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, 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
“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.
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.
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.
There are blues that are particularly attractive in clothing. For instance there was a deep sea blue nickname M S Blue, for the famed singer, M S Subbulakshmi first stylishly wore saris win that rich blue to concerts. Then there was the copper sulphate blue, turquoise blue, peacock blue, sky blue and navy blue.
Nevertheless, the book has many interesting aspects to the color blue. Starting from ceramics to precious stones and textile colors, the color blue has always enamored artists and patrons alike.
I found myself gleefully reading about the color, YinMn (pronounced yin-min) blue created by Dr Mas Subramanian that was later honored by having a color of its own created by Crayola the Crayon company. Made from Yttrium, Indium and Manganese, the color created a blue wave in the world of colors.
The chemical formula of YInMn Blue is YIn1-xMnxO3.
I always imagined the creatures of the ocean having an even higher frequency range of light perception than humans. So I envisioned them swimming and living in a brilliant world of coral reefs and kelp forests with the myriad shades of blue contributing to its beauty. Imagine my disappointment then that the book while explaining the cones that are present in our eyes to detect color indicate that whales, seals and many denizens of our blue seas cannot perceive the color blue and may well see the teeming coral reefs as grey on grey.
That made me feel blue – I am not going to deny that. (Though I must admit the color blue has never made me feel blue, so I wonder where the expression comes from.)
This book has re-awakened a dream of two science-based books that I have been meaning to write for children. One on colors and another on how different creatures perceive our world.
When can I become a mermaid?
To explore the forests of kelp
Or a butterfly
Or a blue jay or a hummingbird
So I can see the gardens of life abound through their wondrous roving eyes.
When I picked up the book, The Peace Tree from Hiroshima, I felt a familiar flutter of hope. The title promised a story about the best aspects of humankind. But little did I realize how moved I would be by the book. Published by Tuttle Publishing, which was set up to promote Asian stories in America post World War II, this is a heartwarming tale of a tree that became a symbol of peace between Japan & America.
The Miyajima or pine tree was handpicked in about 1625 when Mr Yamaki’s great great … great grandfather, Mr Itaro, went hiking in the mountains of an island, Miyajama – nicknamed the Island of the Gods for its scenic splendors. Ever since the pine lived in the home of the family: carefully tended for and handed over as a legacy from father to son. 400 years later, when the nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, somehow this family and the bonsai tree survived.
I had heard of Bonsai & Ikebana art, but did not truly understand what went into creating and preserving such magnificent specimens. When it comes to art forms with flowers and trees, the Chinese and Japanese have such a rich heritage.
In what is the most moving gesture of humanity, on America’s 200th anniversary, Japan gifted America with 50 bonsai trees (one for each state). The bonsai trees were special ones including 3 from the Emperor’s collection. This 400 year old Miyajima tree from Hiroshima was also part of that gift and now lives in the Arboretum in Washington where it has been christened The Peace Tree. This tree that saw humankind go through industrial revolutions, technological advances unseen before, and the worst blemish in warfare is now a Peace Tree. I hope I can visit the Washington Arboretum one day and be in the presence of this little 3 ft tree with a powerful message of hope, resilience and forgiveness.
It truly became The Little Bonsai with a Big Story
This little bonsai’s story along with the Cranes of Hope, will hopefully be a reminder to us on the horrors of war.
Towards the end of the book, the author writes a note indicating which parts of the story were fictionalized and which parts were true. They also include pictures of several bonsai trees including one that contains 11 trees in one arrangement, created by Bonsai artist, John Naka. Apparently, one of the longest living bonsai, Fudo, lived over 900 years old. It was bought by the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, but unfortunately this one did not survive the new conditions and died.
How could the miniature version of the magnificent large pine tree outside our house live as a bonsai tree for upwards of 400 years? Wonders never cease and artistry comes in so many forms.
Previously, when we’ve dipped our senses into another world, it was while being firmly rooted in our own. Peeking into the aquariums and viewing areas so painstakingly built for us by the ecologists and marine scientists, I always sent a wave of gratitude to those who enabled these magical moments.
It was with excitement and trepidation that we stood there listening to the instructions from our guide. Contrary to most snorkelers in the region, we were not experienced swimmers. As we slipped our feet into the paddles, a gurgle of hilarity hiccuped its way up and the children & I exchanged glances and started laughing. We did look ridiculous.
Getting a peek into the world of the ocean has always been a dream. Reading essays such as the Enchanted World by Gerald Durrell made the desire stronger.
Any naturalist who is lucky enough to travel, at certain moments has experienced a feeling of overwhelming exultation at the beauty and complexity of life
But there is one experience, perhaps above all others, that a naturalist should try to have before he dies and that is the astonishing and humbling experience of exploring a tropical reef. You become a fish, hear and see and feel as much like one as a human being can; yet at the same time you are like a bird, hovering, swooping and gliding across the marine pastures and forests
Gerald Durrell – Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons
While it had been so easy to slip our flippers on and off on land, the moment we had gentle waves lapping against us, simple tasks became a comedic trial of incompetence. I was glad to see that experienced swimmers struggled just as much as we did with this task. I may have smirked, and if I did, who could blame me.
As we moved on looking into the waters and observing the fish, there were moments when the flippers propelled us forward, and moments when the lungs rebelled with the excessive sea water that we were drinking in with each breath.(It takes some time to find the right degree, adjust the valves etc).
Whether we were watching the fish, or they were watching us was a philosophical question for I felt the fish swim by in delight and make several loops and gags around us. Schools of them – probably curious, and laughing at our inefficiency with the waters.
The fish frolicked, the humans shuddered; the schools of fish glided and gurgled happily while we sputtered and choked; the fish changed direction seamlessly while we struggled. If we entertained our piscine friends, I am happy.
Several minutes into our dip and frankly embarrassing foray into the ocean, our guide came gliding up like a fish himself and signaled us towards a large turtle (she-turtle he said), and we nodded. “It is illegal to touch a turtle these days, but you can see it from afar.”
We changed course (which is to say we all spat out some sea water, gulped some air and water, sputtered some more and set out in the approximate direction) flipping those comical looking flippers hard. And there, right in front of us was a large turtle with elegant fins swimming graciously in the waters. For those brief moments, we weren’t bumbling sea-water drinking sputterers lost in the ocean, but mesmerized and equally graceful spectators to one of the most elegant creatures on the planet.
This was magic. Days afterward, I can flash back in my mind to that clear image of the turtle with its large fins swimming on by us. A face structure that enables it to look like it is smiling and amused with life, the turtles smooth motion as it cut through the choppy waters of the Pacific Ocean was amazing.
How do bone structures, ligaments, tendons, and all the things that hold an organism together evolve by design to function thus? What marvelous creatures sentient beings are? Nerves, neurons, cells, tissue, blood, ligaments, flesh and bone- but all of this coming together to become thinking beings with intent.
I obviously have been looking for pictures of all that satisfies this marine curiosity ever since. My curiosity was rewarded by this book :
What an enormous wonder it is to be a sentient, logical, and functioning being in this complex world? For that one marvelous dip into the world of the sea creatures, I am grateful beyond words can describe.
The week at Kauai in Hawaii was beautiful. During the days afterward, the little island images would flit in and out like waves on a beach. Sometimes the imagery so powerful that they would refresh and restore from afar. The turtles would swirl in the ocean waves, the turquoise waters would gently lap the golden sands, or splash against the rocky beaches, the birds would chirp merrily, and every now and then the school of fish or that large turtle- would flash up an image from the reefs below.
The flowers of the island, Leilani pua would gently sway in the ocean breeze, the sounds of the rains that were difficult to predict and never long to endure would patter into one’s consciousness.
The general light of the island would be suffused into the surroundings.
As life settles into its usual routines, there is a rose-tinted tinge to the world that is slowly but steadily fading. I now have to recall the turtles, as opposed to them showing up unannounced. I cling on though.
Looking back at the pictures from the vacation, I realize that tropical island vacations have a timbre and light that is wholly separate from the rest of the world. Who was that who said that No man was an island? Imagine a world where each of us is an island.
(Words from the book, Imagine A Place – Words By Sarah L Thomson, Images by Rob Gonsalves)
I stop to admire the roses, and compare and contrast their multi-layered rose-scented beauty with the elegant and highly simple-structured plumerias in the Hawaiian islands.
How complicated and simple life can be – and how beauty to be found in both aspects of life.
The island doesn’t leave you, and it seems to remind me of the importance of the solitude and refreshing nature of this little island in oneself, to be pulled up at will when life tugs you in every which way.
In the book, a child leaves the environs of the city to go and live with his grandparents in the countryside. The lake and forest nearby look inviting and the child starts exploring on his own.
Usually, when I take a color photograph of a luscious green forest or a beautiful waterbody, I prefer the picture in all its glory. Even if it does seem over-saturated at times. But in this book, the muted colors do nothing to diminish the relaxing feel of the book.
The author says that she wrote the book after a week back from a relaxing sojourn with nature and the moment I came back from a vacation in Hawaii I picked up the book. In the book, it is the lake the boy dives into. We dipped into the ocean, and the height of the skies we explored with a helicopter ride.
In one glorious day we soared to the skies and took in an aerial view of the beautiful island of Kauai – soaring over the cliffs of the Na Pali coast and diving into the rocky coral reefs for an afternoon of snorkeling.
Not all of us in our group were good swimmers. So, in order to experience the joys of the oceanic creatures, we learnt swimming everyday in the past month.
Was it worthwhile? Resounding yes! We swam in the sublime beaches of Hanalei Bay and during snorkeling were able to see schools of fish and a large sea turtle swim right by us, along with marvelous creatures such as parrotfish, sea cucumbers etc.
We could not take our phones while snorkeling, so this is a pic of a turtle while I sat on the rocks above.
The height of the sky and the depth of the oceans are both within us.
We are back from a beautiful few days in Kauai, Hawaii.
There is something about the light and sights of an island paradise that always amaze me. Even the darkness seems to be scented by a different tint of light (could it be that the surrounding oceans make for darker skies and the magical stars spread their light more?)
As Gerald Durrell says about the island of Corfu in his writing:
“Gradually the magic of the island settled over us as gently and clingingly as pollen. Each day had a tranquillity, a timelessness, about it, so that you wished it would never end. But then the dark skin of night would peel off and there would be a fresh day waiting for us, glossy and colourful as a child’s transfer and with the same tinge of unreality.”
One morning, two days into our vacation in the Garden Island, Kauai, we decided to have a slower morning. We had been rushing and ticking sights off our list ever since we arrived. So, that morning, we lolled and strolled nearby. A tourist magnet like Hawaii doesn’t have too many hidden gems, but walking through the streets has gems enough. We strolled to a nearby lagoon or bay with some rough hidden spots. We sat on the rocks watching the waters slosh into the rocks below. There is something surprising every time we stop and still our senses.
10 minutes into sitting on the rocks and watching the waters below was enough. We spotted 3 large turtles almost all at once. The children and I squealed at the turtles 🐢 swimming and sloshing in the rough waters below. To see a large sea turtle in the ocean is a gift few get, and even fewer appreciate. As for us, we were thrilled.
The delight and serendipity of a sight like lit the world around us. Even now, when I close my eyes, I can see the magnificence of the sea turtles coming up, looking around and ducking back in with the waves.
That afternoon, a helpful lady at the resort told us about a hike in a mahogany forest, and off we went. Through the forest, with the sun light filtering though the green canopy overhead, there was a diversion marked ‘Enchanted Forest’. How could one resist a path marked thus? Off we tread into the enchanted forest then, and enchanted it was. There were clumps of touch-me-nots every few feet, and the quiet of the forest only interspersed with the chittering of the exotic Hawaiian birds was magical.
That evening, as I closed my eyes for the night, the turtles came unbidden to wish me good night – sloshing and rolling in the tumultuous waters of the bay. I clutched the firm bed, made probably of mahogany wood, and couldn’t help feeling a sense of gratitude for the enchanted turtles and forests that bless our days on Earth.
Everywhere on social media and news platforms were images from the James Webb telescope magnifying in glorious detail sections of the universe billions of light years away. The universe has enlightened us all and reminded us of our humble place in it once again. In the midst of all this chaos, and enormous gas clouds is a tiny planet where our particular kind of life evolved capable of acquiring these images.
After a walk under the stars, our corner of the universe seems sanguine – the countryside of the cosmic arena. In our suburban areas, not too many stars are visible, and the gas clouds in the James Webb photographs seem surreal. The universe is a happening place – stars and galaxies being born every day, yet the rise of our faithful moon glowing rose-gold in the early evening makes for a satisfying adventure enough in the cosmos.
“The laws that govern the light from a firefly in my backyard as I write these words tonight also govern the light emitted from an exploding star one billion light-years away. Place changes nothing. Nor does time. One set of fixed rules runs the game, in all times and places. That’s as big a truth as we Earthlings have discovered, or ever will, in our brief run.”