The Joy of Cloudy Days

Summers in California are true and long, lingering summers. The grass becomes hay, the green hills become brown, lawns boast of signs that say ‘Brown is the new Green’, and birds and animals alike droop from the sun. The flora though thrives – vegetable gardens burst forth and produce in the bountiful rays of the sun, flowers bloom everywhere, and in the midst of all the heat, there is beauty at every corner. The weather sometimes heeds the arrival of the autumnal equinox but has no qualms about ignoring it either.

This year, the summer has been excaberated with the drought. The riverbed that gives me so much joy was dry, the lake beds were parched and all the creatures gone. 

This year, even the cloud cover seemed scant. Sunsets were less than spectacular, the skies were a brilliant blue and slowly turned pinkish before becoming a deep ink-ish blue.

My sunset photographs from yester-years seemed magnificent in comparison. For clouds – scattered, wispy, thick, grey, white, fluffy, dense all make for brilliant sunsets.

You can imagine then, the joys of seeing the clouds rolling in. We were traveling and to see the clouds from the flight was magical. The son & I sat mesmerized by them. As the aircraft dipped in altitude and made toward the Earth, it was pure magic to see the clouds around us – the aircraft was literally flying through the clouds.

A lover of clouds is called a Nephophile. 

In the book, A Pale Blue Dot, Carl Sagan writes about how he could probably identify which planet on the solar system he was in merely by looking at the color of the sky. Our home, Earth, is a characteristic blue sky with white clouds. The absence of these day-to-day marvelous wonders, that Carl Sagan calls as the signature of Earth for the past few months, made us truly appreciate the beauty and grandeur of cloudy days.

Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.

Rabindranath Tagore

It is why you saw me with my face upturned and beaming at our heavenly companions as if they had feelings and needed to be welcomed. 

A Question of Time

The past week has been an interesting one in many ways. Emotions aside, what this meant in practical terms was that the nourish-n-cherish household ran on a clock. 

The map says it takes 45 minutes at peak traffic, but surprise of surprises, it took 62 minutes, neatly shaving off the buffer we had baked in for grabbing a snack. 

At 10:45, we would have to be there at Y parking garage so that we could get to X building at 11:00.

At 4:45, the flight leaves from Airport Here. That means, the time at Airport There would be x-12.5, but there is x+7.5 stop-over in between.

By pure chance during this time of frenzy, I had with me a slim book, Longitude – The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dave Sobel.

It made for an interesting read on how we managed to get time down to a science. Dava Sobel creates an excellent narrative around the problem of Time and Maritime navigation.

“Time is to clock as mind is to brain. The clock or watch somehow contains the time. And yet time refuses to be bottled up like a genie stuffed in a lamp. Whether it flows as sand or turns on wheels within wheels, time escapes irretrievably, while we watch. Even when the bulbs of the hourglass shatter, when darkness withholds the shadow from the sundial, when the mainspring winds down so far that the clock hands hold still as death, time itself keeps on.”

Longitude by Dave Sobel 

While many astronomers tried to solve the mystery of keeping time using the astronomical events in the sky such as mapping Jupiter’s moons and their eclipses etc, one man, John Harrison set about solving the problem mechanically with a superior clock design. Clocks of the fifteenth and sixteenth century lost time because their pendulums lost their swing with the swaying of the ships, the internal mechanics rusted with the moisture at sea, and numerous other problems.

Reading about Time and how difficult it must have been to measure, has always fascinated the son & myself.

I suppose Time has become such a cornerstone of our existence that it makes for a refreshing read to hark back to the times when time was an indicator and not as much of a martinet as it is in our over-scheduled lives today.

I was reading Mrs Pringle of Fairacre by Miss Read – every time when life demands a slowing down and it is physically hard to do so, a dip into the lovely village green of Thrush Green or Fairacre does the trick. In the Fairacre books, Mrs  Pringle is the competent school cleaner who is also a bit of a virago. Her scatter-brained niece Minnie Pringle is often featured – incompetent and maddening as she is, she helps(or hinders) Miss Read out now and then. In this snippet, Miss Read learns that Minnie Pringle, a mother of 3 and stepmother to 5 young children, never really learnt to look at the clock and read the time.

Mrs Pringle of Fairacre: About Minnie Pringle 

I had not really taken in the fact that she could not tell the time

‘Well, I never sort of mastered the clock”, she said vaguely, implying that were a great many other things which she had mastered in her time.

‘But how do you manage?’ I enquired, genuinely interested.

“I looks out for the Caxley’, she replied. ‘It gets to the church about the hour.’ (The Caxley is the local bus)

‘But not every hour.” I pointed out.

‘Yes…but there is also the church bell.’

‘It still seems rather hit and miss,’ I said.

Mrs Pringle – By Miss Read

When I read the above snippet, I threw my head back and laughed. Almost subconsciously, I glanced at the various apps on my smartphone to remind me about the day : there were calendars synced with my meeting schedules, alarms to remind me of certain events and classes for the children, timers to help the rice cooker turn itself off, the world clock app to let me know when it is okay to call my friends in the different corners of the globe. 

Maybe John Harrison (The man who came up with the design of a clock that could hold time during maritime vagaries such as storms and tidal waves without rusting or losing momentum in the sixteenth century) did not quite anticipate the extent to which the world would adhere to Time, but it is refreshing to think of a few people who are not ruled by the ticking of the clock.

Maybe we should have Do-Nothing Days in which neither the phones, nor the passing of time intrude. It will be a refreshing change for sure.

Note: The obsession with Time is called Chronomania and those who live in perpetual fear of time ticking, time passing have Chronophobia.

What do the Seasons look like?

Out on a walk today – I thought it would be a good way to start the cooling down from what turned out to be a heat wave of the likes that set new records in temperatures. 

While on the walk, I stood befuddled below some trees from which the leaves were falling. There was no cool breeze, and the sun-baked earth looked heavily in need of rains. But the leaves were gently starting to drift earthwards. The dissonance was loud, and the stillness louder. Falling leaves, changing colors, should all signify cooler temperatures, a move towards cozy indoor expectations et al. 

When that thought flitted into my mind, I smiled. For the clarity with which the thought came, belied the fact that for half my life, I had never known the beauty of Fall. Yet, once the brain knows, it does, and how unexpectedly this expectation of seasons took root in me was baffling.

I do not remember when I started observing the seasons – for they are not as stark in California as in the East Coast.

The next day on a bike ride, the son & I took a moment to recover. For the lakes we had seen brimming with water and teeming with fish and birds just a month ago, was now barren and dry. It has been one of the driest summers California has experienced, but even so, the shock of the dry lakes are hard to bear. What would the seasons be like on other planets?

While the rhythm of the seasons is hopefully predictable, I could not help looking for old pictures of the same ponds and lakes from a few weeks ago,

I stood there thinking of the deep comforting voice of Frank Sinatra

“Fly me to the Moon

I’d like to see Spring in Jupiter and Mars!”

Frank Sinatra

How marvelous it would be to get a glimpse into the different kinds of beauty in the universe? Are there other seasons in other planets? What is the music of each season?

The Other Dog

The Other Dog – By Madeleine L’Engle

Written by the legendary author of The Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle, I could barely believe it when I saw the well-loved book in the library. This book is written from the perspective of their dog, Touché L’Engle and how she welcomed the other dog everyone calls a baby.

The Other Dog – by Madeleine L’Engle Illustrated by Christine Davenier

It is a light-hearted and joyous book celebrating the life of their first pet, Touché . At one point in the book, I stopped and laughed out loud.

The Other Dog – By Madeleine L’Engle

I always tell my master and mistress

when the telephone or the doorbell rings.

No one could be more efficient,

more energetic,

more conscientious,

or louder

about this than I am

Madeleine L’Engle – The Other Dog

I remember my friend telling me a few years ago that their dog, with whom I shared a birthday, and was always very proud of it, had taken it upon himself to take care of the children. Which meant that every time one of her babies cried, the dog would bark too, and every time the door bell rang, he would bark too. 

As a visitor to their home, I found it all very amusing. I would ring the bell, listen to the gongs echo through their house, then the dog would bark, and usher me in with welcoming wags of his little tail. While there, if the baby so much as whimpered, the baby monitor would amplify the sounds and relay it to the room we were in. But that wasn’t enough:  the dutiful little dog took it upon himself to also convey the message, and so there was a grand flurry of activity every time the baby got up. 

I remember laughing so hard at all this activity, and my friend, tired as she was with a new baby in the house, joined in, and laughed heartily too. The dog was thoroughly bewildered. Had he not conveyed the message properly? THE BABY WAS CRYING! Why were we standing around laughing so hard that we had to clutch our stomachs?

What a lovely peek into the past that book was for me? Reading about the story of how the book came to be was fascinating in and of itself. Long before she became famous for her Wrinkle in Time she had written the book, The Other Dog, but it never made it to a publisher. Years later, long after Touché the dog had passed on, this book was published. Touché was a little grey poodle who was adored by fans for his appearance in stage plays in his youth. Reading about Touché, it was apparent that long after this death, Touché is also adored by all his book-reading fans.

Touché’s debut was in the production of Checkov’s The Cherry Orchard.

We go through life seeing many people who might’ve made good celebrities, and I am glad to say I have a met a dog or two in that category too. But fame, fickle as it is, can sit very poorly or gracefully on certain characters. It looks like Touché was gracefully accepting of his time on stage, and never let himself down from the higher standards of deportment he had set out for himself. If I were a celebrity, I would’ve learnt a thing or two from dear Touché.

Oh! The Places You’ll Go – By Dr Seuss

There is a general hum of excitement when  an Amazon package arrives outside the home. Is it some exciting thing required for the college-bound daughter, or something that would make the husband excited for his myriad hobbies, or another household item that would make yours truly beam?

Usually, the honors of opening the packages are done by the daughter with her adoring brother watching on. Hope I set the stage sufficiently:

Amazon package on porch

Children of house all expecting something for themselves open it

Oh The Places You’ll Go – By Dr Seuss

Oh The Places You’ll Go” by Dr Seuss. I held the book out to her and gave it to her as a college-going gift.

“Why would I take a children’s book to College Mother?” She said rolling her eyes and wishing her mother would have more sense. 

Her grandparents, on the other hand, were truly thrilled by the book. 

“What an excellent book ma? It was written the year before his death and has a lifetime of wisdom in it. Excellent book!” said the grandfather.

“Written in such simple terms for children to understand too. ” said the grandmother.

The grandmother and grandfather united in praise of a book shook her a little bit, but how could she? A near-18 year old, always sharing her ripe wisdom with her adoring brother, accept things that easily! 

I saw her steal a glance at the book.

You have brains in your head.

You have feet in your shoes

You can steer yourself

Any direction you choose.

Dr Seuss – Oh! The Places You’ll Go

I, for my part, was an amused spectator. This book was one of Dr Seuss’s that I read multiple times over – every time I face a bleak stop at the waiting station, or an exciting time where I hope to soar.

Waiting in Life

Dr Seuss’s book is an energetic reminder that life throws many curveballs, and somehow in this shared sense of struggle and being, a human camaraderie emerges. 

And when things start to happen,

Don’t worry. Don’t stew.

Just go right along.

You’ll start happening too.

Oh! The Places You’ll Go – By Dr Seuss

Every human has struggles, has ups and downs, waiting periods where nothing seems to happen. 

Every time, I talk to my friends and colleagues who in the course of their careers have inspired and taught me, I think how incredibly lucky I am to have had the ability to work with people like them.

And how, without our knowledge, we all lifted each other up.

You’ll be on your way up!

You’ll be seeing great sights!

You’ll join the high fliers

Who soar to high heights.

Oh! The Places You’ll Go – By Dr Seuss

And then, in particularly stressful periods, when you are in the waiting station, and have to learn to un-slump yourself, I read that too, as a reminder that life is never a smooth ride and everyone goes through phases of the not-so-happening, not-so-good.

Yet, at the very end, when the book assures you that all will be well. You do develop an optimism and hope that everything will turn out well in the end.

“And will you succeed?

Yes! You will, indeed!

98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed) 

KID-YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!

Oh! The Places You’ll Go – By Dr Seuss

It is no wonder that this book is popular as a gift for anyone starting out a new phase in life. 

Or not. It is a gift for all the times you need a reassurance of all that life takes.

%d bloggers like this: