The Lord of the Trees

I gazed out of the window feasting my eyes on The Lord of the Trees working hard so early in the morning. The trees went past their blooming-flowers phase to the sprouting-young-leaves phase in the past few weeks.

“How can anyone who has spent any time observing life like this, feel like not preserving it?” I asked. Us not looking after Earth well enough for future generations is a pet peeve that regular readers of this blog know.

“Because I don’t think people stand and gaze at squirrels like you do when one is already late for school in the morning”, came the crisp reply and I nodded sadly hastening to bustle about for the morning tasks.

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The squirrels have resumed lording about the trees like they own them, which I suppose they do, since they are in them so much. I see them lovingly scraping bark, and checking out the fruits . I fight a losing battle every year trying to save the fruits from them. Friends have suggested fruit nets, but I haven’t the heart. They are the ones that live there, and sometimes I like to think of them sunning themselves on the branches while I am in a drab looking conference room surrounded by tonnes of concrete to pay for the land that these trees rest on. I only wish they would eat the whole fruit before tossing them to the ground, or hiding them away somewhere for the Winter months.

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I cannot deny that it is nice to see the little creatures busy again. The winter months are a little slow for them: though they do not hibernate much (apparently, they do not have enough body fat to sustain them through long cycles of hibernation), they sleep a lot. I wonder how their burrows are, and whether they feel the difference between night and day when they emerge from their deep burrows into the spring time bursting with flowers, fresh leaves and the promise of fruit. 

A few days later, the son and I picked out a book in the library called Morris Mole by Dan Yaccarino that dealt with a similar subject. The book was about a mole who was a wee bit different from his brothers and sisters.

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Morris Mole – By Dan Yaccarino

One day when the moles ran out of food in the deep deep burrows, the eldest moles wanted to dig deeper down, but Morris had an idea that nobody listened to. So, he “dug deep down in himself and found courage”, to dig upwards.

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Morris Mole – By Dan Yaccarino

When he emerged into the spring time, he is enamoured and baffled by the big wide world up there. 

This world also offers him the rare gift of friendship with creatures unlike himself such as a fox. 

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Morris Mole – Dan Yaccarino

The book made me think of how some seemingly little occurrences and thoughts have the power of transformation in them. Would Morris Mole have discovered this wondrous world overhead if he had not paid heed to that little crazy idea and acted upon it?

A few days later, I stopped to observe a squirrel again. This time, it was sitting by the roadside, and sniffing a mustard yellow flowery plant with a contented look on its face. The photographers up at the National Geographic magazine would have been able to get a picture of just such a thing. As it turned out, by the time I fumbled in my pockets, and took out the phone, dropping the keys in the process and finding some tissue marring the phone screen, the squirrel scampered probably laughing to its burrow. But I have the image in my mental eye: I hope it will remind me to enjoy the present when plans shadow life, or life overwhelms reflection. 

All good things are wild and free – Henry David Thoreau

I wish we could all dig deep down inside us to find the determination to set aside some time to spend with living, growing things that are very different from ourselves – observe a bird sing, marvel at a squirrel on a tree, look at ants carrying food, watch a spider spinning a web, or feel the wind against our faces knowing that it just rustled that beautiful tree top nearby. Maybe that will open up a way of living that is much more rewarding and satisfying like the world Morris Mole found overground.

 

 

The Big, Little and Half Domes at Yosemite

The grandparents arrived, and the grandchildren are reveling in the attention, food and companionship that grandparents bring in their wake. The pater is the Self Appointed Head Counsel for Advice in the household. When you take out a slice of bread, and don’t know how to bite it, he is the authority to seek out: Bread is best eaten when toasted with ghee on both sides in a frying pan, not toaster, and then you must liberally spread jam or even condensed milk. This new fangled chocolate on everything is not good for health, and one must keep away from large doses on chocolate on everything, he says to the children who have perfected the Art of Pacifying Thaatha (Thaatha – Grandpa) with a smile, and fleeing with the chocolates. The teenaged daughter is particularly adept at this. One time, he was advising her on how to leave the house for School without causing mayhem in the morning. “Remember, I went to School for 60 years!” said the old man. (He was a school teacher.) 

“Clearly, it wasn’t enough!” said the tongue-in-cheek grand-daughter to much mirth on Grandpa’s side. I don’t quite understand the rhythms of relationships between grandchildren and grandparents.

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Anyway, point is: Thaatha can give life advice on anything. Grandchildren can ignore life advice on everything. So, an easy truce prevails with each doing exactly what they want to do, with affection and love. It is a sight to behold.  

In other news, April rolled along, bringing Spring break in its wake, and off we went to Yosemite National Park for a few days. Gazing over the rain washed Yosemite valley, makes one think yearningly of the phrase: Where every prospect pleases and only man is vile. 

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Yosemite is a poet’s heaven, an artist’s dream, a hiker’s paradise, a parking headache, and a last minute accommodation seeker’s nightmare all rolled into one.

Luckily for us, we found a beautiful house about an hour away from the park’s valley. The second day of the trip,  the grand (children and parents) opted to stay in the house enjoying the environs nearby. This gave the husband and I an opportunity to sneak off on a hike, and we enjoyed the day and the views it gave us.

That day, the former school-going grandfather and current elementary-school-going grandson also set out on a hike of their own near the house.  

They were asked to take a phone along, and this suggestion was advised away saying the younger generation relies too much on technology, and that good common sense will always lead you in the right direction. “Especially on a walk, just note down the important roads and junctions, and you will increase your memory, …

“Okay okay Thaatha – you come back and teach me how to take a walk okay? I am only going to lie down and read today. Sure, you don’t want the phone? Okay! Bye! “ said the teenager and plonked herself on a couch that looked like it was made by fairies, and stuffed with dandelion twinkles.  She ruled the heavens of her imaginations with queenly delight and grace the whole morning.

Out in the streets, the walk started out sweetly enough. Grandpa advising his grandson on how to notice all the road signs, and distinguishing features, so they don’t get lost. About 2 hours later, the pair of them rolled up to the home in a police escort vehicle to much agitation in the household. The grandfather got himself out, somberly shook hands with the young officer, and his stentorian voice could be heard “ Thank you very much Officer. May God bless you. I am very sorry for the inconvenience caused to you, and we very much appreciate you bringing us home. ”

The son was seen shyly high-fiving the officer. 

“What happened?”, went the collective pry, and after a weary sigh, the duo set out to explain their walk.

The grandfather had started off by advising the little fellow about how not to lose his way. “Take note of the road name, and you can always find your way back.”, said Big Dome to the Little Dome. The Little Dome said, “Oak Dr, Oak Road, Oak Trail, Oak Grove, Fountain Road, Fountain Circle. “

“Don’t remember them all, that would confuse you.”

“But you said …”,  and off they went giving and imbibing life lessons for all of us.

About a mile afterward when they decided to come back was when the fun started. It was a confusing place to get to, and several times the same road names looped one over the other. Was it Fountain Circle, or Fountain Drive that they had passed last. What about Lion Cove? Was Lion Cove parallel to Fountain Drive or perpendicular to Fountain Circle? The poor things went round and round in circles, till Officer Dave had driven by. The Little Dome helpfully rattled all the street names he remembered, and Big Dome apologized for having forgotten the route, though he remembered the name of the street the house was on. The police officer was most gracious and helpful to the grateful duo, and gave them a ride to the house on the prairie.

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Thereafter, for the rest of the trip, Big Dome was teased about remembering the names of the streets, and landmarks. “Thaatha – this is Half Dome. Always remember that rock, and you will not get lost in the valley. If you get lost, keep walking towards Half Dome. From up there, you can see everything clearly, and can find your way.”

Never a dull moment, and that is just as life should be.

Henry David Thoreau At Walden Pond:

I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one’s self on this Earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we live life simply and wisely.

Also read:

Slay The Dragon, Not The Parrot

On The Ribbons of Wonder

The ‘Scenic Highway’ sign brings about an overwhelming goodness of heart; a promise of something worthwhile; a yearning for the treat ahead.

Nuts? (Absolutely – especially near the symmetrically placed Almond plantations on Californian highways.)

Cuckoo? (Of course! Who wouldn’t be to the musical trilling of the birds?)

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_Scenic_Highway_System_(California)
The image was created by Mario Salje from Greifswald, Germany. (Wikipedia)

I poke my head out to inhale the scent of fir, pine or eucalyptus, only to be chided by the children. Amma – stop that! It is cold, or it is hot or it is windy. I try to look repentant, but the joy in my face is a give-away. I become a child collecting wildflowers for the vases that spot every side table in every room in my childhood abode again. The same vases that the father used to roll his eyes at before gingerly moving them out of the way, for they had a tendency to fall and spill onto his ubiquitous newspapers. These tastefully collected possums of wildflowers, interspersed with pine or fir with a sprig of Eucalyptus is joy in a vase. I never learnt the art of Ikebana but my grasp and plonk technique gave me as much joy. 

Even on days when childhood woes and worries weighed heavy on the mind, a saunter in the hillsides with a wildflower bouquet in my hands was enough to get me looking at the world benevolently again.

Adulthood has cured me of this eternal optimism and benevolence, but it has had no luck when it comes to the joy nature can give me. I still potter about the neighborhood sniffing at primroses, admiring cow-slips, and reveling in the wild grass as it pokes its shoots out of the cracks in the pavement. I don’t know the names of the wildflowers, but when I see a squirrel sniff at one, it doesn’t seem to matter whether one knows the name of the flower or not. On road trips, I relish the beauty of the highways, the trees and flowers beside the highways, and thank Earth for its natural bounty. 

Little did I know that I really needed to thank Lady Bird Johnson for this bounty in USA. Having grown up in a small town in Texas, she enjoyed nature and its calming influences first hand. When her husband, Lyndon B Johnson, became President, one of the things she did as First Lady, was to get the Highway Beautification Act underway.

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Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers – By Kathi Appelt, Illustrated by Joy Fisher Hein

The nation was still pained at John F Kennedy’s assassination, and she wanted to cure the nation with the remedy she knew best. Natural beauty.

 

I am grateful to Lady Bird Johnson for this foresight. I belong to the class of people who derive spirituality from Nature, and wholly agree with the feisty Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery.)

“Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into the sky—up—up—up—into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.” 

― L.M. MontgomeryAnne of Green Gables

The next time you see a scenic highway stretch out like a wondrous ribbon unravelling itself from its spiel, send a wave of gratitude out to the thriving beauty of life out there, and the person(s) responsible for it. 

Beautiful highways are not a quintessential American feature either. There are accounts of beautiful tree lined roads, hugging mountainous roads with marvelous vistas, roads by rivers and through deserts, built as early as 300 BC. The most famous ones I can think off are the Silk Road(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silk_Road), and sections of the Grand Trunk Road (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Trunk_Road) 

“The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and storytellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.” 

― L.M. MontgomeryAnne of Green Gables

How Windmills Became Giants

No giant or dragon

Is bigger or stronger

Than the human imagination

– Margarita Engle

That was the first poem in the children’s book, ‘Miguel’s Brave Knight – Young Cervantes and his Dream of Don Quixote‘. It acted like a magnet on me – not that iron had entered my soul, far from it, but you get the gist. Silly thing to say that magnets work on people, what I mean is that the book appealed to me. 

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The son and I read it together a few days later, and he cackled, “My goodness! This boy thinks of Knights on every page. “

“Yes. Doesn’t he?” I said, bemused that one who introduced car and ninja motives into everyday speech should find it amusing that another young boy was fixated with knights. I told him so, and he laugh good naturedly. “Yeah – but how come he sees knights everyday? I have never seen a knight.” said the little fellow.  We then had an illuminating discussion on the lure of the knight in the olden days. How ubiquitous he seemed, and what enamored thousands of boys to sign up as knights. Could it have only been a means of livelihood or a quixotic quest for glory? 

Back in the book, the story of Miguel Cervantes flowed along poetically.

The book is artfully written, and tastefully illustrated (Pen,ink and watercolor – sample below) . In short poems, titled Hunger, Imagination, Comfort, Daydreams; the story takes one through the life of Miguel Cervantes, the poor boy with an indifferent education, who made the world a richer place by imagining the modern day novel into existence. His flawed, grandiose, knight, Don Quixote lingers on in human imagination centuries later. 

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Miguel’s Brave Knight – Young Cervantes and his Dream of Don Quixote

The poems really talk of the life of Miguel Cervantes, but are lucid enough to be relished on their own. Miguel Cervantes lived during the sixteenth century, and had a far from easy life. Born to a barber cum surgeon, his early life was in constant turmoil as his father was frequently in debt, and was arrested for it several times. They had to move often, went to school if he could, but throughout all his travails, his imagination was his best friend. At a time when books were rare, and imagination frowned upon, the young Cervantes managed to learn to read and write, and carefully hone his imagination: a gallant knight on a magnificent horse was ever ready to rescue him and the world.

Daydreams  

My daydreamed knight

protects farmers and maidens

from ogres, goblins and trolls

The Ingenious Nobleman Sir Don Quixote of La Mancha was the original title of the book that was eventually published in Spanish. 

He sees windmills as giants 

with enormous, spinning arms

The first time I saw a windmill, I stood transfixed, even as an adult. It is no wonder that it appealed to the imagination of a young boy.

Beautiful poetry, mellow illustrations and the story behind Don Quixote is truly irresistible, and I have read the book several times already with joy.

Also read: The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind

Lord Float A Duck!

I remember the first time I heard the Duck-with-an-F word in public. I was horrified. It was in a meadow where we had convinced a gullible teacher to take us out on a nature amble instead of listening to the stern and necessary work that goes into maintaining a civic society. The middle school children far from being lambs and observing nature were trying to play a game of Kabbadi instead. Kabbadi for those who don’t know, is a game where one runs saying the word Kabbadi Kabbadi Kabbadi Kabbadi Kabbadi Kabbadi Kabbadi Kabbadi over and over again till you want to shriek in agony.

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What horrified me was the fact that far from shouting Kabbadi Kabbadi Kabbadi, the boys were insisting on shouting Mucking-an-F or Duck-with-a-letter-that-comes-after-E and this seemed to incense the whole lot of them unduly.

As they looked around in that male-hen-y fashion, I was appalled that something this crude was expected to draw admiration from the girls. I cannot say the girls admired the swearing nitwits very much. We felt a little sorry for the new teacher who was flailing his arms like a shepherd who had just let a puppy loose in the herd by mistake.

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The Fabbading went on and on till another resourceful teacher hovered in sight, saw the plight of the poor new recruit who had completely lost control of his class, and showed the fellow how to regain control. Under this stern shepherd, suddenly the fowls spitting F’s became lambs again, bleated a little pathetically, and quietly headed back to the classroom. But I had altered that day.

Then, I remember reading the first “adult” book, and gasping for air every few minutes. For something strange happened: contrary to the adults I knew, the folks in the book hissed and puffed and cussed all over the place. I was wondering whether being adult meant puffing like a penguin in a desert.

I can’t say things have changed much since then.

Society far from growing out of this trend seems to have taken this to alarming extremes. Presidents freely use S-*-*-* words, and worse the news agencies gleefully repeat them.

I wonder how many of you remember cackling at the Tintin comics by Herge: Tintin comics are great fun. I read a few last week, and found myself giggling like a preschooler being tickled by the carpet on which they are rolling. Captain Haddock was my favorite. When he lost his temper, which he seemed to do on every alternate page, he swore in the most imaginative manner possible. The bumbling-bashibazouk made me smile every time he swore. He made one think. He made one use one’s fumbling brain and every swear was one in which you smiled at the brilliance of it.

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Would he call you a jelly-fish or a marinated eel? One never knew.

Imagine yourself facing off a street punk who looks ready and willing to punch your nose. If you call him a Mucking-Duck with a double F, he has to stop mid punch with his hand drawn back and ask himself, “Whaddideesay?” and it gives you valuable time in which run away like krill fleeing the direction of the whale’s rumble. Fumble, tumble, rough and scramble.

So, here is a plea – make people work out their insults. Give them work. Mucking a Duck is far too easy. Call a fellow who does not like his vegetables a squash-nibbling centipede. Tell a fellow who is proud of his batting that he is a bat-bungling bamboozle. Think nonsense and regain the pleasant sensibilities of being in one’s senses.

As Theodore Geisel, or Dr Seuss says, “I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living; it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.