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.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Confessions of a Novice Hiker

Copyright © 2016
By Ralph F. Couey

I’m entering my third year as a day hiker, and while nobody’s ever going to confuse me with Earl Shaffer or even Bill Bryson, I have learned a few things that might be of value to someone who is contemplating spending some time in the woods and on the trail.  These are things an expert may neglect to tell you, mainly because their knowledge is vast and complex.

Hiking is many things.  It’s great exercise, for sure.  But it’s also a way to flee the urban jungle and reconnect with the wilderness.  It is a fine way to challenge one’s self physically, mentally, and emotionally, learning the sometimes hard lesson about false limits.  

Hikers form a broad, loosely defined community, nearly all of them wonderfully nice people who, when encountered on the trail, will treat you with warmth, friendliness, and dignity.  The link all hikers share is the deep affection for what some feel is the vanishing wilderness, and the wonder of nature to be found therein.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Sundays and the Vanishing Community

Copyright © 2016
by Ralph F. Couey

Throughout human history, we have been defined by the sense of community.  Early humans wandered as tribes.  Then with the advent of agriculture, the fixed nature of farming created settlements, villages, and eventually towns and cities.  One of the most profound keystones of community were the houses of faith.  The creation of the congregation, parish, and synagogue created a place where people shared a common faith and belief, where the community gathered at least one day per week.  The church became, in effect, the community itself. 

Births, deaths, and everything in between revolved around that building and that community.  Even once life had concluded, many went to their eternal rest in a cemetery in the churchyard.  For centuries, the church provided the framework of people’s lives. 

My memories of early childhood are all rooted in that church community. My father was a minister, so we spent a lot of time there.  We attended Sunday morning and evening, Wednesday nights, and a couple of nights per week some other kind of gathering, usually more social. I had two separate groups of friends; the secular group from school, and the boys and girls I ran with at church.  While I never understood a single sermon, I did understand the warmth, acceptance, and safety that I found when we gathered together.

We carried that through into our adult lives, hauling our sometimes recalcitrant children along on Sunday mornings.  But as they grew into their adult lives, they also grew away from the church. 

Among their generation is a deep distrust of institutions, both religious and political.  Where I found sanctuary, they see only hypocrisy and scandal.  They are all very principled, moral, and upright adults, who have simply decided that the brick-and-mortar church is not for them.

In the context of their lives, I understand that attitude. It still makes me a little sad, but I understand.  While I would like them to be a part of a faith community, I know that this is their lives to lead, their choices to make.  I raised them to be independent thinkers.  Of all the parenting mistakes I made, at least I got that part right.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Dreams...and the Journey

"Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible
to be homesick for a place you've never been to, 
perhaps more homesick than for familiar ground."
--Judith Thurman

Copyright © 2016
by Ralph F. Couey
except cited quotes

My life long I have struggled with a nascent restlessness, a yearning for somewhere else; someplace never clearly defined or envisioned.  Perhaps just to see what lay beyond the horizon.  It never seemed to matter how content or comfortable I was at that particular moment, or what strictures on movement the inevitable responsibilities of life imposed.  Structured vacation tours have never interested me.  What I wanted was just to wander off in whatever direction I happened to be pointed, curious to see what I might find along the way.  I found a kindred spirit in Matsuo Basho, the acknowledged master of Haiku, who lived in the late 17th century.  He once wrote, "The journey itself is my home."  

We are a people driven by destination, the unnatural consequence of life lived in the context of accomplishment.  We are unable to leave anywhere without knowing where we will end up.  The journey is spent fretting about how long it's taking to get there.  Once there, we engage in the purpose of that trip, and when that purpose is fulfilled, we set another destination.  Even at the end of the day, we still speak of "going to bed," as if the mattress was just another place on a map.

While going places and doing things are part of what's required of me, I have tolerated those duties.  But where I am truly fulfilled, where I find my greatest peace is in the simple pleasure of wandering.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Hiking: Parts 39, 40, and 41

Copyright © 2016
By Ralph F. Couey

Winter hikes, generally speaking for me, are spur-of-the-moment events, usually triggered by a restless spirit, a few free hours, and a reflective couple of minutes standing outside, testing the climate.  While winter here in Northern Virginia has been pretty mild, except for that one terrible weekend, my required attention to other areas of life kept me out of the woods and off the trail for many of the weeks this year.

The three hikes detailed here were all taken in February and March, with the last one in the first week of April.  The days were similar, starting out cold and windy, and ending...well, not warm but certainly less frigid.  The first one was an attack on the southern end of the Manassas Battlefield National Park.  The trail begins just south of the historic Sudley church and follows an abandoned railroad cut that slices across the park from northeast to southwest.  It was originally intended to be a part of the Manassas Gap Railroad, with this 35-mile section connecting Gainesville and Alexandria.  This stretch was begun around 1850 and was fully graded when the outbreak of the Civil War required the steel for other purposes.  The railroad eventually went broke, but the grading still remains, and can be seen clearly on Google Maps in the terrain mode.