Happy Earth Day Mr.Peck

The first few minutes of my train ride are always on the dramatic side. I am charging to get on the train, no matter at what time I catch the train, I charge to get on it. My feet pump like a fast flowing river and my heart resembles a mambo drum echoing in the Kenyan national forest.  Obviously,  it takes a bit of soothing to calm down the nerves after that.

The scenery outside does just that. You see the first few minutes afford a view of a smallish lake and the hills nearby. Come Springtime, the water bodies are full of ducks with their ducklings in tow and the heart slows down. It has to. It is a marvelous sight and I must say it is with reluctance that I pass up that view as the train heads out into the bustling city.

How lucky those ducks are, I tell myself. If these ducks knew of the life Mr Peck leads, there would probably be a pang there. No trains rumbling nearby to disturb Mr.Peck’s peace. No Sir. Mr Peck was a magnificent duck the son and I befriended on one of our hikes down  at Lake Tahoe. As we set off down the steep slopes towards the lake, there was an ominous looking sign that wanted hikers to know that it was a steep hike back. While cylinders roll down easily enough, they find it hard to roll back upwards seemed to be the gist of it.

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So, off we went, gibbering and jabbering all the way. The snow had started to melt in places and we heard little gushes of streams all the way down. We stopped to play with some of that water and even gulped a little.

The son and I were the ones who reached the lake shores first. There was nobody down there. There was a thicket of trees behind us, a sandy beach on which there was one picnic table and the water gently lapped the shores by the picnic table. We sat together in companionable silence, and watched the distant island in the lake.  One duck, paddled away serenely at a respectable distance.

After a few minutes of this silence, the duck came to join us, probably to satisfy a noetic urge about humans. We sat quietly and he came and looked at us in turn. He then pecked at something on the lake shore and circled us taking us in. The son was beside himself with excitement, but for a toddler with a loud voice, he kept silent and the duck and son had a silent rhythm of reciprocated curiosity going. If I had not been right there, I wouldn’t have believed how long this state of affairs went on.

The duck gazed, we gazed. The duck lost interest and pecked and we looked at the lake. Then the duck gazed and we gazed back. The duck did not seem to think of us as pestilential creatures out to ruin his habitat, or if he did, masked it politely. It is one of those moments of time when a fast spinning top slows down just enough to take in the world before spinning at top speed again. It was only after the duck swam away that he was christened Mr Peck.

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The daughter came charging with her father and grandfather from the thicket of trees a few minutes after that. The sun was starting to set, and the pinkish hues were already coloring the peaks as if the mountains were blushing. All the contained excitement about Mr Peck came bursting forth from the son when he saw his sister. Excited gabbles were heard for miles in the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains as Mr.Peck assumed a small role in our family story, and nestled in next to Patchy (that sweet lamb who taught us a thing or two on patience and perseverance).

I think of Mr.Peck everyday when I cross the lakes with the ducks and wonder if he knew what a lovely life he led.

Happy Earth Day to all our fellow beings. Mr.Peck, I hope you are having a nice day down by the lake.

P.S: Mr Peck has since been identified as a Canadian Goose. (The local ornithology club probably has a picture of us barring entry, but we have a history: https://nourishncherish.wordpress.com/2005/08/25/ducks-fishes/)

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The Contentment Unit of Measurement

This Spring, we are with Bala, that gullible grandfather with a booming voice, hearty antics, a retired man with a ros-ie outlook on the working life, and genuinely enjoying the company of his grandchildren: young blood and all that.

As I have written before, what with the pace of life and so on, we decided to take a short trip up the hills to Lake Tahoe. It was a marvelous time to visit. The mountains had had a fresh sprinkling of snow less than two days before our visit, but you’d never know it, the way the sun beamed down upon us as we ascended the mountains. Pure bliss. Lake Tahoe is one of those places that can soothe as well as it can pump adrenaline for the adventurous. And why not? There is a pursuit there for every one. From the quiet walks, to the serene views, to the snow, there is Paradise right here.

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We stayed at a house with a kitchen in it, so the mother was content. Finding a good kitchen in which to make a warm meal to feed her family at the end of the day is what makes the mother happy. So be it.

After a hot dinner, I sat with my legs-up on one of the fuzzy armchairs for a spot of reading. A reading light provided just the right amount of light, the son played with his cars on the floor, the daughter arranged the setting for a board game, the fire crackled merrily in the fireplace, and it was a cozy scene. I had picked out a magazine on mountain living or some such thing, from the conveniently placed magazine trove nearby. It turned out to have rather a lot of material and pictures on houses in the area. Lovely pictures of clean houses with vases, throws and plumped up cushions. I mused on the cleaning effort that goes into an everyday home.

One time I remember dropping into a friend’s house without calling in advance and was struck by how neat the whole place was. Not even a key was out of place. My own key was missing from the center table where I had placed it. I looked for it while leaving, only to find that my friend’s then 3 year old son, had taken the keys and put them away in the Keys Drawer. I was so impressed.

Things are different on our side of the spectrum. Oh so different! When I walk into a hotel room for instance, I can slice and dice the room in a jiffy and tell you how it will be after a day or two of us in there. I can tell you where exactly the rental papers will be strewn, where the keys will be plopped, where the chargers would be hanging and tangling themselves, where the socks will be bubbling out of the shoes and where the wet towels would be laid out.

I thumbed through the pages, all the while admiring the neat photographs, and wondering how people lived like that. The husband belongs to the jolly category of people who will tell you that a squeaky clean place like that must

(a) belong in a magazine for photographic purposes or

(b) be a hotel,

and then proceed to flop his coat on the recently cleaned couch.

Of course, this is a source of trouble in the dear home. For me, not him. For the misplaced coat never seems to bother him. He is convinced about the too-neat-to-be-a-home theory. A theory in which he is ardently supported and praised by his loving father-in-law, who thinks nothing of stewing brochures and magazines in every available spot in the house.

Storms, Televisions & Other Things
Storms, Televisions & Other Things

The father was sitting across the hall with an equally attractive home living magazine in his hand. He wobbled up in few minutes  to show me a stately mansion with an impressive number of bedrooms and large garden. The grin on his face was set to ‘Tease Thy Daughter’ and he said “So, how about buying something like this for a vacation home?”

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I looked at him and said with a quake in my voice, “Can you imagine cleaning a place like this?”

Contentment comes in various forms – mine is in the size and shape of a three bedroom house.

From Divine Mermaids To Almighty Dashed Cars

I have written about the pace of life in the nourish-n-cherish household before and I shall do so again.  Never a dull moment about sums it up. Now, of course, there are folks who have more kids than we do, and more pets than we do (did), and yet manage their time more efficiently than we do. One can either sigh and wonder where the time went, or simply muddle along and try to throw in a lazy afternoon or two if possible and make the best of things. That is what we do.

The daughter’s school had put up a truly marvelous play. The children were fabulous in their roles and it was heartening to see how the props were changed, the lines memorized and the whole play was worthy of the standing ovation it received.

To my mind,  with out her (the daughter), it seemed the play could never have gone on. I mean, she played a half dozen roles in the same play. There were a dozen sailors on the stage, and sure enough, there she was: The sailor with the curly hair, which was hard to spot as the daughter has straight hair. The next minute, it was a school of fish (the orange one with black stripes for the critics). There a sea-gull, here a sous-chef, elsewhere an unfortunate soul. The play was titled ‘The Little Mermaid’ and of course enthusiasm for the production ran high in the daughter’s mind. She has always liked the mermaids.

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In fact the Mermaids may once have saved us – read on in this thrilling tale:

https://nourishncherish.wordpress.com/2010/07/17/the-white-tiger-stops-at-gray-part-1/

https://nourishncherish.wordpress.com/2010/07/23/the-white-tiger-stops-at-gray-%E2%80%93-part-2/

There were rehearsals to attend, costumes to try on, back stage friends to rib, camaraderie between scenes, forgotten cues, not yet perfected dialogues, and much more excitement. I was really happy that she had an experience like this, for performances form a bond forged of nervous anticipation that is difficult to simulate elsewhere.

I quizzed her about how she came to play this many roles later, and she said that when she joined the Drama club, she had auditioned for various parts. She was selected as only a sea-gull at first. However, the Drama Club had not quite expected a steady stream of folks to leave over the following months, and she was given more and more roles to fill. I had no idea the Theatrical industry worked so much on Corporate lines.

Between Drama productions, Science Fairs, Basketball games lost, tied and won, life has been a series of waves. The past Saturday was probably the first one this year where we did not have anywhere to rush off to, and the son lay belly down on the mat blissfully arranging and re-arranging his cars, while his mouth was set to ignition-on. The fond grandparents looked at him playing with his cars on the floor, and gingerly picked their way through the pile lest they take a spin like Lightning McQueen in the Cactus patch.

Vroom! Vroom!

Looks like it is a ‘No’ on the tires for Lightning McQueen again

Vroom!

Every-time the ignition sounds died from him, a running commentary started up telling us all about that blasted tire of Lightning McQueen that burst during his final lap in the Piston Cup race.

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I yearned for an afternoon nap that Saturday. How delicious it is when there is no plan other than to take a walk and read? The mother, a relentless cook, was already thinking of the evening meal, but I shushed her with a smart, “We’ve just had lunch – relax!” and went upstairs singing to bed.

In case you have missed the narrative thus far in the blog, the son is somewhat singularly focused in his interests. He plays with Lightning McQueen or Dusty Crophopper loyally ever since he knew how to hold a toy:

https://nourishncherish.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/lightning-in-the-butterfly-grove/

https://nourishncherish.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/the-car-test-of-colors/

https://nourishncherish.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/the-car-chase/

When one comes up to bed yearning for a nap, one wants to take a nap, does one not? Does one want to spend time clearing the bed to make it look less like a freeway and more like a bed? One does not. After the fifteenth car was removed from under the blanket, I felt justified in swearing:  “I swear to the Almighty Car Lord that I shall kick Lightning McQueen  if I find him in my bed again. ” Even if it stubs my toe, and I have to hop around holding my big right toe in my left hand for a few minutes.

P.S: Please catch a good nap when you can folks. It is wonderful.

Distressed (in) Jeans

Regular readers know I take a commuter train into work. Folks have asked me to describe it and I often feel like a tree being asked to talk about the weather. I mean, no day is like any other. There are changes to atmospheric conditions, air quality, moisture, noise levels, pollution and climatic conditions.

Ever since smartphones arrived, most folk surrender to the phones and I am left looking to find a few folks like me who read a book in the old fashioned manner. The trains have been getting more and more crowded too, and to see folks standing from the first station is not uncommon.

So, obviously, one day when I walked into the train, and not only found a place to sit, but also a thick-ish Vogue magazine lying on the seat, I was happy. It seemed like an empty day to commute into the city, and I called my brother. I try to avoid making phone calls on the train (There is an interesting blog absolutely rattling in my head about phone calls, and one day I shall have to simply shake myself like a dog stepping out of a swimming pool after being flung in, and let the contents spill out, but till then read about the Hippoceres Effect).

I must confess that Fashion is not my area of interest. I have been known to wear clothes stitched from curtain cloth and fit like pillow cases. So, I was obviously intrigued to see what appears in the Vogue. Vogue, I hear, is like the Taj Mahal of fashion magazines and so on.

As I was idly swapping stories with the brother while thumbing through Vogue, I noticed that Fashion must be a terribly sad and serious business. One did not have to be perspicacious to notice that. It is no surprise that folks like me don’t set store by it. All the women models looked they had been through the most trying times in their lives. They looked abused, beaten, sad, morose or downright pugnacious. The men looked unshaven, querulous, cunning or sulky. Some of them wore torn jeans (I have been told that these are called Distressed Jeans – it certainly distressed me.)

And the poor things all looked like they could use a good meal. I am glad to see I am not the only one who thinks this way.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/35975219/advertising-authority-says-gucci-model-was-unhealthily-thin

The book had about 400 pages and there were no smiles there. Talk about sombre reading. If it were not for the fact that I was chatting merrily with the brother, I should have sobbed. The torn clothes, the misery in their eyes, the tortuous moments captured on film. Heart-rending I tell you.

You know, how you smile when people point a camera at you? In fact, I smile when I am taking a picture of somebody. None of that. There were even shots of a wedding where the bride looked she was going to be pelted with stones in one direction, and chased by a pack of wild wolves in the other. Not the radiant happiness one likes to see in brides in other words.

I pointed it out to the brother that none of these models looked happy and he wisely said, “Well, I don’t think they are supposed to be happy – they are going for the Sultry look.”

Maybe one day in the far future when people can split their time amongst different careers, modeling days could be the days one feels like a distressed jean trying to clothe a hippo’s legs.

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Cybotic Leaders or Alien Invasions?

I am reading a book called Mind, Life and The Universe: Conversations With Great Scientists Of Our Time. It is a compilation of interviews with scientists. It is fascinating reading. Holding one book letting one know so many areas in which one knows nothing is nothing but humbling.

One interview is with Jane Goodall. She says that what struck her as horrifying while studying chimpanzees was the fact that they could identify with a clan and go on to attack, maim or kill fellow chimpanzees belonging to a different clan. Similar to what human beings do to each other. Somewhere along the evolutionary cycle, our genes seem to have mutated thus – to identify race and religion and any number of extra associations and look down upon others.

Carl Sagan, in his book, The Cosmic Connection, writes about how if an alien civilization were observing us now, they would think that what we value most is violence. For that is what is available as entertainment and that is what being streamed into our homes everyday, and what our children engage in, in the form of video games.

(https://nourishncherish.wordpress.com/2015/10/09/the-wind-in-the-reefs/)

Last week, we did not need aliens to observe and see what is taught to us. A twitter bot, Tay, written by humans was let loose in the internet to learn and respond like a real user (The future is not far when a good cybot becomes the President of a country). Within 24 hours, we had turned Tay into a racist, misogynist, abuse-spewing user. Who can blame Tay for learning to be a racist jerk in one day? If that is what we are teaching twitter bots, could it be what we are teaching our children in a slower, sturdier manner?

I quote from article below:
http://www.cnbc.com/2016/03/30/tay-microsofts-ai-program-is-back-online.html

“Unfortunately, in the first 24 hours of coming online, a coordinated attack by a subset of people exploited a vulnerability in Tay,” Lee explained. “As a result, Tay tweeted wildly inappropriate and reprehensible words and images.”

How do we teach an algorithm empathy? As Jane Goodall said, “Only when our clever brain and our human heart work together in harmony can we achieve our true potential.”

https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/09/30/jane-goodall-empathy/

I remember a P.G. Wodehouse book, Right Ho Jeeves, in which Jeeves (that all-knowing butler who saves his young, idiotic, but thoroughly good-natured master, Bertie Wooster many times over) says, that the best way to unite warring factions is to introduce a common enemy.

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It looks like an alien invasion might save us from ourselves. If those aliens are only 0.1% percent more evolved than us, we can be their chimps.