To Fall In Love With Earth

 “Good going amma! You are doing well. Just try riding a little faster, okay?”, said the daughter, and then the children gave me a thumbs up, and smiled encouragingly. We were out cycling on a relatively flat trail in the mountains nearby.  I was amused at the encouragement. It was true that I was in worse shape than I expected. 

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It had been decades since the days of pointless cycling up and down the hills, and the old spirit was reviving with every pedal stroke. I looked up yearningly at the tree-tops, and the pinecones hanging from them. All Earth looked and smelled inviting, reminding me of the gratitude for having such a beautiful planet on which to live. Today was not the day to rue the state of our laws, or how fast climate change is creeping up on us. Today was a day to feel grateful for what we have, so we may learn better to conserve what we have for future generations better. It was in this moment of great gratitude that I was admiring the tree-tops against the clear blue skies when I promptly veered off the bicycle path and crashed into some brambles nearby. 

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I tottered back to the path to chuckles from the daughter.  The husband in the meanwhile, was acting as though as he was in his teens again and cycling with both hands off the handle bar. The elementary school going son, gave me a shrug and said, “Show off!”. But I caught him trying to take his hands off the bar one at a time, and smiled to myself. 

The son had graduated to a bigger cycle for the first time and his face registered joy, and a little trepidation, as he stopped pedaling and went whizzing downhill. The adrenaline was pumping, and his cautious nature was kicking in at the same time. When we stopped for a break a few minutes later, he looked happy, and ready to start pedaling again. 

Out amidst nature that day was a wonderful balm for the soul. The air still felt nippy – there had been a light snow and rain at night, but the clouds had scattered nicely and the trail had some wet patches through which we went zipping with joy. The skies were blue, and the glistening snow and raindrops on the trees in the path brought about a pristine joy. 

The fresh, moist, clear air reminded me of Kate Harris when she wrote in the book, Lands of Lost Borders:

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“I’m not sure where I go when I spin wheels for hours on end like that, except into the rapture of doing nothing deeply—although ‘nothing,’ in this case, involves a tantrum of pedal strokes on a burdened bicycle along a euphemism for a highway through the Himalaya.” 

― Kate Harris, Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road

We were not in the Himalayas. We were on safe biking paths with brilliant nature folding us lovingly in its embrace on all sides, and yet the feeling was the same. There was harmony there between human souls and the Earth, and I could only hope that we never truly lose touch with that feeling. This is our only home after all.

We stopped for a while to take in a small hike around a place that has the wonderful combination of meadows, marshes, forests and river. A more Wind in the Willows kind of setting I could not have imagined, but there it was, and like the rest of the surreal day, I found myself feeling increasingly happy at being there. As we walked listening to the surging snow melt in the fast flowing stream nearby, I felt a sense of clarity, and I thought of Mary Oliver’s words:

I walk in this Earth to fall in love with it. – Mary Oliver

How Much is Too Much?

The husband gave me a significant look, and shook his head disapprovingly. I understood his sentiment. He was reading Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou.

I spent the whole time shaking my head disapprovingly, and wondering how one could have started out so nobly and have gone astray so quickly when caught in the web of her own lies, myths, and ambitions.

While being driven is often seen as a good thing in our Society, it generally needs a heathy helping of morals and ethics and all the rest of it. Take the visible case of Elizabeth Holmes.

I had heard of the story of Theranos, the medical blood-testing company that promised to revolutionize the medical industry by doing all blood tests on a single drop of blood instead of the vials and vials that were currently drawn. “That.Is.Amazing!” I thought to myself. Like millions of others, I don’t particularly like having vials of blood drawn, and this was a development waiting to happen.

No wonder the company was valued at billions and more importantly had the potential to save thousands of people. Elizabeth Holmes seemed to be the visionary that everyone yearned for – dropped out of Stanford, after inventing ground-breaking technology in her sophomore year, and it was nice that she was a Woman. The press likes that.

Then, a few years later, a friend sent me an article on the company after an investigative reporter found the whole premise a fabricated one. I was a little dubious at first. How can one be touted as a visionary for this long by this many people have fabricated a premise like that? I mean she was on the cover of Time, Fortune magazine and Business Insider’s darling. Could she have done all that on what we in the software industry refer to as a ‘manual workaround’.

“By positioning Theranos as a tech company in the heart of the Valley, Holmes channeled this fake-it-until-you-make-it culture, and she went to extreme lengths to hide the fakery.” 
― John Carreyrou, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

How one manages to fool this many people for so long astounds me, but it also explains our fervent, if pathetic need, for super-heroes. We need someone to adulate, someone to fawn over, someone whose story can inspire the young, and we latch on greedily to anyone the media deems worthy.

“Like her idol Steve Jobs, she emitted a reality distortion field that forced people to momentarily suspend disbelief.” 
― John Carreyrou, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

I recommend reading Bad Blood: Lies and Deception in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou.

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It is a chilling tale cautioning us about the importance of grounding oneself in reality, the importance of listening, and the underlying question of morals and ethics. Essentially, Elizabeth Holmes seemed to have used her considerable charisma and influence to get top names on her Board, while running a tight ship. Not having any real breakthroughs in terms of technology was a minor problem. Instead, they seem to have come up with less than efficient techniques to dilute blood samples, and test them on standard Seimens equipment.

Why none of her Professors, Board of Governors, Journalists ever stopped to understand the true technology claims of Theranos is beyond me. Or is it that she played into the sweet spot of attention spans to give people what seemed like important information, while not revealing anything?

Whatever, it was. it begs the question of ethics and ambition.
“Her ambition was voracious and it brooked no interference. If there was collateral damage on her way to riches and fame, so be it.” 

― John Carreyrou, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

Ultimately, how much is too much?

“Great ambition is the passion of a great character. Those endowed with it may perform very good or very bad acts. All depends on the principals which direct them.”
Napoleon Bonaparte

P.S: In that gloomy account of ambition gone awry, there are two rays of sunshine. The young interns, Tyler Schultz & Erica Cheung.  In their early twenties, their inner light never wavered. Not when they knew it was time to resign, nor when it was time to reveal the real goings-on in the company. This was not some website that did not deliver a feature after all, it was blood test results that affected people in real ways.

Aren’t those the type of heroes we need to look for in our Society? When we talk about drive and  ambition for ourselves or our children, these are the people we should be referring to.

A Pluviophile’s Song

The night lamp was on, and I had a harried, desultory look on my face. It had been one of those days in which a lot had happened, but nothing had really happened. Days sent to try stout persons souls. The husband came and told me that I should probably try meditating for a bit, but I shook my head stubbornly. What if I fell asleep? 

He looked at me amused. His eyes danced with the unspoken words: Who are you and where is my wife?

I laughed, and understood the look. A Lover Of Her Sleep if ever there was one. I  told him I wanted to read a little, since I have been falling behind in my reading, and he shook his head indulgently. I really do think you should sleep though – you look so tired!, he said, a line creasing his forehead as he looked at me. I swatted at the idea like a pesky fly, and surveyed the bedside table. 

I don’t know how to use the word Tsundoku correctly in a sentence, but I had Tsundoku-ed the local championship leagues. Piles of books were stacked – children’s books, fiction books, non-fiction books, and all looking enticing and inviting. 

Tsundoku is a beautiful word denoting the piles of unread books by one’s bedside.

Tsundoku (Japanese: 積ん読) is acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one’s home without reading them.[1][2][3]

The term originated in the Meiji era (1868–1912) as Japanese slang.[4] It combines elements of tsunde-oku (積んでおく, to pile things up ready for later and leave) and dokusho (読書, reading books). It is also used to refer to books ready for reading later when they are on a bookshelf. As currently written, the word combines the characters for “pile up” () and the character for “read” ().[4]

I picked up a serious tome, and settled in. I had no idea I had been scowling till I started smiling a few minutes later. It was the musical patter of the rain. The beautiful rain was coming down in bucketfuls. I opened the curtains, and reveled in the beauty of the rain lashing down against the windows, soaking the tree tops, and flattening the flower beds. There is nothing prettier than the night skies sending torrents of rain. 

I loved the word Pluviophile. Meaning a lover of the rain, it seemed to have a nice ring to it, a word meant to bring a smile to one’s face.

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I opened the door, and watched the rain. I felt the cool breeze caress my face, and felt a surge of gratitude. I had said to my friends only a few days earlier that it will be lovely to have another bout of rain before the summer months set in and the neighboring hills turned brown. The Earth had already started emanating a slightly thirsty aura, and I yearned for the smell of rain against the hot Earth. 

I have been looking for the word that captures that welcome scent, and found one recently. 

Petrichor (/ˈpɛtrɪkɔːr/) is the earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil. The word is constructed from Greek petra (πέτρα), meaning “stone”, and īchōr (ἰχώρ), the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology.

The Pluviophile in me smiled at the word and tucked it away for future use. 

The weather forecast had predicted a Storm. In the US, it is never Rains but Storms. The rain I had watched was not a Storm. A Storm is when the rain huffs and puff and stomps its weight around. But this was no Storm. The street lights cast a lovely light on the clouds overhead and the raindrops pouring down. The world looked mellow and in that moment of watching the rain, a calm descended upon me.

After a few moments, I traipsed back to bed. I lovingly surveyed my Tsundoku pile again, and set my tome aside. It was time to read a Children’s book. Storm by Sam Usher beamed up at me, and I snuggled in with the lovely book.

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A beautiful book that captured the joy of playing outside after the rains and storms. I have never flown a kite successfully, and the book made me want to. The illustrations are mellow works of Art, and after admiring all the pictures in the book, I slept the sleep of the tired but happy.

A Mother’s Day Gift

I walked into the classroom to read my story on Mothers Day to the children. I was a little nervous. Would the tough audience respond well to the story? It is always the surest test. If their attention dithers, you have lost, if they are enthralled, nothing else matters.

The teacher told me that they will be settling down soon. I watched amazed as she quietly got all the children, who were, less than a minute ago, tumbling and hanging upside down in the playgrounds outside to sit on the rug in the middle of the class, and settle down to Reading Time.

Now..Now..Ian, what did we say about sitting quietly facing me?
Ardvash, sit with your bottoms on the floor please.
All of you, sit with your bottoms on the floor and look ahead. We have a very special thing happening today. Can anybody tell me what it is?

A flurry of hands shot up into the air, and several people started talking at the same time. A minute later, they sat chastened by the fact that they had talked over each other without waiting their turns. There is no greater joy than seeing children respond sweetly to their teachers. A mellow voice bursting with pride at being picked said, “We are getting story-time”
“Yes!” Said their teacher. “And we are lucky have an author, a real author, come to read us her book.”

I took a deep breath, had the children do the same, and launched into the story. I read to them how the animals had planned to celebrate Mothers Day in the Jungle. When Potini Elephant was in tears because she could not find her dear child, Trumpy Elephant, there was a hush. The story built on, and every now and then I stole a glance at the faces of the children. The sweet sincerity with which they bestowed their attention made my heart sing.

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Mothers Day In The Jungle – By B S Bumble

When the book was over, the children clapped and their teacher gently asked them if they were forgetting something. “Thank you!” they all chorused.

It is Teacher Appreciation Week, and the importance of a loving, firm but gentle influence on the children day in and day out is not lost on me.

We do not need to be told to sit on our bottoms when we get to work, or go to a restaurant. But I wish somebody would tell us to sit on our bottoms and listen to the wind rustling through the trees or the geese quacking their way home every night, and we listened with the heart-warming sincerity of children.

When you get the opportunity to read your Mother’s Day story to a class of children sitting “with their bottoms on the floor”, and they listen with rapt attention, there is no better gift for Mother’s Day, is there?

#HappyMothersDay to all you wonderful mothers and mother-like figures.

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The Sandpiper’s Wisdom

I had finished my lecture on the unnecessary stress being online gives after the daughter told me about streaks. She had taken a picture of her left nostril for a streak, and I was appalled. “IF you are going to send a picture, at least take one worth remembering.”

“Relax! It is just for a streak.” Streaks are apparently how many days in a row you have sent pictures to each other. The pictures themselves are deleted, so it doesn’t really matter is what I was told. I was having trouble stomaching something like this. Pictures were important were they not? They were little bubbles of memory. You took some bubbles and relished them again and again. I appreciate my left nostril but do not revere it with a picture! I said somewhat indignantly.

When we take family pictures, we write sagas about them.

Challenges here: The Saga of the Family Photos

Precursor here: The Family Photo Saga Part 2

Motive Matters here: The Spirit in the Photograph

The daughter told me that times had changed, and asked me if I wanted a picture of my left nostril too. “This little thing has changed a lot of stuff mama” she said waving her precious phone, and gave me that look that makes me feel like a T-Rex fumbling on an aeronautical console. I blew my nose in disgust, and went about preparing for the picnic by the beach.

“Can you take a pic of me like this?”, said the teenaged daughter, handing me her smart phone, the matter of the left nostril forgotten for greater things in life, such as the tranquillity of a beach. She looked happy and contented. Just the right kind of picture that will satisfy social media gargoyles, her expression seemed to indicate.
I took the picture, and showed it to her.
“Ugh! Lousy picture! Gosh! Okay….okay…let me show you. See…just have me look out into the ocean and take it from this side.”
“Makes you look like a silly woodpecker wondering where the trees have gone while looking into the ocean.”, I said.
She laughed raucously, and said “Just take the pic!”

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After a few pictures and videos of the waves lapping the shores, she sniffed the air like a horse raring for a race. “Interested in a race little dobucles?” she said, and tousled her little brother’s hair. I looked at the promising noses twitching with competitiveness, and I offered to referee as I set the pair off on their race.

It was on the way back that it happened.

A wave with a little extra force knocked the pair off their feet. While the gangly teenager managed to regain her balance, the little fellow a few feet behind her in the race was wrapped around snugly by the wave and fell sliding with the waters into the wave. I ran to lift the fellow. He had managed to sit upright, but was sputtering sand and spouting saltwater like a little dolphin. It was several minutes before he started laughing. I herded him back to drier patches, changed his clothes, rinsed out his mouth etc.

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It was then we noticed the daughter’s cellphone was missing. It had probably popped out of my pant pockets and washed into the ocean, while I was running towards them.

I don’t know how many teenagers will take lightly to having their cellphones dropped into the ocean. Mine took it stoically. All those pictures at various angles for her instagram feed, pictures of her left nostril for streaks, sound tracks of the waves, videos of the edge of the sea- all gone. Had we been anywhere else, the disappointment would probably have been keener. But we were surrounded by a sunny day at the beach. Nature calmed and soothed, and it seemed to the daughter as if the dear ocean need not have tried that hard at all. She was stoic enough.

“I called the number at night again, and there was a glug-glug sound in response. “ I said the next day.
“Too soon Amma! Too soon!”, she said giving me a wan smile, but brightening at the thought of her quip. “But the jellyfish is a smart one huh?!”

Days later, I patted my pockets looking for my cellphone. I hollered to the children to get my phone as I headed out.“You know? The ocean has taught me that we don’t really need cellphones. Life is just fine without it! I can remember the sound of the waves, and the beautiful images of the day by the beach if I just close my eyes.” said she donning an expression of experienced wisdom.

We then burst out laughing. “Running by the beach is always a wise thing to do, that is probably why the sandpipers are the wisest of them all.” I said, and she agreed. Those little birds running up and down with the waves were a sight worth remembering.

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The human race is challenged more than ever before to demonstrate our mastery, not over nature but of ourselves. _ Rachel Carson.

The Edge of the Sea

The Edge of the Sea beckoned with increasing urgency. 

We can technically reach the sea shores within a couple of hours drive, but the routines of life mean that we rarely do so. I looked at the pleading look in the daughter’s eyes as she pumped for a day at the beach, and consented. And so, it was with considerable energy that the children and I packed our picnics for the day. The entertainment bag with books, snacks and sandwiches were ready, soul filled up to the brim with good hearted spirits, and we set off to the cold shores of the Pacific Ocean on the Californian coastline. 

I must admit it is a beautiful thing to do. It is especially sweet when one has taken the day off. One can imagine the rest of the world working in drab offices, spouting theories, pouting about the myriad tasks that occupy one’s day, while we gaze contentedly at the ocean, listening to the sound of the waves lapping the shore. Wildflowers bloomed creating a kaleidoscope of color a short distance away. Birds and butterflies flitted around them gaily.

 

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Out on the beach, there were a couple of families who were also enjoying a small Spring break, and there was harmony between land and ocean dwellers alike.

Kites were being flown by some, and the little dragon and butterfly shaped kites took off with an ease that is hard to get in landlocked parks. The sea gulls were making pests of themselves over an upturned packet of someone’s carefully packed picnic. Every time someone came to shoo them, off, they lifted themselves with a grace that the man-made kites could never quite get.

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A little farther away from us were a couple of small birds, who I have since learned are called sandpipers. And what a fitting, poetic name for the little marvels?! They darted in and out with the waves looking for whatever it is they eat from the foam that washes up. They inspired us to play the same game of keeping as close to the lapping waves as possible but not getting wet. We did, but we were nowhere as elegant and nimble as those little busy sandpipers.

Days later as I bustled about the day, a quick darting image of these little birds would flash before my mind’s eye, and I would indulge in a small smile. A smile that reminded me of the bigger gift of life that surrounds us, a life and planet so marvelous that our daily tensions can in an instant be gone just by stopping to think of them.

The edge of the sea is a strange and beautiful place – Rachel Carson

Regular readers know that the teenaged daughter should have been born a mermaid. Since she is a human being, she makes up for the shortcoming by thriving on all things ocean related. Her reading is generously sprinkled with mermaids; her drawings of coral reefs, fish and dolphins reached a point where her teacher said she had to choose a land based theme to draw so she learns the techniques for drawing different scapes; her favorite myths involved the Greek God of the Oceans, Poseidon. And it all started early. She watched Finding Nemo & The Little Mermaid 666 times.

 

Every time, I crave for the forest, she craves for the beach. “A quiet day at the beach is a wonderful thing. Most importantly, you don’t have to do anything. No hikes, no walks, no did-you-see lists Amma!” she said, and as I watched her loll on the beach with a book in her hands, I must admit that the appeal is infectious.

The edge of the sea is fascinating. Watching the shoreline move in accordance with the tides and waves is engaging. The sandpipers and seagulls can entertain you all day. Who needs phones by the beach? (Coming up next)

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Books: The Edge of the Sea – By Rachel Carson