Places

A night in Frankfurt

Back in September of 2008, we were stranded in Frankfurt because of negligence on the part of United Airlines, who did not properly coordinate the transfer of passengers from a connecting Lufthansa flight. The whole ordeal is a nasty mess I’d rather forget. One bright spot in that whole filthy experience is that we got to spend a beautiful evening in Frankfurt, and I took the photos you see below.

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It was a case of making lemonade out of the lemons we’d been dealt. We had to find a hotel, which we did, by ourselves, and it was a really nice one too, a Holiday Inn about 7 minutes from the airport. After a nice, hot shower to wash off the nastiness we’d just experienced, we headed downtown, where we were treated to some very beautiful architecture and gorgeous river vistas.

We had dinner and walked for a few hours on the shore of the Main River, cris-crossing from one side to the other via the many bridges that span it. I took photos with my 50mm f/1.4 lens, which works great at night due to its large aperture.

Sometime between 11 pm and midnight, we got back to the hotel and had a wonderful night’s rest. Those beds were the most comfortable beds we’ve ever slept in. I don’t know what brand they were, and what they used in the mattresses and the comforters, but we’d have loved to sleep a few more nights on them. My wife still raves about them.

In the morning, breakfast awaited, after which we prepared ourselves mentally for some more nastiness from United (we weren’t let down) and the long flight back to the US.

There are more photos from Frankfurt in my photo catalog. And you’ll also see some photos from Munich in there.

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Thoughts

Helping the giant salamander breed

In their effort to control flooding, the Japanese have dammed up their rivers. But that move shut out giant salamanders from their natural breeding places and have made it impossible for them to get upstream. Scientists in Japan have worked out a way to allow their legendary giant salamander to get around dams, through elaborate staircases and small waterfalls that preserve the salamander’s natural surroundings. Now they hope the species will thrive in the wild once more.

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Thoughts

Pork's dirty secret: It's one of America's worst polluters

Pork’s Dirty Secret: The nation’s top hog producer is also one of America’s worst polluters : Rolling Stone.

I’m shocked beyond belief by what I read in Rolling Stone magazine today, in the article pointed about above. Let me quote a few excerpts to draw your attention to the crimes that have gone unpunished for the last couple of decades, done right here in the US, under our eyes and noses, and with the approval of smarmy politicians all too happy to oblige deep-pocketed campaign contributors.

This is how pig farms function:

“Taken together, the immobility, poisonous air and terror of confinement badly damage the pigs’ immune systems. They become susceptible to infection, and in such dense quarters microbes or parasites or fungi, once established in one pig, will rush spritelike through the whole population. Accordingly, factory pigs are infused with a huge range of antibiotics and vaccines, and are doused with insecticides. Without these compounds — oxytetracycline, draxxin, ceftiofur, tiamulin — diseases would likely kill them. Thus factory-farm pigs remain in a state of dying until they’re slaughtered. When a pig nearly ready to be slaughtered grows ill, workers sometimes shoot it up with as many drugs as necessary to get it to the slaughterhouse under its own power. As long as the pig remains ambulatory, it can be legally killed and sold as meat.

The drugs Smithfield administers to its pigs, of course, exit its hog houses in pig shit. Industrial pig waste also contains a host of other toxic substances: ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, cyanide, phosphorous, nitrates and heavy metals. In addition, the waste nurses more than 100 microbial pathogens that can cause illness in humans, including salmonella, cryptosporidium, streptocolli and girardia. Each gram of hog shit can contain as much as 100 million fecal coliform bacteria.

Smithfield’s holding ponds — the company calls them lagoons — cover as much as 120,000 square feet. The area around a single slaughterhouse can contain hundreds of lagoons, some of which run thirty feet deep. The liquid in them is not brown. The interactions between the bacteria and blood and afterbirths and stillborn piglets and urine and excrement and chemicals and drugs turn the lagoons pink.”

This is the man in charge of the largest pig producer in the US:

“The chairman of Smithfield Foods, Joseph Luter III, is a funny, jowly, canny, barbarous guy who lives in a multimillion-dollar condo on Park Avenue in Manhattan and conveys himself about the planet in a corporate jet and a private yacht. At sixty-seven, he is unrepentant in the face of criticism. He describes himself as a “tough man in a tough business” and his factories as wholly legitimate products of the American free market. He can be sardonic; he likes to mock his critics and rivals.”

This is how the journalist describes his encounter with the smell from one of the pig shit lagoons:

“Concentrated manure is my first thought, but I am fighting an impulse to vomit even as I am thinking it. I’ve probably smelled stronger odors in my life, but nothing so insidiously and instantaneously nauseating. It takes my mind a second or two to get through the odor’s first coat. The smell at its core has a frightening, uniquely enriched putridity, both deep-sweet and high-sour. I back away from it and walk back to the car but I remain sick — it’s a shivery, retchy kind of nausea — for a good five minutes. That’s apparently characteristic of industrial pig shit: It keeps making you sick for a good while after you’ve stopped smelling it. It’s an unduly invasive, adhesive smell. Your whole body reacts to it. It’s as if something has physically entered your stomach. A little later I am driving and I catch a crosswind stench — it must have been from a stirred-up lagoon — and from the moment it hit me a timer in my body started ticking: You can only function for so long in that smell. The memory of it makes you gag.”

And this is what happens to the people who live near the pig shit lagoons:

“Epidemiological studies show that those who live near hog lagoons suffer from abnormally high levels of depression, tension, anger, fatigue and confusion. “We are used to farm odors,” says one local farmer. “These are not farm odors.” Sometimes the stink literally knocks people down: They walk out of the house to get something in the yard and become so nauseous they collapse. When they retain consciousness, they crawl back into the house.”

And this is what happens when the lagoons spill their vile contents into the environment, which happens all too often:

“The biggest spill in the history of corporate hog farming happened in 1995. The dike of a 120,000-square-foot lagoon owned by a Smithfield competitor ruptured, releasing 25.8 million gallons of effluvium into the headwaters of the New River in North Carolina. It was the biggest environmental spill in United States history, more than twice as big as the Exxon Valdez oil spill six years earlier. The sludge was so toxic it burned your skin if you touched it, and so dense it took almost two months to make its way sixteen miles downstream to the ocean. From the headwaters to the sea, every creature living in the river was killed. Fish died by the millions.”

As if those sorts of unmitigated environmental disasters aren’t enough, it gets worse:

“… Corporate hog farming contributes to another form of environmental havoc: Pfiesteria piscicida, a microbe that, in its toxic form, has killed a billion fish and injured dozens of people. Nutrient-rich waste like pig shit creates the ideal environment for Pfiesteria to bloom: The microbe eats fish attracted to algae nourished by the waste. Pfiesteria is invisible and odorless — you know it by the trail of dead. The microbe degrades a fish’s skin, laying bare tissue and blood cells; it then eats its way into the fish’s body. After the 1995 spill, millions of fish developed large bleeding sores on their sides and quickly died. Fishermen found that at least one of Pfiesteria’s toxins could take flight: Breathing the air above the bloom caused severe respiratory difficulty, headaches, blurry vision and logical impairment. Some fishermen forgot how to get home; laboratory workers exposed to Pfiesteria lost the ability to solve simple math problems and dial phones; they forgot their own names. It could take weeks or months for the brain and lungs to recover.”

And now the bastard that runs Smithfield, Joseph Luter, wants to expand into Europe, particularly into Poland and Romania:

“When Joseph Luter entered Poland, he announced that he planned to turn the country into the “Iowa of Europe.” Iowa has always been America’s biggest hog producer and remains the nation’s chief icon of hog farming. Having subdued Poland, Luter announced this summer that all of Eastern Europe — “particularly Romania” — should become the “Iowa of Europe.” Seventy-five percent of Romania’s hogs currently come from household farms. Over the next five years, Smithfield plans to spend $800 million in Romania to change that.”

You want to see a real terrorist? One that’s irreversibly damaged the environment, killed millions of fish and other aquatic life, and ruined the lives of tens of thousands of people? Look no farther than Joseph Luter. The evidence is overwhelming. And yet he’s not in prison. No, he’s out, enjoying his life while ruining the lives of others. I say we put him not in jail, but in a prison which contains one of his very own pig shit lagoons, where he’s to spend the remainder of his criminal life.

Luter has made pig farming profitable, but at what expense? The environmental disasters he’s directly responsible for equal the ones perpetrated on mankind by the industrial revolution — only we outgrew those abuses, and didn’t expect to find such flagrantly illegal and morally corrupt behavior in the businesses of today.

Don’t think Luter is the only one. You look at cows, at sheep, at chicken and other farm animals, and you’ll find incredible, criminal abuses of animal life and the environment in all those industries. Seemingly everywhere, our food supply has been hijacked by companies hell-bent on making profits at the expense of health, safety, the environment and even life.

Quotes used courtesy of Rolling Stone magazine. If the magazine feels that the quotes are too extensive, please contact me and I will abbreviate them.

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Places

The C&O Canal

I suppose I should call this “Trip to the C&O Canal – Part Three”, since it’s the third time I write about the C&O Canal (Chesapeake and Ohio Canal) on my site. Here is Part 1 and Part 2. But it’s certainly not our third trip, because we’ve been there numerous times, during various times of the year.

This last time, we did it by bike, starting at Lock 7, which can be accessed from the Southbound Clara Barton Parkway. We traveled past the last gatehouse, which I think was was Lock 12, and past the Carderock Wall, to some section of the canal beyond it.

It’s a lot of fun to bike on the C&O Canal. For one thing, the path that accompanies the canal used to be the old towpath for the mules that pulled the barges, so you know you’re stepping on a piece of history. For another, the canal towpath was built to have no steep grades. Other than little hills that correspond to the drops in altitude at lock gates, the towpath is mostly level, so you won’t get long-winded trying to walk, run or bike up long hills.

As you’ll see in the photos above, some parts of the canal were completely dry. I’m not sure what caused this. Perhaps it was the summer heat, or as you’ll see in a couple of the photos, a sinkhole that opened upstream and possibly swallowed all of the water from those sections of the canal.

The idea for the C&O Canal originated with George Washington, though in another form. Having worked as a land surveyor in his youth, he dreamed of the possibility of making the Potomac River navigable. He thought the only way to do it would be to build skirting canals around its falls. While he was still young, he could not convince the State of Maryland to do this, but after the Revolutionary War, let’s just say it was easier for him to get people to do things.

The Patowmack Company was formed in 1784, and construction began on the skirting canals. Washington himself supervised the construction personally. Beside the canals, channels in the river itself were deepened and boulders were removed. There was a great deal of work to be done, and the work wasn’t finished until 1802, three years after Washington’s death.

Although the canals were useful, the route didn’t generate as much traffic as it should have. For one thing, it was only truly usable up to two months out of the year, due to low water levels. Plus, it was very difficult to get the boats back up the river, because of the current. People ended up dissembling the boats downstream, walking back upstream, and building another boat. This was not efficient nor productive.

George Washington’s idea was interesting, and people kept thinking of a way to capitalize on it. A way to use the Potomac River needed to be found. That’s where the construction of a canal came in. It wasn’t new technology, as that sort of construction was already used in Europe, and even dates back to antiquity.

On November 5, 1823, a convention was held Washington, which led to the chartering of the company that would build the canal on January 27, 1824, and finally, to the start of construction of July 4, 1828.

The construction of the C&O Canal ended in October of 1850 at Cumberland, Maryland. The original plan to extend the canal to the Ohio River had to be modified, because of the extremely hard nature of the work, its slow progression, and financial troubles with the parent company.

Parts of the Canal were opened as they became available, and it worked as a water route until 1924. Frequent flooding closed it for months, and sometimes, for entire seasons, and in 1889, the parent company went bankrupt. It was then taken over by the canal’s rival, the B&O Railroad. In 1902, they even took over the boats. Whereas they had belonged to the people themselves — to the families that toiled night and day to carry goods down the canal — from that year forward, they belonged to the Railroad company…

The B&O Railroad did as little maintenance as possible on the canal, and in 1924, when another flood destroyed parts of it, they closed it down altogether. The canal slowly deteriorated afterwards, until it was taken over by the National Park Service in 1971. They restored the towpath and re-watered parts of the canal.

Here’s an interesting fact [source]:

“Transporting goods and people by canal dates back to antiquity. The lock gates used on the C&O Canal were an adaptation of a design by Leonardo DaVinci in the late 1400’s. Until the advent of the railroad, water travel was far superior to land travel.”

If you’d like more information about the C&O Canal, I recommend the official C&O Canal NPS website. Make sure to use the menu on the left side of the page to navigate through the various sections. It’s a little hard to find your way around at first, but it pays off if you keep digging — there’s a lot of information posted there.

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Places

January snowfall

We had a snowstorm this past Thursday in the Washington, DC area. It started snowing around noon, and it continued to snow until about 4 pm. The snowflakes were big and fluffy, and they were coming down in thick waves. In the end, we have about 3 inches of accumulation, which started to melt overnight. By now, there are patches of snow here and there, but if this warmer weather continues, we’ll have nothing.

Here are photos taken during and after the snowstorm in various locations such as McLean (VA), Potomac River (MD side), and North Bethesda (MD).

Twigs weighed down by snow

Glass building in snowstorm

Road at Tyson’s Corner during snowstorm

Evergreen branch covered with snow

Here’s how my car looked during the snowstorm.

MINI covered in snow

MINI during snowfall

Visibility was (understandably) greatly reduced during the snowstorm. This tall crane normally dominates the skyline at Tyson’s Corner. Not during the snowstorm…

Tall crane during snowstorm

Always interested in shapes and abstracts, I couldn’t help photographing the tracks left in the snow by vehicles and people.

Bend it

Footsteps in the snow

Tracks in the snow

The fresh snow afforded me a different look at a spot I often visit: Lock 10 on the C&O Canal, which is located on the Clara Barton Parkway, somewhere between Great Falls and Glen Echo (MD).

C&O Canal at Lock 10 during snowstorm

Forest path at Lock 10

Potomac shoreline during snowstorm

Island

A bend in the river

Potomac River during snowstorm

A is for Abstract

Ice covers the buds

Finally, photos from my neighborhood. I’m glad I live in such a beautiful place.

Snowman rests on bench

Trees during snowfall

Branches covered in snow

During the snowstorm

Since this post includes photos from my community, let’s call it my Week 3 submission for the 2008 Community Challenge. My other submissions can be found under the “2008 community challenge” tag, right here on my site.

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Places

A place out of the ordinary

Ligia and I made a trip to a place out of the ordinary this past Saturday. Not many people have been there, that I can guarantee you. It’s pretty close to civilization, and you can get there by foot. What was it? The middle of the Potomac River, near Glen Echo, MD.

In the midst of it

Our area’s experiencing a drought. It’s not very bad (yet). One side effect of this is that the Potomac River runs fairly low to the ground, and that means one can hop and skip from stone to stone all the way to the middle of the river — if he or she can keep their balance and find their way around.

We found a path that led from the C&O Canal to the Potomac River, and followed it. A multi-hued cover of fallen leaves lined it nicely.

The way

A side branch of the river divided the mainland from a small island. The river bed here was mostly dry, so we made our way over the stones to that island. I spotted the beautiful reflection of trees in the water, and stopped to take this photo.

Fall reflections

We trekked carefully over the island. There are snakes in that area, and they usually lie in the shade among the rocks. We didn’t want to give any of them a rude awakening and risk a bite.

Ligia stopped on a big boulder at the edge of the island to rest and take some photos, while I ventured out over rocks covered with dry mud and algae. Shrubs grew among the rocks, taking advantage of the moisture still present in the mud underneath.

Perched and ready

As I got farther and farther out into the river, there were less and less plants, and mostly bare rocks. One stray acorn made the unfortunate decision to sprout a little tree on a patch of mud. I wondered what would happen to it when the water level would grow once more.

Contemplating the future

When I reached the approximate middle of the river, there was no more sure footing, and I didn’t want to risk acting like a mountain goat. That would have been a sure-fire way to get wet really fast and/or break a limb. Besides, I had a great vantage point.

Far from the shore

One thing that always attracted me to the Potomac River was the exact same reason that it’s not navigable by boat: the many rocks and boulders that can be found everywhere. That’s something you don’t see in many other places. It’s this sort of raw, untamed natural beauty that makes me think of James Fenimore Cooper novels, and to imagine Indians still roaming the shores. If you look at the photo above, you’ll see this gigantic boulder looming just a foot or so under the water level. That’s really impressive to me. Its sheer mass would crush a boat’s bow to pieces without flinching.

Meanwhile, I was standing on another solid rock. You know how they say 90% of an iceberg is under the water’s surface? Well, this is a good way to illustrate that concept.

Solid rock

I must have stayed there in the middle of the Potomac for at least half an hour, gazing at the nature that surrounded me. The brisk river breeze carried the unmistakable scents of autumn down the river. Ligia came to join me and we sat there together, looking at what you see below.

There’s a peace and a thrill that takes hold of you when you visit a place like this. It’s peaceful because there’s no one around. And it’s thrilling for the very same reason, and for the knowledge that others probably haven’t been nor will be there any time soon.

The golden afternoon sun streamed through the autumn leaves, untamed by the clouds that raced along the sky. This is one of those photos where everything seems to come together to create the perfect capture of a fleeting moment.

The colors of fall

The Potomac moved by at a slow, untroubled pace, the water reflecting the sun in a sort of knowing, passive resistance to its power. It knew that power would soon fade as winter moved in.

Little islands

Just up the river, about a mile or two, I could see the American Legion bridge. I-495 crosses over the Potomac there, and I drive on it every day on my way to and from work. That same bridge has been under repairs for most of this year, and I blogged about the traffic problems that the construction caused. Thankfully, that’s over now. You can see the bridge in the photo if you look carefully. It’s in the top left portion.

In the midst of it

As I drove over it each day, I used to look over the side wistfully and imagine myself somewhere in the forest, photographing the river and the morning fog. I can’t imagine how many people pass over that bridge every day and care nothing for the view. I must remember to come back some early morning to catch the fog. It’s a real pity that there isn’t some sort of overlook built onto the bridge itself, to allow people to look down the river. It would be a magnificent sight.

As Ligia and I started to head back, we counted our blessings. We’d just visited an amazingly beautiful place, one mostly untouched by human feet, and we managed to get photographs that would preserve that memory for us for a long time to come.

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Places

Passing through Cheile Bicazului

This is Part 1 of a two-part post on Cheile Bicazului. You can read Part Two here.

During our recent trip to Romania, we passed through Cheile Bicazului, a stunning, narrow pass carved through the Carpathian mountains. We started out on the Transylvania side, where the weather was beautiful and sunny, though we could see the clouds hovering over the mountains far into the distance.

Zigzag into the horizon

As we got closer, the weather got chillier, and we could see the mountain peaks enshrouded in fog. This mountain meadow was still bright and sunny, though the cold wind made us shiver.

Steep slope

Just a few kilometers away from the meadow pictured above, we stopped at Lacul Rosu, a lake whose origin is uncertain. It seems falling rocks blocked the path of a river, and a lake accumulated in that valley hundreds or thousands of years ago. The trunks of the flooded evergreens can still be seen in the water. Here the weather got even colder and wetter. There was no question about it — we were high up in the mountains.

At the edge of Lacul Rosu

That same punishing weather proved truly beneficial to my photography. Without it, the mountain peaks wouldn’t have looked quite as good. Here are a couple of peaks seen at the start of the pass.

Enshrouded in fog

Here’s a truly majestic peak seen from inside the pass. That fog was just perfect!

High above Cheile Bicazului

The sharply winding road broke through the peaks onto a meadow set in a small valley. I stopped the car and peered over the edge of the cliff to get this photo of the mountain brook passing below us. I love that little wooden bridge, twisted into a precarious position by spring torrents and autumn storms.

The little bridge down in the valley

There was a group of cabins in the meadow, and off to the side, I found this deserted hut, built out of stone right into the side of the hill. Grass grew on its roof, and overgrown shrubs surrounded it. I wonder what purpose it once served.

Deserted and overgrown

That same mountain brook seen just above can be seen in the photo below. The same bridge can now be spotted in the top left corner. I really like mountain streams. They flow fast, and the water’s clean, cold and invigorating.

A happy mountain brook

We weren’t dressed for the weather, and we ended up with slightly sore throats by the time we made it to the other side, but it sure was worth it! It was my first time through Cheile Bicazului. Ligia used to come there with her parents quite often as a child. We want to go back again and hike through those mountains should we get the chance.

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Places

Night falls gently on the old river

This was taken from the roof of the Key Bridge Marriott Hotel in Arlington, VA. I’d just finished a meeting and asked a favor from John, the hospitality manager: could he please let me go up for a few minutes to take photos? He kindly agreed, and he, along with a security guard, escorted me through the labyrinthine corridors of the top floor onto the pebble-lined roof.

What a gorgeous view that hotel has! I quickly took a whole series of photos, and I still need to post-process quite a few of those. I really like this one, as it shows the sun just about to fade over the Virginia hills while the old Potomac River goes on about its business.

Night falls gently on the old river

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Places

White's Ferry and Edwards Ferry (part 2)

On 10/2, I wrote about our trip to these two sites along the C&O Canal here in Maryland. I couldn’t post the videos at that time. With the aid of YouTube, here they are, in chronological order, for your enjoyment.

I filmed this as the ferry pulled up to the Maryland side of the Potomac, and cars started to drive off:

This one shows the C&O Canal Trail near White’s Ferry. It’s a peaceful walk through the forest, with Ligia up ahead:

These next two show us driving through the Maryland countryside, on an unpaved road in a field somewhere between White’s Ferry and Edwards Ferry. I believe the road is River Road, although the map is unclear on this.

This is the launch point at Edwards Ferry, which has no ferry any more, but it’s a nice and peaceful place to visit. The fact that is has no ferry is actually a plus, since there are no crowds there. You can park your car and hike around, taking lots of photos. What’s also interesting about Edwards Ferry is that the C&O Canal’s water stops right there. The canal wasn’t maintained between it and White’s Ferry. So it’s kind of cool to see water on one side of the lock gate, and grass on the other. This isn’t depicted in the video.

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