Mothers and Calves

During the few months of spring and early summer, the bay area resembles fairy land itself. The mustards are blooming alongside the lupines and golden poppies forming a profusion of yellows, violets and oranges against the lush green backdrop of the grassy hills.

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As I made my way through the green hills with my friends, who unwittingly agreed to a walk on a Friday evening, I chirped on happily. A few minutes in, there we were stalled in our tracks, faced with a herd of happy cows who didn’t seem too happy to see us. Right across our path they stood clustered around holding a conference of sorts, while one calf decided that the best place to drink mother’s milk was the pathway. This was one of the few places on the trail where a steep ravine drops on one side, and a rather incline presents itself on the other.

So, we stood, patiently awaiting the calf to finish drinking milk. Looking at my friends’ faces – not to mention the cows’ faces, I realized that this may not be the best time to tell them heartwarming stories of the elephant calf drinking milk on the Bandipur highway. (Galactic Plumes) So, I cheesed it, but here it is:

Along the roads from Karnataka towards the Nilgiri Hills are thick forests on either side. The Bandipur and Mudumalai national forests lie on this path. A drive through these roads is picturesque and can grant many marvelous views. Bison, spotted deer, and elephants are only a few of the marvels along this road. One such time when I had taken the night bus home, the bus stopped with its headlights off, and did not budge. The whole bus was awake within minutes and all of us were starting to get excited in those loud tones when the bus driver and conductor shushed everyone vehemently and told us to quieten down. It was apparent from their faces that there was potential trouble. Peering out into the road, we realized, they were indeed correct. There, in the middle of the road – on a national highway no less, stood an elephant mother, and her calf, who had decided to drink milk at 2 a.m. 

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While this may seem a trifle dramatic, the one thing elephant mothers do not tolerate is being disturbed when their infants are feeding. There have been several instances of a mother elephant losing it, and sending vehicles tumbling down ravines if disturbed. So, we waited. The waiting vehicles snaked for miles on each side, while the calf drank peacefully in the glow of the moonlight, and the headlights dimmed out of courtesy. How no one honked is beyond me, for Indian traffic is not known for its patience. Maybe, the road only attracted regulars, and they knew the ways of the forest creatures well. In perfect silence, the hundreds of vehicles waited on either side, quietly, patiently. Finally after 45 minutes, the calf had had its share, and the mother sagely moved to the forest. The drivers let out a perceptible sigh and slowly revved their engines on again, before proceeding. 

Where am I going with this? Well, replace the elephant with a cow, and add a herd of them in the middle of the road, and that was the situation facing us. We stood there, carefully waiting for the calf to finish its evening snack. Whoever termed the phrase ‘Mama bear’ got it right. Mamas aren’t to be messed with especially when they are in Mothering mode. It was a fitting lesson for Mothering day. (In the UK, Mothering day, different from Mother’s Day, is celebrated close to Easter.) 

I don’t know if you have ever walked through a herd of cows and calves before. If you haven’t let me assure you, it isn’t easy. It isn’t that the cows are going to do anything. Like the son said fairly during the wait, “We are in its home. So, it is better we wait!”, but the weight of even a calf is enough to send us tumbling down, and no one wants a stampede of cows. 

Anyway, we stood there feeling braver and looking dafter every passing minute. Funny how the braver we felt, the farther we seemed to be inching away from the cows. The cows seemed to be enjoying every minute of the predicament too. There were amused glances and tittering amongst them, I swear! Pretty soon, a cyclist came buzzing down and just parted the herd as he made his way past them. This seemed to give us courage, and we made our way too, though I must say I almost wet myself when the calf and mother gave me a warning as we passed. 

In ‘The Road To Little Dribbling‘, Bill Bryson writes of encountering cows in his walks. I couldn’t help thinking of the book at several points in the walk.

You know how we anthropologize our fellow creatures? I think this particular cow was messing with us. Probably make for a hilarious retelling at the water hole later on. You see, there she was, grazing on the hillsides, and just as she saw us coming, she turned a quiet eye towards us mocking us, and shuffled onto the road. There was simply nothing for us to do, but for us to scramble on to the hillsides ourselves while she looked on amused. The setting sun on one side, and a bright full-ish moon on the other, this picture is truly priceless. If only I could share it with the cow, so it lends her tale credence at the water hole! 

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People sometimes ask me what it is I find so enthralling in nature that I rave about it so much. Well: This is just it.

“I like being in a country where when cows attack, word of it gets around. That’s what I mean when I say Britain is cozy.”
Bill Bryson, The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island

The Joy-o-meter

“I read the book like Appa watches a movie! Done in 15 minutes, but got the gist. “ I said to general laughter. When the Spring cleaning bug bites, the family scuttles, and shy away from me like a horse that choked on plastic flowers once, and whinnies at the fresh wildflowers in the fields. 

“Really Amma! You too?” said the children

I admit I usually do not resort to the skimming technique. But this time, I read the Marie Kondo book on The Magic of Tidying Up.  “Well …. You know how some books have all they need to say in an article, but make books and songs out of them? That was this book. In essence, the table of contents should suffice, but if you want the nub of the thing, it is: If something doesn’t spark joy discard it!” 

“So, why are you still here?” Came the answer pat. Really! The speed of the repartee, I will never learn I tell you. I just walk into traps, and then goggle like a famished gargoyle, with these smart-alecks in the home. 

I sniffed a haughty sniff, and continued. “Anyway, I am going to apply the concept to the whole house. So, if something sparks joy in you, keep it, else junk it. Spring cleaning starts tomorrow!” I said in my best energetic cleaner voice. Dark looks were exchanged, some mutterings were heard, and talk was ripe of hoping that I would head out into those long walks that have me famished by the end of it all, so I spare the lot the anguish of losing things. The problem is of course that the things the children are passionate about and the things I am passionate about, are not an intersecting set. Consequently, the last time, I threw away a cardboard box, I spent a trying afternoon with the son who behaved like a gladiator losing his arena. I have since learnt my lesson, and they are given a warning. 

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I started the morning with my closet feeling like Mole spring cleaning his home in The Wind in the Willows.

The Mole had been working hard all morning spring cleaning his little home.

I must tell you. How do you mean ‘spark joy’? Some clothes you see are out of fashion, have some problems, faded etc. But mostly I seem to have clothes that I liked. So, how to deploy the joy-o-meter by them? 

Almost all my ethnic clothes evoked memories – does that count as sparking joy? For instance, I picked up the pink skirt bought in a bazaar in Jaipur. The blue hand-drawn elephants were not exactly life-like, but I could not stop the memories from marching in. The sister-in-law and I had had a tete-a-tete with the skirt vendor, and we landed up enjoying tea, pakoras, and a long chat on local artisans and design techniques, while the husband stood nearby sounding like a cooker letting out impatient steam.

Or the carefully hand woven and fabric painted dupatta that I had decided was too much to buy in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk bazaar, and settled for more utilitarian lunch boxes.  Imagine my glee then, only to find that the lovely dupatta was bought for me by the loving family on a subsequent shopping trip seeing how much I liked it. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

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Or the dancing saree that captured my spirit? The one with ballet dancers and Bharatnatyam dancers printed on them in unison – East-West collaboration at its saree best. 

The only ones I could apply the rule to, seemed to be the mass produced mall clothes bought in ‘Sale’ sections, which wasn’t much.

If there was a usage ratio to apply, almost all of the ethnic clothes can be set aside. If there was a cost to the environment ratio to be applied, one must keep these clothes till we use them at least a few times before discarding them. Over this, one must apply the cultural umbrella of using new clothes for every occasion, and the result is a sorry state of affairs.

I wonder if joy-o-meter designs can use all these variables. 

I looked pityingly at the disappointing results of the morning scourge. Feeling a bit of a hypocrite, I told the children to save anything they liked, and almost instantly regretted it, for the son ran for the largest cardboard box set for the recycling bin and said – “Dibs! I want this in my room!” 

No wonder the Mole preferred to scurry outside into the beautiful spring rather than finish spring cleaning his home.

“The joy of living and the delight of spring made him jump into the air, and he raced across the meadow ….” – The Wind in the Willows

The Joy-O-Meter swung to the right, and all was well with the world.

Spring Fever

“Why do goats looks so stern? I thought they are happy especially now in spring-time. Like lambs in spring-time could also mean like goat-kids in spring-time, no?”

The children exchanged looks. They knew to diagnose my bout of Spring Fever. I am seen scuttling off to sniff the air and marvel at life sitting up and stirring from its sleepy winter state. I head into the house looking flushed and happy. By evening, I am tired, but refuse to reduce the dose of spring bounding. But still this talk of stern looking goats had them worried.

“Ma?! You okay? Why are we talking of goats now?” said the daughter a mock-solicitous look in her eye, and I laughed out loud, and told them the context of the goat-ish tale.

“Well, it all started like this. Do you remember last Friday evening being  particularly beautiful? So, I shut the laptop with a whim, and headed out into the sunset. The hills were alive with the magic of spring. I told myself poetically that I could not bear to be a cell in a spreadsheet anymore. I wanted to be a newly sprouted leaf on a tree, a whimsical flower fluttering away in the mild breeze, or a Finnish fainting goat chewing thoughtfully at that latest blade of grass.

“Not for me the confines of mankind! Get rid of the shackles, and head out! “ I said.

” Uh-hm – someone would think you have a mission you are fighting for. How many times will you take pictures of the cherry blossoms and the clouds, and the sunset, hmm?” said the children but I waved these things away. Days like this are not meant to be wasted indoors arguing about the wisdom or lack thereof of going outdoors.

For a few months of the year, our neck of the woods resembles fairy lands, or the lands of the gods, or maybe heaven itself. The occasional rains, the burst of wildflowers, and the sunsets are all glorious. So much so that I find myself wandering around the countryside apparently lost, but really just finding the inner self. At least it is what I tell myself when that pile of laundry needs washing or that closet needs cleaning. Marie Kondo urges me to better myself, but Early Spring is more inviting. 

The fox squirrels atop the plum blossoms look naughty, while the fainting goat looks stern, the horse in the pastures peaceful, and the sunset glorious.

Where was I? Yes, on the stern looks of Finnish fainting goats. I had often wondered while reading the Three Billy Goats Gruff why the author went in for Gruff, but I see the choice of the word as I stood there admiring the serene setting against which the Finnish Fainting goat stood in its patch of farmland.

“Anyway, ” I said getting back to the point of stern goats, “I suppose if I had foul folks like me boggling at their spot of residence in that manner just because it is Spring, I would be gruff too! But the goat has a manner that is at once endearing, sober and majestic. The clump of fur on its chin growing away like a goatee (Get it? Get it? Goats have goatees!) made it look wise, and the green grass it chomped on made the world look a sweeter place.”

The children moaned not unlike the goat, and said, “Why not just call it a goat, why this fancy Finnish Fainting Goat?”

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“That is easy my dears. Google assures me that the picture I took of the goat is a Finnish Fainting Goat. And in any case, I doubt you would have listened patiently if I said I would tell you a story about a goat. No you would not have. But a Finnish Fainting Goat got your attention, did it not?” I said feeling clever.

“Ma?!” said the daughter, clenching her teeth. “You haven’t told us the story of the goat. You told us about the goat…you know what?! Never mind!”

“Yes…Never mind.” I said using that conciliatory spring-time tone, and said, “I will take you hiking there to see the old fellow. I am sure you all will like him. Looks like a satyr of your Greek myths. There is your story! Percy Jackson stuff on our next hike! ”

I ignored the ensuing groans. The fainting goat satyr and narcissus blooms will help.

Musings: Whally Mousical

 I was reading to the son’s classroom. I had planned out two little sections – one from the Tale of Despereaux and the other a true story of a pod of whales saved from the iced in waters of Siberia. The theme linking the two was music. I started, and the little musicians looked thrilled. I was too.

As I turned to the start of Chapter 4 in which the little mouse who was different finally understands what that honey-sweet sound was. I felt like Despereaux myself as I read about how little Despereaux felt a welling in his heart for the music, and how he slowly forgot where he was, or what he was doing. Slowly, he inched out from his hole, listening, mesmerized to the king playing music. As I read it out aloud to the children, I wanted to stifle a laugh, for a childhood memory peeked out of its deep hole the same way that Despereaux did. 

“And he discovered, finally, the source of the honey-sweet sound.

The sound was music.

The sound was King Phillip playing his guitar and singing for his daughter, the Princess Pea, every night before she fell asleep.

Hidden in a hole in the wall of the princess’s bedroom, the mouse listened with all his heart. The sound of the King’s music made Despereaux’s soul grow large and light inside of him.

Oh,” he said, “it sounds like heaven. It smells like honey.” 

Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux

We lived in the chilly mountainsides, and often times, the cold outside attracted rats and mice into the warm house. Several times, when music was playing in the old tape recorder, we would notice a mouse peeping cautiously and just listening. Curious as to what the noises meant maybe, but maybe not. One of the family would shriek, and the pater would at first try to quieten us down saying it was just a little mouse enjoying some music – so what, or something to that effect, only to have a somewhat more hysterical reaction. 

Almost reluctantly would ensue a hilarious game of hockey sticks against furniture trying to get the mouse. Mice are as nimble as well, mice, and humans are – how do I put this kindly? Clumsy. Well-fed humans have several disadvantages stacked against them as they go about the mouse chase:

* Leaning back in the chair after a good meal listening to music in the background has made them soporific, so while the hockey stick is meant to be a tool, it is often used as prop against which to lean on to catch a breath

* They lack the right motive to catch a mouse. The human’s motive is to see if they can tumble in another gulab jamun into the tummy before bed. The mouse’s is to get to the hole

* Crowd sentiment is hard to gauge. The mouse chaser is in the tough spot of being a warrior and a saviour. While the shrieking indicated that something must be done, if something were done, the shriekers would be devastated and clamor for animal rights. So, the mouse chaser has to diplomatically chase the mouse, but not harm it in anyway.

 By the end of this jolly game of mouse chasing, the furniture has received several whacks from the hockey stick, and the mouse has strolled into its hole, while the music lilts on from the tape recorder. Which takes me to the curious scenario of mice in kings courts. I wonder how a mouse must’ve been treated in the king’s court. Would the musicians stop playing, while the commotion continued, or would they lilt on? The shriekers would be more, and therefore the motive higher. Would the courtiers gallantly prove their loyalty to the king by mouse chasing themselves, or let the warriors go for it?

They say a mouse’s brain is closest in structure to the human brain, so is that why we enjoy music together? 

New Items: Lab Rats Listen to Mozart and Become Maze Busters

So Mozart turns rats into maze-busters. But does it have a similar effect on humans?

I suppose The Pied Piper of Hamelin knew what he was doing. 

The story of the effect of Classical Music on Whales is equally mesmerizing. From the book, The Symphony of Whales, By Steve Schuch

The story, is based on a real incident that happened in the narrow Senyavina Straits of Siberia. Over 3000 beluga whales had been trapped by the rapidly freezing waters in 1984-1985. For seven weeks, the people of the Chukchi peninsula, and the crew of the Moskva risked their lives to save the whales.

The story does not end there. Once the icebreaker ship, Moskva, had cleared the way, the whales had to follow the ship out into the open seas, but they were reluctant to do so. The crew tried playing whale song to lure them. While they reacted to the music, they were not assured of human intent, and were still scared of the engine sound. They lurked in the waters.  Then they tried Classical Instrumental Music.

“The crew found some classical music. First, the sweet sounds of violin and violas, next the deeper notes of the cellos and, deepest of all, the string basses…and way up high, a solo violin…

Everyone fell silent as the music carried over the waters.”

That had done the trick. The ship’s engines started and the whales slowly followed the icebreaker out into the open ocean.

Some musings are whally mousical, and all the more whimsical for it. The children seemed to enjoy the reading too. Their wondrous brain did not once question why a mouse liked music or how whales, mice and humans liked the same kind of music. 

Coming Soon: Musicophilia

Sunny Side Up

California is bursting with beauty in Spring. Sometimes, the beauty is unimaginable in the literal sense of the world. When I close my eyes at night,  I see upon my mind’s eye the flowers rushing to bloom, and the leaves sprouting etc, but reality is much better. Hope is stirring, and I feel a great need to join nature’s party. 

The pandemic lifestyle has chipped into my reading time somewhat, so I felt a treat was in order. Uncle Fred in the Springtime, by P. G. Wodehouse was that treat. I spent time with the decision. Like an excited toddler told that they can choose either the candy or the ice cream. Should I visit Bertie Wooster & Jeeves, or the beautiful gardens of Blandings Castle? 

As I sat squashed between a rosemary bush on the left, a lavender patch behind me and purple verbena flowers (I think) on the right, I felt like Lord Ickenham (Uncle Fred) myself. A great sense of peace and a sanguine sense all-will-be-well stole over me. 

Uncle Fred in the Springtime by [P. G. Wodehouse]

Not for the first time did I thank the universe for sunny minds like P.G.Wodehouse. I suppose there are quite a few like him in this world- thank goodness he chose to share his bounty with us. 

A telling piece had me analyzing life from various angles and my restive spirit bounded off on its own. A helpful bee buzzed me back to the gardens of Shropshire where Lord Emsworth waited patiently with his large pig, The Empress of Blandings. 

“Anyone ignorant of the difference between a pessimist and an optimist would have been able to pick up a useful pointer of two by scanning the faces of this nephew and this uncle. The passage of time had done nothing to relieve Pongo’s apprehensions regarding the… As always when fate had linked his movements with those of the head of the family, he was feeling like a man floating over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

Lord Ickenham, on the other hand, was all that was jovial and debonair. Tilting his hand at a jaunty angle, he gazed about him with approval at the decorous station which has for so many years echoed to the tread of county families.”

I felt for Pongo Twistelton. To hobnob with one with such an optimistic outlook as Lord Ickenham isn’t all roses and lavender, as I knew only too well.  The husband suffers from incorrigible optimism, and it is most trying. When you’d like to blow a few whistles like a cooker with too much pressure built up, it doesn’t help to see your partner-in-exactly-the-same-situation bleating happily and behaving like all these pressures are life’s little gifts meant to tease and ease our life.

The t-shirt his children chose for him has the phrase: ‘There is 50% water, 50% air, Technically, the glass is completely full!’

And he deserves every syllable of it. 

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Personality perplexes all the time. I have wondered how perfectly stout fellows with excellent circumstances in life, go about life like their last bondas were nicked from under their nose perpetually; and how others who have their last bondas nicked from under their noses, go about singing and shrugging it off saying, ‘That last bonda would really have been too much. Truly marvelous!”

The Disney Pixar movie, Soul, hits the mysteries of personalities bang on the head.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gs–6c7Hn_A

Who enters the optimistic tent and which ones were lured into the pessimistic tents? Could we find a way to get us some optimism? The surest way I’ve found is via a peek into the ‘sunlit perfection’ of the worlds created by sunny minds such as P G Wodehouse.

For those moping about life, please head outdoors and take a sprig of spring. All others, please do the same. 

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Roving on Planets

Standing outside by the curbside of our home one night, my eyes were drawn to the beautifully illumined Sirius shining bright in the night sky. Sirius has been looking brighter than usual in the winter skies, and I have often stared at the blinking star wondering what was happening that far away in the Universe.  Every dot in the night sky suggesting a universe of possibilities. The space between dots showing the emptiness, the dots themselves, bright and important only because of the surrounding darkness

Almost subconsciously, my eyes moved over to the red spot Mars. For here, in our own solar neighborhood, we know that something is happening. Something of human interest, and intent. To think that on that distant reddish spot in the sky, 3 generations of rovers have spent the time taking photographs and trying to determine the existence of life on the planet, is surreal. Not to mention the fact that they have been able to transmit the pictures back to Earth for analysis. 

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The planet has long beckoned us with its allure. All those Science Fiction writers, who used the planet as the home for their fertile imagination, paved the way for these missions. 

Fiction on Mars isn’t new. In fact, the red planet invited writers as early as mid-1800’s to set their stories there. Long before knowing anything about the sounds on Mars, the temperatures, or the atmospheres; worlds were set in it. War of the Worlds had the strangest creatures that human imagination could think of (cephalopod like creatures), who could overpower humans. (This quest for dominance vs courteous co-existence is a pet peeve – why must we turn everything into a conquest? But then, do ants wonder the same about us?) 

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Throughout the week, the little cosmologist in the house interspersed our Earthly life with Mars-ly anecdotes and clips. 

Do you know? If we want to live on Mars, we have to have high metal barrier suits. If you go out on an adventure without a suit, there is so much radiation that it could kill you. “ (He had read a novel set in Mars)

Wonder what happened to all water on Mars. The video said there really was water there.” (He has been watching the NASA  videos with interest)

One evening, we sat together huddled up, watching pictures stitched together from the 3 Mars rovers: Opportunity, Curiosity, Perseverance. Barren desert landscapes, not unlike those in the Sahara desert or the Arizonian deserts, are all the rovers could see. In some shots, the commentator says the NASA team stitched thousands of individual images together to gain a clearer view. In some pictures, a blue sky is visible  (the commentator says that NASA colored the skies blue, so as to be able to see the images better, and I thought about how pretty blue skies are and how blue is a very rare color in nature. )

Curiosity and Perseverance will help us find answers. Till then, we have the opportunity to ponder and puzzle about these things. More than any of these curious wanderings, the one thing that the Martian landscape reinforces to me, is that our Earth is a beautiful planet – so vast in its diversity, and lifeforms. The Martian pictures make me want to go out and sigh and fall in love, look after, and cherish the one planet we can thrive on. To admire the miracle that is every tree, every lake, every cloud, every blade of grass, and every flower. 

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Not to mention the great miracle of life in the form of marine creatures, land based creatures and those that are able to aerially survey our beautiful planet. 

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If Martian 4K resolution images have taught me anything, it is to buckle down and look after the one planet we do have. If I am to be roving on planets, why not this beautiful one that has so much to offer?

“I walk in the world to love it.” – Mary Oliver

The 3 Cs

The daughter was educating me on Cancel Culture. I sometimes get classes such as these from the snarky teenage daughter. The syllabus is contemporary and loosely defined. Topics include ‘vibing’ with the times, progressive thinking patterns, book/movie reviews etc. This, she says, is necessary for someone like me who knows nothing about trends, latest pop culture references etc. “I get by!”, I tell her. But even as I say it, I get the feeling that I must sound like a wheezy dinosaur who hibernated too long and woke up in today’s age to her. Time is a curious entity for I remember the parents laughing when I enlightened them on some of these things as a teenager. 

“Anyway, want to come for a walk with me?” 

“Nope – going by myself.”

In the written medium, it is hard to pull off the time-lapse between the question and the ‘nope’ because there was none. Immediate response. Nope. Going by myself. 

“Fine! Be that way! Canceling walks with mom huh?!” I said, rolling my eyes. It did not seem to bother the girl. Off she went, straight backed and a little wave of her hand as a response. 

A few minutes later, I set out on a walk by myself, and who should I find? But the darling daughter, in apparent distress too.

“Hey! I am here!” I said waving inelegantly. I was thrilled to be seeing her, but by the looks of her reaction, I was no better than a twig fallen from the trees bereft of leaves above. Some people quietly act like their raised hand was just an attempt to stretch or straighten their hair. Nonchalance, ease, grace are all words that come to mind. Yours truly, on the other hand, upped the efforts. I was now gushing steam from my trunk-like spout of a nose, and waving like elephant ears in mid-sprint warding off pesky flies, not to mention sounding like a hoarse trumpet. 

I finally attracted the child’s attention. As I should have guessed, she had air-pods stuck in her ear-lobes and seemed relieved to see me. Her slipper straps were broken, and she needed help hobbling back home. 

It was a beautiful, sunny February day, The cherry blossoms were in bloom everywhere, the trees had not yet started to grow their leaves, and the blue blue skies above made for a perfect day! Though it was technically winter still, Spring was clearly in the air. If I lived near fields, hedgehogs may have been up and about. I didn’t know. All I knew for certain was that yellow thrushes, sparrows, and blackbirds had all hatched, and the air about us was rich with the twittering of birds. I said as much to the daughter. She rolled her eyes. 

“Yes Miss Different. I know you don’t think you are like me, but look at you mooning about the roads on a beautiful day inhaling the deep fresh air! “

She had the grace to laugh. I looked around sniffing rapturously and stopped. There was a beautiful patterned bug going about its business by the sage and lavender bushes. “Oh! Look – such a beautiful pattern on its back too!”

“Amma! Don’t touch it. This is a red bug – it is probably poisonous!” she said. 

“That’s Color-ist! So, what now if a bug is red, it is poisonous?! Going cancel-culture on red bugs now, are we? Oooh! “ I said. She laughed, and I carried on, feeling encouraged, “What about ladybugs huh?! You were constantly telling me to bend down and watch lady bugs slurry about in spring time when you were a child. Are they poisonous too?!”

“No….it is their defense mechanism. “ 

“Huh! How interesting!” I said. I think the genuine surprise and curiosity in my voice took her aback somewhat. But she liked it, and carried on. “Yes…monarch butterflies for instance are that bright orange for a reason. They are poisonous to birds, and birds know to leave them alone. So, painted lady butterflies evolved that way as a defense mechanism. They look very similar, but they aren’t poisonous.”

“Wow! You know so many interesting things. That is why I ask you everyday to go for a walk with me my dear.”

“Yeah! Ma! This is 4th Grade Science.” she said in her Elementary-my-dear-Watson voice. We laughed and sailed home together. I think Maria Meriam would have approved of our natural wonders lesson in Spring time.

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science – Joyce Sidman

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Love and Rainbows

“By the way, how is Valentine’s Day this year for you kids?” I asked. This year, with Covid, Valentine’s day celebrations seemed to be muted too.

Valentine’s Day in elementary school can be fun. Though I will carry on and on about the commercialization of love etc, I do love the way the occasion has made its way into elementary grade classrooms. There are manifestations of love everywhere – from painstakingly drawn cards to candy for their friends, the love can be overwhelming and just as it should be at that stage of life: I feel all of life is there to make cynics out of a few of them, romantics out of a few of them and hard-core pragmatists out of another few and fools of us all 🙂

“Oh! It is awesome! Rem-em-ber I told about you the slideshow and the decorations we are making?” I vaguely uh-huh-ed. A lot of things are told, and un-huh-ed at. “Well…we are making slides for each of us, and we get to write our cards out for every person on this.”

I liked the idea very much, and said so. “What a marvelous idea?! Was it your teacher’s?” The fellow beamed.

I really like how the younger children get to see love in its more wholesome form. They love their parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, teachers, friends, siblings, caregivers and pets. It all gets a bit wearying when they want to make cards for them all, but I prefer that to the more narrow interpretation leading to conjugal harmony( or not) one day.

The week-end had a loving vibe throughout. The mater, a stoic sort of person, has also seen year after year the hoopla around Valentine’s Day, and sent a note wishing them a happy Valentine’s Day. (“Maybe we should have paati checked – is everything okay?” said the snarky teenage grand-daughter, but beamed at the approval she got from her grandmother for the brownies she had baked and decorated with cherry blossoms for the occasion. ) 

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This Valentine’s Day started off with me heading out with some of my girl friends for a lovely brisk walk that morphed into a saunter at places, and breath-taking gasps at others. As we made our ways past the suburban built up areas, past the railway tracks and the main roads, the spirits lifted with the scenery around us. The creek side, lakes, and green mountains in the distance made for a lovely, if long-ish walk.

As we headed back to civilization after mooning about the fields, we found ourselves walking along side a rainbow. Why do rainbows have a way of assuring us that all will be well? That magic exists in everyday droplets of water and the play of light.

“So, Ladies, Happy Valentine’s Day!” I said flourishing my umbrella against the rainbow. 

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I headed into the house and told the children and the husband how I thought of them and missed them when I saw the rainbow.

“What a poetic way to celebrate Valentine’s Day huh? We were happy snoozing in late, and you were thinking of us and sending us love seeing the rainbow and all that?! Life is as it should be!” said the philosophers, and I rolled my happy eyes.

I couldn’t help agreeing as I enjoyed the sidewalk chalk drawing made by some children outside.

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Making Cherry Blossoms

The daughter’s gift for Christmas was an embroidery kit. It was a small one, but detailed enough to give me joy. The gift made for many cold nights with the heater at my feet, music or some television in the background, the Christmas tree lights twinkling and the embroidery kit at hand. 

There is a kind of meditative feel to needling the thread and pulling it just so, and smoothing it this way and that. The restive spirit in me, usually rising and ebbing like a tide, was strangely lulled into calm and focus. As the little piece came into being, so did my peace. 

Many an unsullied moment from childhood spent in the sunny embroidery room in our Arts & Crafts building at school sailed before my mind’s eye, and I was grateful for all the things that we go through life learning to do.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do  with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver

Watching my zen-like state, the daughter said she wanted to try crochet or knitting just for the fun of it, the son wanted to take up painting so he could draw for hours on end like his sister does. The resulting mess in his bedroom floor was appalling, and many a vocal chord strained at decibel levels only opera singers attempt, but the fun was real. 

If that isn’t a gift, I don’t know what is. I remember reading somewhere that the biggest gift we can give our children the ability to feel bored, and occupy themselves through it.

“I very much wished not to be noticed, and to be left alone, and I sort of succeeded. ” – Mary Oliver

Just in time, for the real cherry blossoms to bloom, my own little embroidery of the cherry blossoms and the blackbirds is done. While I stand looking at the real beautiful cherry blossoms, I know the embroidered ones are a poor imitation. But that does not take away the joy of cozy evenings. Hygge is real.

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I roam the rain-washed earth with fresh eyes, admiring, paying attention to the petals and the chrysalis. I stand watching the black birds, swallows and hummingbirds swooping and swirling swiftly by the cherry blossoms. The other day, a squirrel nibbled at the blossoms and shook the tree, sending a heavenly shower of petals down below. Blessings come in all forms, don’t they?

I bent down to pick up a cherry blossom flattened by the heavy rains last night, and marveled. There was no needle creating one petal at a time, no tugging, pulling, no mistakes. There was no satin stitch, stem stitch, or leaf stitch. There was just perfection. The soft petals of the blossom perfect against the dark brown branches off the tree, set against a marvelous blue sky flitting with white clouds, assuring me that this is Earth. The black birds against the sky perfect in their own way.

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I whipped out my phone for yet another photograph, for it seems to be that beauty such as this must be preserved. But the beauty is in the ephemeral isn’t it? We try to capture it in photographs, prose, embroidery and art, but they all, none of them, hold a candle to the real thing. The true joy is in paying attention.

“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” Mary Oliver

Why is our sky not green?

The elementary school going son, like many children his age, pulls a full why-wagon with him wherever he goes. The questions tumble out with ease, and can be anywhere on the spectrum : 

They are all fair game.

Sometimes, of course, his questions chip away at the stoutest of theories. For instance, a few years ago, as we mooned about the hills overlooking the bay at sunset and taking in the shades of pinks, oranges, blues, grays, purples and reds, he said, “Why is the sunset never green?

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Now, that is a perfectly valid question with a perfectly scientific answer. However, it had me stumped, for it never occurred to me to ask that particular question.  I remember being awed a few years ago, when the children had drawn rust and pink colored skies when asked to imagine a sky for their imaginary world. 

How often do we take the time to question things that just are? 

This is why when I read the Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan, and he comes up with a marvelous chapter based on determining the planetary world one is in simply based on the color of the sky, I shone with girlish delight. Here, was the kind of leap in imagination where only deep thought and research can take you, and here he was, simply giving it away in a book. All his marvelous thought processes, his wonder of the world, his eternal curiosity and scientific rigor just laid out on a page so we could embrace it in one simple reading. 

“The color of the sky characterizes the world. Plop me down on any planet in the Solar System, without seeing the gravity, without glimpsing the ground, let me take a look at the sun and the sky, and I can, I think, pretty well tell you where I am, That familiar shade of blue, interrupted here and there by fleecy white clouds, is a signature of our world. “ – Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

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The whimsical side of me wants to ask whether he will recognize Earth at sunrise, sunset, during wildfires and what-not. 

The essay, Sacred Black , in the book, Pale Blue Dot is well worth reading. He explains the reasoning behind the colors of the planets as we see them. He deduces the color of the sky based on the elements found in their atmospheres. 

  1. Venus, he says, probably has a red sky.
  2. Mars has a sky that is between ochre and pink much like the colors of the desert.
  3. Jupiter, Saturn – worlds with such giant atmospheres such that sunlight hardly penetrates it, have black skies. He talks about this bleak expanse of a sky being interrupted here and there by strokes of lightning in the thick mop of clouds surrounding the planets. This image does make for a sober shiver for someone who loves the sky and its myriad attractions. Imagine, not being able to the stars, the sun, or anything beyond the clouds – brrrr.
  4. Uranus & Neptune – uncanny, austere blue color. The distant sunlight reaches a comparatively clean atmosphere of hydrogen, helium and methane in these planets. The skies may be blue or green at a certain depth resulting in an aquamarine or an ‘unearthly blue’.

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He shows us how in the absence of an atmosphere, an inky deep purple is all there is. How, our planet is only a pale blue dot floating in an inky void illumined by a ray of light from the sun. Our eyes may not show us green colors in the sky at sunset, but it does detect plenty of green in the flora around us.

What would you like to see in a sky?