About Me

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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, 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."