  There is a quiet that is somber, yet meaningful.  The same atmosphere exists in places like Gettysburg, Antietam, and Shanksville, PA, where a group of airline passengers fought the first battle in the War on Terror.  These are places where heroism was defined; where violence and valor defined the day.

We stood atop the windy bluff, my wife and I, looking down onto what, on another June day, had been designated Beach Easy Green.  It was a bit of a misnomer, "Easy" being the phonetic expression for the letter "E".  In truth, there was nothing easy about that beach on June 6, 1944.  Today, we stood and watched as the waters of the English Channel whispered across the sand.  In the quiet, we contemplated the meaning of courage.

71 years and 13 days previous, the quiet morning was rent by the roar of tens of thousands of guns, from officers' pistols to the giant naval rifles of the battleships.  By the hundreds, landing craft hit the beaches, dropped their ramps, and for the first time in that war, Allied soldiers poured into Europe.  

Superbly trained thought they were, only a few were professional soldiers.  They were coal miners and cab drivers; farmers and financial managers; college students and cowboys.  Also present in abundance were the boys fresh out of high school who would today lose their lives before they had even started. Some were cut down inside the landing craft, sawed by German automatic weapons before their boots even touched the sand.  Some died on the sprint across the beach, others as they courageously fought to open the beach exits.  Still others would die on  the uplands behind the wall of pillboxes and emplacements, including the Airborne troopers who had jumped in the night before, some of them executed in their chutes as they mistakenly dropped into the charnel house of Ste. Mer Eglise.  

But others -- many, many others -- would survive.  They would cross the beaches, climb the hills, kill the enemy and start that long, bloody march that would end 10 months later in a ruined city called Berlin.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Day 4 -- Paris Again

 Eglise du Dome Church

Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey

This was our first day on our own, with the departure of our son's family for Korea.  It's always sad to be away from grandchildren when you've gotten used to having them around.  But, this was vacation, so we soldiered on, albeit with slightly empty hearts.

We decided to take a bus tour, as it would be the best way to see the most sites in the least amount of time.  We went online and bought tickets, which we printed out at the computer in the hotel lobby.  Taking the train in, we debarked at the station nearest the Notre Dame Cathedral.  According to the map we had, it should have only been a block to where we could pick up the GO-GO (Get On, Get Off) bus.  Easier said than done.  It took the better part of an hour to locate the stop.  It didn't help that neither the website or the flyer off the website showed what signs to look for.  After chasing those yellow busses up and down the streets, criss-crossing the Seine several times, we finally found the proper signage.  After a few minutes, the bus came by.  We presented our vouchers to the driver, who gave us back our tickets, a very informational flyer, and--lo and behold--a map of all the stops.  It would have been nice if that had been on the website.

We were issued earphones, those rock-hard earbuds that simply don't fit my ears.  The plug-ins were against the outer wall of the bus, which meant the cord (never long enough) had to stretch across my seat-mate, an elderly lady who regarded me with barely concealed contempt.  An American, of course.

Once settled on the upper deck, I was able to sit back and enjoy the city as it rolled past.  The heavy traffic meant that the bus was going slow enough to make picture-taking a fairly easy task.  The day was picture perfect, the sky a clear and beautiful blue and the sun pleasantly warm.  As much as I enjoyed the ride, the earphones made it difficult to understand much of what was being said.  Still, Paris is a beautiful thing to behold, even if you don't know what you're looking at.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Day 3 -- Paris Disneyland

Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey

This would be my fourth Disney park, after Anaheim, Orlando, and Tokyo, so I didn't expect any real mysteries in our visit.  But I discovered that there are differences, enough to make the day interesting and fun.  We went with our son and his family, and at our age, the fun is not so much us riding rides, but watching our grandchildren have the time of their lives.

It began as Euro Disney, but eventually became its current moniker, Paris Disneyland.  The park opened in 1992 to less than rave reviews.  Attendance was very low, but in all fairness opening something like this in the middle of one of the biggest recessions in recent history didn't help.  In 1995, the park opened Space Mountain, that iconic roller coaster ride.  It was an immediate hit, and by the end of that year, the park showed a profit for the first time.  By 2006, Disney Paris was the leading tourist draw in France, outselling the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.  The French, at least the intellectual community, had little good to say about the place until the government announced that the park had generated over 37 billion Euros in economic benefits to France.  After that, smiles all around.

Still on US east coast time, we didn't get up until almost 11am.  But fortunately, the shuttle bus picked us up right outside the hotel, and in about 10 minutes, we were at the park.

There are two facilities, Disneyland itself, and Disney Studios.  The Studios portion is vaguely like the California Adventure part of the Anaheim park, although somewhat truncated.  But it was the first place to visit, since it had shorter operating hours than the main park.  We found Robbie and family eating a late lunch.  We visited the Studios, and then crossed over to the main park.

The park entrance is styled after the palace from Beauty and the Beast, which as you recall did take place in France, so it was an appropriate way to entre vous, as it were.  Once inside, we passed under the trestle for the train, and found ourselves on Main Street, USA.  Same...but still somehow different.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Paris - First Two Days

Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey

I am, what you might call well-traveled. Circumstance has provided me with the opportunities to visit far-flung places on this planet and in the process the experience has broadened my horizons and altered my view of life.

My Dad was a professional minister who usually had a heavy schedule of church camps throughout the summer. I spent a couple of summers traveling with him and in the process managed to pass through some 30 states before I turned 16. At 25, married with a young child and with the nation was mired in the last throes of the Carter economy, I enlisted in the Navy.

Through the next 10 years, I planted my foot in the soil of 18 different countries, and in the years since have added another 8. I’ve never lost that itchy foot and the curiosity that drives my desire to travel refuses to wane.

Earlier this year, the opportunity to visit France arose. Our daughter-in-law was going to take the kids to Korea for the summer to spend time with her family. The airline routing they chose sent them east instead of west, with a layover in Paris. She discovered that she could extend that layover into a week with no additional charge. After some discussion, my wife and I decided to go along.

All my globetrotting to this point has been confined to the Pacific and Indian Oceans. When you spend a certain amount of time in a region, you develop knowledge and expectations which remain level regardless of which country you visit. Neither of us had ever been to Europe, so we really were at a loss even as to how to prepare.

Fortunately, the Internet is an inexhaustible source of information and we assiduously plumbed the depths of travel websites, learning and preparing.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

The Call...And the Truth

The Play...and The Call
From Matt Weeks' Hubpages
No attribution listed, but I suspect Sports Illustrated

Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey
Written material only

Tuesday night (June 2nd) at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, the Royals and Indians were entangled in a tight game, tied 1-1 going into the 8th inning.  The tribe got men on base, but with one out, Jose Ramirez grounded into what should have been a double play, and a ticket out of a tough inning against one of the dominant relief pitchers in baseball, Wade Davis.  On the throw to first, the first base umpire started to call Ramirez out, but switched his call almost in mid-motion to call him safe.  The replay, played in super-slo-mo for the benefit of Royals' fans seemed to show definitively that Ramirez was out.  But after a long review, the word came back from New York:  Safe.

After that, second baseman Omar Infante muffed another sure double play ball, and eventually Michael Brantley's base hit scored what would prove to be the winning run.

The incident brought immediate memories of another memorable blown call 30 years ago, as several of my friends who are St. Louis Cardinal fans eagerly reminded me.  They took delight in sending emails and texts, all essentially of the same theme:  "How does it feel?"

They say that time heals all wounds.  

Not this one, apparently

Monday, May 25, 2015

Time, Tides, and the Big 6-0

Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey

A few days ago, I passed a sort of a birthday milestone, number 60.  We spent the day driving through the Valley of Fire state park about an hour north of Las Vegas.  It was a useful retrospective, since while 60 years is a pretty good hike for a human, it's less than a flash of light to rocks whose ages are measured in tens of millions of years.

There was a time when I thought 60 was ancient; right up there with the rocks.  I couldn't imagine myself being that far along.  And as I over-ate my way through my 40's, there was a time when I frankly assumed I would have boarded the bus before that point. But there was an intervention, a massive weight loss, and here I still am.

One of my favorite original aphorisms is that while ageing is inevitable, being old is a choice.  My experience in life has brought me into conversation with two types of old men.  One is the type who reaches a certain point -- different for each man -- where the infirmities of age have filled the conscious mind, when mortality has become painfully apparent.  This is the man who sits around, groaning about his aches and pains and is simply waiting to die.  The other is the man who, while suffering from the same maladies, refuses to allow them to imprison him.  He stays active, both mentally and physically, and enthusiastically lives life, as they say, like there was no tomorrow.  I've wanted to be that second guy.  

Many of my friends tell me that I don't act my age.  I take that as a compliment.  I ride a motorcycle, I run 20 miles every week, and I hike at least one of those days.  I remain a voracious reader, and delve into crossword puzzles whenever I can.  I write, pursuing that dream of freelance writing.  I have promised myself that I will have a book published before I depart this life.  I do look forward to retiring in six years, but not because I'm that interested in not working, but because I want to have the free time to pursue all these interests.  And travel.

I do struggle.  I am neck-deep in the prostate years.  Arthritis affects my hands.  Every morning, it takes 10 to 15 minutes of dedicated exercise to loosen up the lumbar muscles so that I can stand fully upright.  There are times when my conversation halts in midstream while I search frantically for a word, or try to keep my train of thought from disappearing over the hill.  My intake of sugars and carbs has to be strictly monitored.  Appointments are sometimes hard to remember.  And then there are those 5 stents in my heart.  But I work through those because I don't want those things to control what I can and cannot do.  

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Hiking, Parts 23, 24, and 25

Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey
Words and pictures

My wife and I make at least one trip to Las Vegas every year, sometimes more than one.  Usually those trips are co-scheduled with her family who fly in from Hawaii.  In case you ever wondered where people who live in paradise go on vacation, it's Vegas.  The clientele is so large that three of the local hotels, the California, the Main Street Station, and the Fremont have discovered a very fruitful revenue stream catering to vacationers from the Islands.

Normally, we engage in the usual Vegas-ish types of activities, gambling, entertainment, gambling, eating, gambling, sight-seeing, gambling... well, you get the picture.  Until I discovered hiking this past two years, it never entered my mind that there was anything else to do.  In preparation for this trip, which we coordinated with our middle daughter and her family, I searched for and found a book called "Hiking Las Vegas."  The author, Branch Whitney, researched, hiked, and described over 80 different hiking routes in three areas, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area about 18 miles to the southwest, Mount Charleston about 40 miles due west, and Lake Mead about 35 miles due east.  The hikes range from easy one-milers suitable for young children, all the way to double-digit highly technical Class 5's which usually involve ropes and pitons.  

We arrived a day early and did the first hike by ourselves.  This 4-mile out-and-back is called "The Muffins," named for a group of conglomerate rocks that somehow ended up atop Blue Diamond Hill. Since conglomerates always form at the bottom of things, their placement there is something of a geological mystery.  To get to the trailhead, we drove out Charleston Road, which becomes Red Rock Canyon Road, past the Visitors Center to the Cowboy Trail Rides stables.  I should have parked in the dirt area just off the highway, but instead drove on up to another parking area near the corral.  This would later prove to be a mistake.

We got out of the car, geared up, and started out.  This particular area is criss-crossed with abundant mountain biking trails, which carry quaint names such as "Boneshaker" and "Bob Gnarly."  Hence, for the first-timer finding and staying on the correct path can be a bit difficult.  I missed a trail fork just past a dry wash and we ended up walking, not towards the clearly visible goal, but into a deep box canyon.  
 Looked pretty simple at this point.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Hiking, Part 22

Copyright © 2015
By Ralph F. Couey
Words and photos

This weeks sojourn took me back to one of my favorite places, the Appalachian Trail south of U.S. 50.  This hike, while containing some steep climbs, is one of the easier stretches of this great trail, leaving the hiker with energy and time to take in the wonder.  This route goes along the ridge part of Sky Meadows State Park and then into the Thompson Wildlife Preserve.  It varies from forest to meadow, and the path is well-marked and not nearly as rocky and rooty as other stretches. It is a pleasure to hike.

There is a small parking area at the foot of Liberty Hill Lane, all but invisible from the highway.  For hikers going north, there lies the dangerous crossing of US 50, a four-lane racetrack split by a grassy median, before tackling the infamous "Roller Coaster" heading towards Virginia Route 7.

My route south began with a steep climb out of the parking area, ascending to the top of the ridgeline.  As I climbed, I happily saw that the spring wildflowers were still in bloom, including this beauty...

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Hiking, Parts 19, 20, and 21

"With the coming of spring,
I am calm again."
--Gustav Mahler

Copyright © 2015
Words and images
by Ralph F. Couey

Once the holidays pass, winter is something I just endure.  Throughout those long, cold months, I yearn deeply for the days when the air turns warm, the world awakens, and color returns to the landscape.  It seems that the older I get, the more impatient I am, waiting for the return of the season of life.

I turned to hiking last year mainly for exercise and to reduce the pounding on my joints that comes with running.  But I found something unexpected.  The peace and solace of the woods.

I'm covering three hikes in this posting, mainly because Cheryl and I are in training after several months away from regular exercise.  Plus, she is breaking in a brand new set of boots.  Next month, we go to Las Vegas and will spend a day or two hiking in the mountains south and west of the city.  Looking at the trail guides, those treks will involve a completely different kind of terrain than what we have grown used to here in verdant Virginia.

The Bluebell Loop

This past Sunday, once we had discharged our responsibilities at church, we managed to squeeze a little more time out of the lengthening day for a short jaunt.  We drove down south to the Bull Run-Occoquan trailhead, an easy stretch for a couple of aging boomers.  Just off the main trail, their is a spur called the Bluebell Loop.  Aptly named, for the landscape in spring is liberally sprinkled with those bright blue beauties, as well as another lovely bloom called Wild Blue Phlox (photo at the top of this post).

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

America and the Bus Ride

From Travellerspoint.com

Copyright © 2015
By Ralph F. Couey
Except cited image

There is a road.  It doesn't seem to have a beginning or an end, even though logic and reason mandate such bookends.  No one can remember the history of the road, only that it's always been there.

It's not a terribly remarkable stretch of pavement, as roads go, in that it is in some places straight and wide, and narrow and twisty in others.  It climbs hills and descends into valleys.  It passes through verdant forests, empty deserts, along shorelines and coastlines.  It bisects endless acres of stolid corn and dancing wheat, and witnessed by grazing animals in vast meadows.

The road is heavily traveled because it is a vital artery; the only way to get from where we've been to where we're going; an endless ribbon connecting departure and destination.

On this road is a bus.  It is owned by a bus line, whose owners and operators superficially acknowledge that they're providing a service.  But they are obsessed with profit; they want to always have the newest, the fanciest buses not because of the passengers, but because it makes the other bus companies look bad.  They advertise for passengers, but when their motivations are revealed, they are simply searching for the perfect way to con people into allowing the company to take them for a ride.  

Like all the other vehicles, this bus is traveling along this eternal highway.  But in looking closer, it is apparent that the bus's course is far from straight.  Inside the bus are not one, but two drivers, both fighting desperately for sole control of the bus.  As a result of this dispute, the bus is veering all over the road, first lurching to the left, and then to the right.  It's a dangerous way to drive, one that endangers the bus, it's passengers, and the other vehicles on the road.  But that doesn't matter to either driver.  The only thing that matters to them is to be the only hands on the wheel.