I’ve become fascinated by the American Civil War since we have moved to Virginia. I’d read a bit about it as part of my professional reading back when I was in the military, but now we are living in the region where much of it was fought. At present, I am reading Shelby Foote’s three volume history of the Civil War, and really enjoying it.
War takes on a new significance when you have a son who has seen battle, and may do so again.
We live in Bristow, which is next to Bristoe Station, a place where Confederate troops staged for the battles of first and second Manassas (or Bull Run) and the Battle for Bristoe Station was fought. Bristow and Bristoe station are at a railroad crossroads that was critical for the east-west and north-south mobility of Confederate forces as they maneuvered to meet Union advances emanating from Maryland and Washington, DC. Bristow and Manassas were therefore what we call in military parlance “key terrain”, which is terrain that gives an advantage to whichever side controls it.
In 1861 and 1862, Bristoe Station was used as a staging area for Confederate troops. In 1863, Union and Confederate forces clashed there as each side sought to control the rail junction. I found it interesting to note that the majority of deaths suffered at Bristoe Station came not from enemy action, but from disease – seems that sanitary conditions caused the Confederates to lose one or two soldiers a day.
Last Saturday, as I was in Maryland on business, I went to see the Antietam Battlefield Park, near Sharpsburg, Maryland. The Battle for Antietam took place in September, 1862 and resulted in over 23,000 casualties in a single day. That is more casualties than Americans suffered in the American Revolution, the Mexican War and the War of 1812 combined. It’s a staggering amount. At the sunken road (Bloody Lane), 5000 were killed or wounded in two hours (pretty impressive given they had no machine guns and were fighting with muzzle loaders). The world would not see such casualty figures again until World War I, when the Brits suffered 20,000 casualties, per day, for three days, on the Somme.
I find myself getting emotional on these visits; I can relate more now that I have offered a son on the altar of freedom in Afghanistan – but in my case, God has been merciful and returned our son to us. Numbers like 23,000 and 5,000 used to initially impress me as sterile statistics, but now I find myself relating to the unspeakable tragedy experienced by thousands upon thousands of parents, wives and children as men went off to war and didn’t come back, or returned horribly maimed. A recent visit to Arlington Cemetery found me weeping at one point.
I’m getting to be an old fuddy-duddy…
Men on both sides of the Civil War were fighting for freedom and liberty. The men of the South were fighting to protect their families and their property. Unfortunately, some were also fighting to preserve the institution of slavery, but most of the participants had nothing to do with that institution. Shelby Foote tells a story of a Confederate prisoner captured in a battle in Virginia, who is asked by his captors why he is fighting. His reply: “ because you all are down here.”
Sometimes, I think most righteousness in the causes of men and women is illusory.
It’s been a tough summer, what with the move from the United Kingdom, but we are finally settled into our new home in Bristow, Virginia. Bristow is about 30 miles or so from Washington, DC. I work just south of the Potomac, in the world’s largest low-rise office building, the Pentagon.
Bristow is on the very edge of Northern Virginia suburbia and a beautiful place. We are within sight of the Shenandoah Mountains, which are part of the Appalachian Range, which runs pretty much the length of the east coast of the U.S.A.
Although the kayak arrived with no apparent damage, I’ve not had the time to take it out yet. I’m looking forward to that, as there are a great many rivers here that I want to explore, the Potomac, the James, the Shenandoah, the Occoquan, just to name a few.
Day before yesterday, my lovely wife let me buy a new bicycle (shown above in the photo with me). It’s a Specialized (the brand) Sirrus Sport (the model). Several years ago I had a mountain bike that I dearly loved, but mountain biking is a bit too strenuous for me in light of a couple of physical idiosyncrasies. As it turns out, road biking is not too strenuous, so I am taking it up in an effort to trim some of my weight – I’ve become quite the lardass (a technical term for obesity) over the past several months, what with eating in a lot of restaurants due to the move and lack of exercise.
Yesterday I took my first ride, which was about four miles, according to “MapMyRide”, a new web app I’ve discovered. It was a nice ride around our neighborhood here in Bristow. Following that ride, I re-contacted my good friend Steve, who is the most accomplished cyclist I know. Steve writes his own Blog, There and Back Again (see the Blogroll right), which had a recent and great post on suburban cycling and mixed-use pathways (MUP). As I had encountered a MUP instantly on my first ride, Steve’s recent post was very helpful and so I contacted him for a bit of advice. He suggested that I might want to ride out past Vint Hill Road, since there are some quiet country lanes out that way and they are less stressful than the suburban routes I would encounter in Bristow and the surrounding area.
I took his advice and learned many new things about cycling. Firstly, as I had expected, Steve gave good advice – the roads west of Vint Hill were quiet and scenic. I originally mapped a loop that would have taken me west from the house down Sudley Road to Vint Hill, south of Vint Hill to Kettle Run, out Kettle
Run west to Fitzwater, then north to Reid Lane, then back east to Vint Hill and then home. It was a great plan that would have put me on about a 7.5-mile route. Unfortunately, when I arrived at Reid Lane, it turned out to be a gravel road, though a paving crew was about to pave it with asphalt…
Fortunately, I had my trusty IPhone with GPS, so I plotted another route up to Lonesome Road (which as a bit farther north on Fitzwater) that would take me back to Vint Hill. It was a nice ride over rolling hills to Lonesome Road, but it also turned out to be what we called in the Army an improved dirt road. As I was past the point of no return, I took Lonesome Road for about 3 miles where it linked up with a hard top road. Fortunately, I suffered no flats and managed to keep the bike to the smoother paths along the road.
The result of this was a 9.6-mile ride, vice a 7.5-mile ride.
This reminded me that I’m really in lousy shape, though it was an unnecessary reminder.
1. Steve is a good source of gouge.
2. Use the “Satellite” setting for maps – it may help you discern dirt roads
3. Take it easy – it reduces the stress induced by the unexpected.
It is great to be back in the saddle and great to be writing again. If you have any pointers, please make a comment.
Today I did my last paddle in the UK. An uneventful but enjoyable paddle up the Great Ouse to the locks and back. A bit windy, and partly cloudy. A nice day.
We are bound for Northern Virginia next month so we are in the process of preparing and packing house, cars, kayak and dog for the trip home.
We will miss England, but after almost 20 years abroad, we are looking forward to getting back to the USA. I look forward to a new church and ministry, kayaking the rivers and streams of the east coast, some camping, and a new job in the Pentagon. I’ve never paddled an inland rivers and streams in the USA, so I’m excited at the prospect of kayaking the Chesapeake Bay, the Potomac River, the Occoquan River and Bull Run and all the other rivers there.
It will also be nice to be close to our son Daniel and to so many of our friends.
I’ll resume the blog on the other side, God willing.
Saturday, 14 April 2012, 0900 hours. Weather is sunny, about 50F, mild breeze, and a very, very slight overcast. We don’t get many days like this in England and I’m badly in need of exercise, so a perfect day to get out in the kayak.
I’m thinking about trading in the kayak for a Canadian canoe. Here in England, the Brits refer to both kayaks and canoes as canoes, so to prevent confusion, we call an American canoe a “Canadian”, eh? I really like the kayak, but I’m also thinking I’d like to be able to get out on the water with my wife, Chong. That’s hard to do with a single seat kayak. While it could be enjoyably cozy, it would be virtually impossible to paddle or make any kind of headway (as if that really mattered). I’m deferring the decision, since we will be moving back to the states this summer. I don’t yet know where in the USA we will alight; once we find that out, we can assess the hydrography of the area and see what we want to do.
Dwelling on the move – it looks most likely that we will end up in the Washington, DC area, which has numerous rivers and streams (the Potomac, the Occoquan, Bull Run, the Anacostia, the Patuxent, to name a few) so if that comes to pass, we will continue to be boaters. My only concern is the wildlife that inhabit rivers in that part of the world – I really hate water moccasins and as I recall, they inhabit many of the rivers in that neck of the woods. I hope there is some kind of repellent that keeps them away.
I have never seen a snake in England, either on the ground or in the water and this is a definite plus for folks like me who like to hike, walk, and paddle. I don’t know why this is, but I’m grateful for it. In the U.S., I’ve encountered rattlers, copperheads, water moccasins, as well as scorpions and I’m not at all grateful for them. Such varmints are a downside to coming home. I hasten to add that they are a minor downside, because we are so excited about all the upside of coming home (baseball, camping, real wilderness hiking, and reuniting with all our friends).
The paddle today was great. Lots of swans, ducks and egrets and none of them were aggressive toward me. According to the news, we are in the midst of a drought, but its not apparent along the Great Ouse river anyway. The solitude was nice – no other boats on the river today – and the exercise was good for me.
Spring — Hooah!
Dear friends and followers: I just posted my last entry on Rome without telling you I changed the theme of my blog slightly. I’ve expanded its scope to include all outdoor adventures, including my kayaking. If you are wondering what our trip to Rome has to do with kayaking, its nothing. Hopefully, this explanation will help you keep track of the random synaptic firings that occur in my brain…
Dan, Chong and Joel (yours truly) just returned from a Christmas trip to Rome. Big difference from our Christmas trip last year – then we went to Paris. While that trip was a lot of fun, the weather was terrible. Rome, on the other hand, was incredible, and not just the weather! As with most of the trips I’ve taken, the things of read and the photos I’ve seen simply don’t live up to the experience of being there. In spite of the fact that I’ve read a bit about Rome, the experiences of being there were new and unexpected.
Romans and engineering. Boy were those ancient Romans some amazing engineers and city planners. The testimony to their advanced intellect and skills shows in all the ruins and structures that remain. I’ve been to places in Africa and eastern Europe with no running water and the Romans had it 2500 years ago! They also seemed to have some advanced knowledge that someone would invent the camera, because the city ranks with Paris as being the most photogenic I’ve seen – but the difference is that most of Paris has been built within the past 500 years…
I guess that one of the legacies of my Red Team Leader training is that I now analyze things from different perspectives. The downside of ancient Rome was that, while it was a beautiful, modern, luxurious city, it could not have been built without the massive human suffering of slaves, who were taken against their will from their homes, to construct and maintain the opulence. Feeling quite superior that as an American, I was pleased that we had built our country without them, but then I realized that wasn’t true either. Not only were slaves prevalent in the south, the conditions of laborers in the North were probably actually inferior to those of the slaves in Rome. I wish there were something we could feel righteous about…
The Vatican and the Catholic Church. Another amazing thing in Rome is the impact of Roman Catholicism on the city. As soon as Constantine professed Christ, they began converting all those beautiful pagan temples (and their priests) into Catholic churches, chapels and priests. I must confess they are beautiful, but again that pesky alternate perspective kicks in… The amount of funds, loot and booty necessary to build and sustain this seat of Catholicism is beyond my comprehension. What was the cost of this opulence, in terms of the human sacrifice of the millions of Catholics the world over?
Food. Our last night in Rome, we found a great restaurant. The first one we went to on our first night, which I found in my guidebook, was mediocre and cost 154 Euros (about $200) for the three of us for supper. Our last night there, we found the Taverna Pretoriana, which cost us just 54 Euros, and was superb. This was a local place, full of local patrons. I thought we had learned this lesson on a visit to Venice a few years ago, but we fell in the trap again.
Practical tip: www.tripadvisor.com is a great web site for finding good lodging and food. Guidebooks suck. If you don’t have that, then find a place full of locals. If its full of tourists, or empty, don’t go there. If they speak lousy English, then that is a good sign. If you have a chance, take the time to write a review for TripAdvisor, no matter if your experience was good or bad. Misery should not love company.
Sites. I liked the Forum the best and the Vatican the least, but these are hugely subjective judgements. The Coliseum is definitely worth visiting, but the Forum and Palatine Hill, which are right next door, are much more interesting.
In summary, Rome was a great place to visit and I’d certainly go back, if given the opportunity. It is a remarkable feeling to walk in the footsteps of the Caesars, the Apostle Paul, and the slaves and soldiers who made Rome the political, economic and military power that is was. The lesson of Rome, is that it declined and fell, just as all great civilizations have – just as our great civilization will…
My first year as a paddler has passed. My first experience in a kayak was in August, 2009, in a rental on the Cam River and I bought Endurance a couple of months later. By January 1, I had enough confidence (overconfidence in fact) that I participated in the Cambridge Canoe Club’s New Years Paddle (which I called the “Death Paddle”). As with many things in my life, I delved into paddling with aplomb and enthusiasm this year, enjoying paddling on the Cam (in Cambridge), the Great Ouse (near my house), the River Ivel (down the road from here) and the Nene, over in Northamptonshire. Truly the most exciting and different paddling experiences for me were with my son, Dan, in the Great Nortwest, of the United States, where we paddled Lake Union in Seattle, and among the Orcas off San Juan Island. All these adventures are chronicled, to a greater or lesser degree, in earlier blog posts.
Paradoxically, the events in our own little stretch of river are profound to me. In the past year I was able to watch the cycle of plant and animal life up close and personal – something I never would have done had I not started this sport. On the Great Ouse, I regularly see the geese who were newborn goslings, less than a year ago. I was worried about them because some were born fatherless, which is a real disadvantage in the animal kingdom – in fact its a disadvantage for us humans as well. I worry about our generations of youngsters and “not so youngsters” who have grown up fatherless. Fathers are supposed to protect and teach their children to survive – Mothers love and nurture them – but parenting is a team sport. Men and women are different emotionally and physically, and the children need to be able to understand and embrace those differences. Perhaps this is why we see no instances of homosexual mating in the animal kingdom… Perhaps its why the Lord forbids it in the Bible. At any rate, most of those little goslings are grown now, though they are still a bit splotchy with their baby fuzz, which looks a little like peach fuzz on a teenage male.
Another rewarding part of this year has been my interest in photography – this blog is replete with photos of my adventures. I ended up buying a new camera and the photo bug has taken on a life of its own. I guess I am getting in touch with my artistic side for the first time in years.
So what does 2011 hold? I look forward to more rewarding experiences, but in a world that is becoming increasingly hostile to a child of Christ. Kayaking offers me a break from that for a time, but only if I go solo or with some close friends. I have yet to go on a kayak expedition in a group, where someone does not make some totally gratuitous or disparaging remark about Christians or Christianity. In fact its not just paddlers, rarely a day goes by in the course of life without some criticism of the cause of Christ – and if the Christian responds he is threatened with some kind of legal action. Such criticism should be an opportunity for an exchange of ideas about Christ and eternity, but frequently results in anger and insults – such is the general hatred that grows toward the cause of Christ. My greatest frustration is the “moral equivalency” argument that Christ’s teachings are no different than Mohammed’s – an argument regularly deployed by people who have read the writings of neither. I know of no, orthodox, Bible believing Christian who believes the world should be cleansed of “infidels” and Christ did not teach this – Mohammed did though. I wish the world would understand that Christians are not the reason for Muslim anger, Satan is. At least Endurance provides me an opportunity to escape this for a while, recharge, and re-engage.
The New Year comes, but my new focus in on preparing for the Lord’s work in ministry. I’ve begun a Masters in Religious Education at Liberty Baptist Seminary, which should be a three year endeavor. I continue to teach Bible at my local church, an lead the worship service. Our church is small, but it is necessary – people need the Lord. He put us here to help them realize that need, and address it. My prayer is that our little church becomes a big one this year, full of enthusiastic and growing Christians. My prayer for you who read this, is that you find Christ this year (if you have not already) and if you are a follower of Christ, that you will prosper and grow in your relationship with him in trials to come. Oh, and happy paddling.
Today I determined to head upriver on the Great Ouse a few miles. My plan was to take off from my normal launch site at Riverside Park in St Neots and head south (which is up river) to the Eaton Socon locks, paddle up the sluice to the small weir, where there is a small beach that allowed me to easily beach the ‘yak and portage to the upper stage of the river. A week or so ago, I’d encountered a fellow kayaker who told me about this portage site and so I tested it then. I then planned to continue south, under the A428 bridge, past the big power station, and on to Tempsford, where I planned to grab a snack, turn around and head back.
So, armed with my plan and my chart, I headed down to the river, put in, and headed out at 8:25 a.m. For the UK, this was still a bit early and there was no other river traffic as I paddled upriver. About 10 minutes into the paddle, my arms started to get fatigued, the consequence of being lazy the last couple of weeks. I’ve not gotten out enough lately. We’ve also had a bit of rain the last couple of days, so the flow is faster than its been for a couple of months. Anyway, the only folks I saw on the river were a couple of fishermen. The birds and waterfowl were far more prevalent, and I passed a few ducks and some of the swan families. The cygnets are nearly as big as their parents are now.
I got to the lock and headed up the sluice about 25 minutes later, paddling like mad. I’ve also heard the sluice called a “mill race”, as its similar to the fast flowing water channels that used to power the water wheels from the old mills. Its possible that there was a mill on this stream some time ago, but there is no sign of it now. So, about a hundred yards or so up the “race”, I encountered the deadfall. A deadfall is a tree that falls in the forest-in my case, it had fallen across the stream, completely obstructing my route. This tree had fallen since I’d come through the week before and leaves and other flotsam were starting to pile up against it. I had no means of clearing it (note to self, get a small hand saw). Unfortunately, the banks had too much brush and were too steep, so my only option was to turn around.
Undaunted, I paddled back down the sluice and put ashore on the east side of the big weir that controls the water level of the upper stage. Pulling the ‘yak out, I reassembled her trolley, strapped it on the kayak, and walked the boat up to the trail and upriver in hopes of finding a place to put in on the upper side. Fortunately, after a short walk through the forest, the path took me to the shore on the upper stage, where I was able to disassemble the trolley, put in, and resume my journey.
This part of the journey was not very picturesque. I paddled up to the A428 highway bridge and then past the giant new power station, which is quite ugly. I’d been up here a couple of weeks before – it was under the bridge that I met the fellow kayaker who told me about the portage down by the sluice. He had already pulled ashore under the bridge and I was sitting in my kayak as we conversed, when suddenly he stopped, stared past my boat, and exclaimed in a loud whisper “Look at that!” “What?” said I and he said that there was a big fish. I looked and lo, and behold the largest carp I had ever seen was eyeing me from below the surface. He must have been at least three feet long! My colleague explained that the carp like the warm water that is expelled from the power station and some of them get quite big. This fellow wasn’t as big as the orcas, but he was big enough to startle me! Glad they don’t eat people (I don’t think….). I didn’t see him this trip, though.
About a half mile past the power station, my right side really started to ache and my arms were becoming increasingly fatigued. Fortunatly, the good Lord put a place right there for me to pull out and rest a bit, much some Fiber One bars, and chill. I was just south of the village of Little Barford. It was apparent that I wasn’t going to make it to Tempsford today – I was just too knackered. I really enjoyed the solitude of sitting on that shore, in that pasture, watching the river go by and would have liked to have stayed all day. Reluctantly, I put back in and headed back downriver.
Charged on down to the Great Ouse and went paddling for the second time this week. Took my new camera along and shot a few photos. My new camera is really fine, but it may take me a lifetime to get to appreciate and exploit all that it can do. This sucker is an 18 megapixel Canon – that’s like the mother of all consumer digital SLRs (digital Single Lens Reflex). Came with an 18-55 mm image stabilized lens and as it turns out, my Dad’s telephoto, from his film Canon, also fits it, though I didn’t use it today. Please indulge my technoid geek-speak for a bit longer as I tell you that when I am shooting at max resolution (RAW mode), the photos run between 20 and 60 megs in size. Ain’t going to emailing these anywhere, unless I get annoyed with China and email one to them – it’ll shut down their internet for years…
So what does this do for me (and you?) producing these massive digital photos? It allows me to produce some really detailed photos that can be blown up into posters and large format photos and still retain their clarity and sharpness. Here are some of the shots I got today.
This one is like a scene from Bambi… What’s a shame is that this pales in comparison to what I can get on my computer or if I take these to a lab for high quality prints.
This first shot is Mom and her youngsters, the second is a closeup of the youngsters…
Finally, we have one of our local swan families. Check out how big the cygnets are now. If you look back in my blog, to “World Between the Locks Part I” on 17 June, you’ll see this same family. In spite of the fact that Mom is a widow and raising this brood singlehandedly, they seem to be thriving! This was kind of a sad story on 17 June, but the kids are all right…
So much for a demonstration of the new camera. As I get used to it, I trust my photography will get better. Now if I can only improve my writing…
During our recent visit to Seattle earlier this month, my son Dan took me up to Lake Union, where we rented a couple of Necky sea kayaks. This rental place was a gold mine – they must have rented over a hundred kayaks that day, at $25 bucks an hour. No wonder reallly, it was beautiful out and the temperature was around 72F. It was a bit windy.
The downside is that when it is a great day for kayaking, it is a great day for all manner of watersports, so there were jet skis and power boats (which I call “stinkpots” – which is what my Dad, an avid wind sailor, called them). More on Stinkpots later. Because of lots of stinkpots, and all manner of sightseeing craft, the water was a choppy. I should note that I bear no ill will against my friends who are powerboaters, its just that those of us who enjoyed wind or people powered craft find powerboats an occasional nuisance, or worse, dangerous to our health and well-being.
Lake Union doesn’t fit my normal conception of a lake, rather it is a saltwater inlet, so one finds piers and wharfs with freighters and other ocean-going vessels moored there. It has two inlets to Puget Sound, one to the east and the other to the west of it. Not only is it choppy, but you can experience swells and surf – this is why sea kayaks are are the best kind of kayak to use here.
Back to the paddle: since Dan had done this before, he led on a paddle around the north side of the lake, to the old gas works. This was different from anything I’d experienced before; it was an urban paddle!
I hope you all are impressed with my photos; I have them only because I took my brand-new Canon EOS Rebel T2I Digital SLR with me. This is a lovely camera, and the most expensive camera I’ve ever owned. Despite its expense, it is not at all waterproof, so it was incredibly stupid on my part to bring it along on this trip. The water was rough, choppy, and kayaking is generally kind of a wet endeavor anyway. Having said that, the good Lord smiled on me and somehow I kept the camera dry, though I was worried and stressed about it the entire time. I realized how stupid I was early in the voyage, but did not want to confess my stupidity to my son by asking to turn back; it would have been a sign of weakness and undermined his belief in my infallibility.
So we paddled, with hundreds of other kayakers, out to the Old Gas Works. It looked like an Inuit war party. Below is a shot of Dan with his fellow Braves…
The Seattle skyline was simply incredible from this vantage point, so we dwelled a bit off the shore by the Gas Works. This is a shot that Dan took just before we turned about and headed back. That would be yours truly in the kayak, just this side of the sailboat.
On the return trip, as we were passing under the Interstate 5 Bridge, Dan noticed a stinkpot approaching me at an idle and shouted a warning to me (I was now in the lead). Lo, and behold, about a hundred yards directly in front of me was a large stinkpot, with a lot of people on board, weaving from side to side at idle speed (dead slow). I wasn’t sure which direction I should take to avoid it so I looked for the driver of the boat to try to get his attention in case he hadn’t seen me.
No one was driving.
There must have been 15 young people on board, but not one was at the helm and not one was looking in my direction! I had to make a decision so I arbitrarily chose to head to port (the left) and give the stinkpot as wide a berth as possible on my right. Fortunately, the boat didn’t swerve back in my direction. As I passed, the festive crowd aboard raised their beers in a toast to me. I shook my head and paddled on. Drunks and stinkpots… There are way too many of them this time of year.
The remainder of the trip was uneventful as we headed back to the kayak rental place, put up the kayaks, and enjoyed a drink and some Mexican food. In spite of all my stresses and strains, it really amounted to a great time.