A Special Post to Celebrate Syzygy

“You’d better make it a special post!”, said the son. He is the one who is ardently fanning me in on, and keeping tabs on whether I am writing enough these days. His natural state of calculating kicks in, and he says “So, if you write another post in the next 36 hours then…”, and I have to remind him that it is not like that. One does not have to follow a punishing rigorous schedule for a hobby. That I will write and when I do, it feels joyous and good. Not laborious and like finishing up an arduous task for the sake of doing so.

There must have been a natural syzygy (aligning of the stars) when I started my blog seventeen years ago. The time it takes for a wizard to come of age in the magical world. I must say, the blog has given me an excellent magical education. I may not have graduated from Hogwarts in this time, but I certainly have learnt a thing or two on the magic of persistence, the seer of light in a dark universe, or any number of things.

Herbology: My specimens may still not be thriving, but as a chronicler of the natural world, I think Professor Sprout would gladly have me in her graduating class.

“Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life. It has also convinced me that carefully writing everything down is the only real defense we have against forgetting something important that once was and is no more,” 

Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

Read: A Celebration of 🌎

The Joy of the Natural World

Astronomy: Professors Carl Sagan and his many many friends have been amazing companions in the starship of the night. Comets, moon cycles and changing constellations not withstanding, there have also been the amazing journeys through space on light ships designed and envisioned by Johannes Kepler.

Ancient Runes: Professor Vector has opened thine eyes to many wonders of the Mathematical world and how they help us find a structure to our days. A way to find the incontrovertible truth if you will.

Changing Mathematics from a computational discipline into a beautiful, abstract philosophy.

Pythagoras of Samos (580-500 BCE) who continued the philosophy of: 

Transfiguration: How else does a serious minded member of the software engineering firms of the world transform into a magic seeking writer who will arduously work out a sentence structure sometimes tens of times to get that laugh?

Potions: Professor Snape, Dr Oliver Sacks, Paul Nurse, Siddhartha Mukherjee, Ed Yong, and so many more professors have taken me under their wing and spent many enjoyable hours explaining the joy behind reactions.

Care of Magical Creatures: Hagrid, Gerald Durrell, Sy Montgomery and numerous other writers of the natural world have introduced and opened my experiences to the world of creatures around us. Snail tales, pelican and duck friends, and so many instances of the world around us.

Writing & reading have sustained and enthralled me every step of the way, and it has proved to me how remarkable life’s moments are – even in a seemingly unremarkable life such as mine.

Like Sy Montgomery says in her book, How to be a good creature: 

Thurber taught me this: “You never know even when life looks hopeless, what might happen next. It could be something wonderful is right around the corner.”

Sy Montgomery – How to be a good creature

It usually is in the form of a new book, or a new idea that magically transforms an ordinary day into an extraordinary one. The power of fleeting thoughts that can take flame, grow and sustain in a wholly positive way, weaving magical moments and learnings. What can be better than that?

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

George R R Martin in A Dance with Dragons

Here is to more years of fruitful occupation, magical meanderings and posts that entertain and hopefully enlighten. This is my 1000th post.

Thank you, my readers, for being with me on this magical journey. Of course, the blog owes its very existence To My Family & Other Animals – who are frequent and oft quoted celebrities on this blog.

World Peace

The first part of this article was published in The Hindu titled Collective Effort dated 10th April 2022

I am in India on a short trip. Most evenings, I take a short walk around the apartment complex the parents live in. The community is a middle class community with children playing outside every evening. Regular readers know how much I enjoy seeing children playing outside everyday. One day as I was walking past the play area, I stopped to see what the commotion was all about. Slippers were being thrown as high as little hands could reach, and all the little children were standing around giving instructions. It was then I noticed the two badminton rackets lodged up in the tree branches above (probably a dare since there were two rackets lodged firmly.)

The little band of racket-throwers were now trying to retrieve them from the trees, It is amusing to be a silent spectator to problem solving such as this. Several suggestions were being given by all gathered (Some enthusiastic, but clearly not grounded in laws of Physics. Others, theoretically brilliant but lacking the practical aspects such as the presence of a long 7 ft stick to dislodge the rackets). When it looked like there were close to dislodging the racket by themselves, I carried on, only to come back a few minutes later on my rounds to see that several attempts had yielded nothing. A general despondency had set in, and some gloomy faces stared at the unyielding tree with its branches so ridiculously high above. 

When it was obvious that the little folk could not dislodge the rackets, a small dip in their collective can-do attitude was apparent. Sensing this, the older children playing a little distance away, gathered to help. On my walk as a spectator, this was such a heart warming scene, for I could see the future of humanity secure in this simple act. When one of us suffers a setback, the others came to help willingly without even being asked. The older children had height on their side, and the tallest one lifted a younger child, who then dislodged the racket with a stick lying around. 

The cheers erupted all around. One might’ve assumed that a World Series match was just finished. But this jubilation was a different one altogether and play resumed.

Retrieving rackets from trees!

I wish children played outside on the streets more especially in the United States. I couldn’t help thinking that that motley bunch of children could have a future CEO reimagining the world, a diplomat helping out in times of humanitarian crises, scientists solving problems as deftly and quickly as humanity creates them, artists and writers who dare to dream and imagine a different world, etc. 

Which brings to this excellent book I was reading earlier, World Peace and Other 4th Grade Achievements. I always think highly of children’s perspectives and potential, so naturally I was attracted to this book. In the book, a fourth grade teacher, John Hunter designed a game to restore World Peace in a mythical world of his creation bearing enormous resemblance to our own. Climate change, wars, humanitarian crises, economic bankruptcies are all problems to be solved in this world.

World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements by [John Hunter]

There are Prime Ministers of countries, nominated by the teacher. There is a World Bank, a weather goddess who controls things like freak climatic disasters, the stock market etc, a United Nations council all ably run by the children in the classroom. There is even a secret saboteur whose main job is to spread lies and sow discord between factions. So they learn to trust but verify, be wary but condone etc. 

He has a 3-D model depicting their world in which the oceans, the lands and the skies above us need governance and international cooperation to achieve World Peace. They are given 50 problems that must all be solved, and the net worth of the countries needs to be higher than when the game started for the game to be won.

He has perfected the game over several years in his classroom, and the results are indeed stunning in some cases as he writes in his book. In most years, the children did manage to solve World Peace in spite of the overwhelming odds stacked against them. Like in the little anecdote above, the children mostly hit upon a solution only after they are that close to giving up altogether. The failure, dejection all slowly yields to a new mode of thinking. One that is difficult to think of before, and this invariably leads the teams to collaborate and help each other better. (As J K Rowling says in her Harvard Commencement Speech – The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination)

TED Talk by John Hunter – 4th Grade Teacher

Truly, what we learn in Elementary School is priceless. The camaraderie accompanying solving problems truly makes the heart lighter. When in the right company, no problem is insurmountable. More importantly, there is hope for this world despite what we have done. 

The Potent Combination

2022 started off with a sprig of the fantastical. The first book of the year was The Ickabog by J K Rowling. Regular readers know that I am a fan of her work for children (Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts, The Ickabog etc, but not as much of her works for adults such as the Robert Galbraith ones or other adult books) .

The Ickabog by [J.K. Rowling]
The Ickabog – By J K Rowling

In any case, I was grateful for the first book of the year being one so classically told, and imagined. Her story is relevant to every dictatorship, and every place where power holds sway. One can see the influences of her work at the Amnesty International in the story. She shares some of these experiences in her graduation day speech at Harvard (Benefits of Failure & Importance of Imagination).

As the car made its ways past the hills wearing their green robes after the recent rains, I asked the occupants if they would be interested in a spot of Cornucopian story-telling. One nodded enthusiastically, the other reluctantly, and the third did not deign to indulge me with an answer. No special points for guessing the nod intensities with the personalities. But it is was nice to be able to read aloud to the folks in the car – enough to get them hooked anyway. Like I wrote in an earlier post, the best way to read out your favorite literature is in a locked vehicle.

The Ickabog is a fearful beast that Cornucopian children are frightened with. (The equivalent of the South Indian Poochandi). However, after an unfortunate accident – the cunning lords of King Fred convince him that the Ickabog is indeed real. They see it as a way of fear-mongering, and stifling transparency. As the improbable tale of the Ickabog was spread by the conniving Lords Spittleworth & Flapoon, the population was led astray into believing lies upon lies, and soon, very few had the capacity to unravel the web of lies, or had the motivation to do so. Their King Fred was a mild sort – cowardly, but also thoroughly lacking in critical thinking & administrative prowess. 

As we made our way around the Getty Museum, we trundled around the French Art and there, on display, were the artifacts probably obtained after the French Revolution, when a number of these things made it to the wider world markets. Reading up a little on King Louis XVI there, the daughter described the king. ‘Wasn’t much of a King – he wasn’t particularly harmful or anything…’ and went on to narrate what she had read about him and the times. To my mind, he sounded remarkably like King Fred in The Ickabog (If you’d like to read the first chapter). 

The old father & I have been watching the news for the past few days ( a bad habit that I need to snap out of), and it is disheartening to watch the same struggles for power continue in different settings. Tanks piling up in fits over Ukraine, power battles raging on in Afghanistan, Syria and the Middle East region. How many people involved on all sides to call the shots, plan the power grabs, use guile and flattery to achieve their aims?

Power, fame and flattery are a potent combination that can poison the best of minds. Mankind’s history should be good enough teachers, even if our stories and fables are not, but it isn’t. Every dictator in the history of the Earth was impaled upon swords dipped in this mixture, and yet, time marches on claiming its victims. 

What was it that Einstein said of a peaceful, purposeful life? 

A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.”

Albert Einstein

 

For the love of libraries – 2

The nourish-n-cherish household love for books and libraries is well known. On our recent trip to Boston for instance, we made an afternoon of the Boston Public Library and spent several evenings at the local bookstores. By the time, New York and Boston were done, we had bought between ourselves 10 large books that needed to be packed on a flight. Flights, as you know, would, if they could, weigh the sandwich you were eating to see if they priced tickets right (Boops: 3 layered sandwiches – $50 extra please. )

When we moved our nest a couple of months ago, the whole family squealed at the sight of a little yellow lending library in the neighborhood. There it sat on the lawn of one of our neighbors, and is a sight that always has me smiling. The generosity of the owners, the marvelous gift of books for everyone, not withstanding, I also see that they do a fine job of rotating children’s books, picture books, fiction and non-fiction books. It is an inevitable stop on a walk, if just to peek at the collections set forth for the week.

Obviously, then I was attracted to the book, Digging For Words – Jose Alberto Gutierrez and the Library He Built, Written by Angela Burke Kunkel Illustrated by Paola Escobar

Digging For Words – Jose Alberto Gutierrez and the Library He Built

In the city of Bogota, Colombia, live in two Joses. One is a little boy who dreams and waits patiently for Saturdays when he gets to visit a special place. The other, a garbage collector, who has over the course of 20 years of garbage collecting,  created a library of the books picked from garbage piles, to share with the rest of the city. His library opens on Saturdays.

The story by itself is a heart warming one based on the true life of Jose Alberto Gutierrez, However what makes a wonderful story completely captivating is the beautiful illustrations. The unexpected joy of seeing the Little Prince in the last page, leaves one with a fuzzy feeling after reading a tale of warmth, perseverance and possibilities of doing good in our world.

Jose Alberto Gutierrez, is known as the Lord of the Books (what a marvelous, marvelous title?)

Excerpt from the Author’s Note:

In addition to running his library, Gutierrez directs the foundation he established, La Fuerza de las Palabras (The Strength of Words) which provides reading material to schools, organizations, and libraries across Colombia.

Author’s Note from Digging For Words – Jose Alberto Gutierrez and the Library He Built

What are your favorite libraries and bookstores?

Donkey Days

It isn’t everyday that one gets to meet the inspiration behind a star. 

Not just any star, but an internationally loved one, with no scandals or gossip magazines thrusting their weight of circulation and readership behind them. Where do such stars exist? you ask thinking of all the gossip columns, and the entire magazine staff making their monthly rent (and amenities) writing and analyzing their lives.

Well, such a star could only be a much admired animated character, and therefore the joy is doubly special.

It was a hot day, and the earth was baking lightly when I announced my intention to go walking with my friends in Palo Alto. The smog from forest fires nearby was almost unbearable: birds drooped and took refuge in the trees, plants smacked their lips and dug deeper for some water.  

“You’re nuts you know that? Who goes for a walk on a day like this?” , said the daughter.

I beamed in return, and said it mattered not one whit that it felt like a summer stroll on Venus, for I had very cool friends to walk with!

The daughter, being the daughter, giggled and patted my hair patronizingly.

The son, being the son, rattled off some statistics basically letting me know that Venus is far worse. But you, dear reader, I am sure you get the gist without knowing the exact megatons of carbon dioxide in Venus’ atmosphere. (For those of you still curious, please watch this video from Kurzgesagt : Terraforming Venus) This is a popular topic with the son and I have another post to write on a walk in which we discussed these seemingly impossible things. 

I meander like a drying up river losing its senses along the way on a hot summer day. Where was I? Yes – meeting a celebrity. Anyway, there we were in Palo Alto – my c.friends and I, walking down a wooded path trying to shake off the oppressive heat, and being marvelously uplifted by the conversation. 

At journey’s end, we stood there humbled by the stars of the day. Our friend had taken us to Barron Park, where the local family had maintained donkeys, and they had become a local attraction.

One of the donkeys in front of our eyes was the inspiration behind the donkey in Shrek – that gullible, loquacious, annoying donkey. These donkeys, Perry and Buddy, though were remarkably quiet, enjoying their pasture, and gazing serenely about their surroundings. 

Perry – The inspiration behind Shrek’s Donkey

Standing there and looking on these sturdy marvelous gentle animals made me think of all the loving donkeys in literature. The ones who appeared in Panchatantra stories, the fables of Aesop, Sally who is Gerald Durrell’s pet donkey, the beautiful days of life with sultan the donkey, and of course the loving term I use to sometimes refer to the children, “Kazhudhai”(meaning baby donkey in Tamil).

I headed back home with glee, and called out lovingly to the children, “Hey kutti kazhudhais. Guess who I saw today?” And out blurted the whole tale of the darling donkeys in Barron Park, and the daughter amidst her giggles said, “Oh! I thought when you called me kazhudhai, it was an insult, but it is a loving insult huh?”

I laughed. “Well, yes, I called out to Buddy and Perry, and they gave me the exact reaction that you give me. “

“What is that?”

“Acting as though they did not hear and kept on grazing happily in their little pasture.”

Her laugh would have made Donkey in Shrek proud.

I loved the donkeys of literature, the endearing “donkeys” in my life, and the gentle, sturdy, hardworking, peaceful animals that inspired the world starting from the days of Aesop, through the mangers of Nazareth, to Shrek’s donkey

School Days

It was the first day of school – back to school in-person after a year and a half of remote learning for the Elementary school goer in the home.

There we stood – the husband and I- masked, behind a line holding a throng of anxious parents at bay. The children were coming out to the school environs after such a prolonged time in front of their screens. The nervous energy, chatter and activity, muted through masks as it was, was enough to uplift the senses. 

As Miss Read says in her chronicles of life as a school teacher in a village school: The first day of school has a life and energy all its own. Even if the preceding days have been somewhat dreary, she says, the first day manages to be bright and sunny. We live in California, so our summers are not dreary. If anything, they are all too glorious with the sun beating down on us, wildflowers hanging fully on every bush and tree. Even so, the energy and bright first day of school was marvelous.

It was only as we standing there with the others that I realized how much I missed this particular experience. I used to enjoy those precious little moments in the morning looking at the children enjoying their play. (Read: Recess as the basis of culture)

The arrival of the pandemic was like an unexpected blizzard that enveloped the whole Earth in its swirl. While the swirl continues, lessening at times, picking up pace at other times, there are times when post-vaccination, we can hope to remember our normal. 

Great Red Spot - Wikipedia
Great Red Spot on Jupiter

I stood there taking in the morning energy from all the young scholars gathered in each other’s physical presence after a year and a half, and smiled to myself. The mask has its advantages. I could observe the teary young parents of kindergarteners as they embarked on this great adventure, the weary parents of the older children who were happy enough to see their children out in their school, interacting with other children again. 

I glanced at the son who’d finally found his classmates and was amused by what met my eyes. One fella had learnt how to tie his shoelaces a different way, and he stooped and showed the admiring knot of his friends not once but three times, while they watched patiently, a light shining in their eyes at this new learning. 

I couldn’t help smiling.

A few minutes later, I noticed another young fellow, good samaritan that he was, double out of line, and race towards the field, and throw a football that was slowly rolling away from them to the center of the field. He came running back and nicked back into line just as their teacher came out to summon them in, and he was met with huge roars of appreciation for his citizenship. 

Who said education only happens in the classroom?

As I walked slowly back to the car hearing the receding chatter of the young and the studious, I hoped that they would have a normal-enough year. The vaccination isn’t here yet for younger children, and we would have to keep an eye on things as they proceed. Look out for each other, help keep one another safe, and navigate this together.

Enjoy the present has taken on a new meaning in Pandemic times. Senior Sunrise

To See The World

I remember the first excitement at seeing the bubble maps of population vs GDP for countries around the world, and how they changed across a span of a century. If one could have their mind blown, that chart was it. Then, a few years on, I saw the TED Talk by Hans Rosling in which he explained Large Families/Low GDP Vs Small Families/High GDP, and this time the wonder grew.

In the intervening years, the power of big data and visualization grew by leaps and bounds, and there never was a dearth of graphs, or data analysis. Causal analysis, correlations, search engine optimizations, ad targeting, and numerous other concepts entered the lingo of the normal person. As early as 2012, Target could predict when a woman was expecting a baby even before her family knew.

Daniel Kahneman & Amos Tversky changed our perceptions by introducing the world to a whole new world of Behavioral Economics.

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by [Michael Lewis]

So, when I picked up the book, How I Learned to Understand the World, I thought I would find about more interesting statistics about the world, but I was in for a pleasant surprise.

In the book, How I Learned to Understand the World, written by Hans Rosling and his daughter-in-law, Anna Rosling, it is Dr Hans Rosling’s journey that is written. The book isn’t written in the style of can’t-put-it-down. Instead of a compelling narrative that is keeping one’s interest, it is the genuine interest in the human being who was instrumental in changing the way we think of global health and economies. His journey to help humankind starts off with being a doctor in a impoverished nation, but moves on to much more than that. This is an inspiring sketch of what is possible when we think outside the box. That varied interests and knowledge-seeking is never wasted: they truly do come together in myriad ways.

The book starts as most biographies do, with a character sketch of the good doctor’s parents, grandparents, and his modest upbringing in Uppsala in Sweden.

He goes on to study medicine, and then travels to lesser developed countries hoping to do good work. His perception of developing countries such as India undergoes a transformation as he studies and travels there. It is here that he gets an appreciation for public health. The Indian Government at the time was battling one of the largest public health initiatives of the time ( possibly polio vaccinations – I forget). It is a humbling experience for him. He realizes, for instance, that medical facilities were not as backward as he assumed, medical knowledge was quite on par, or better, where it was available. The true problems were scale, population and outreach. 

After his return to Uppsala in Sweden, he goes on to begin work as a doctor in Impala. Where is Impala? Nacala? The joy of studying a map for these places is half the joy.

Here, in the coastal region of Nacala, he settles into his work as a doctor with his wife and children. Faced with less than ideal facilities, low budgets, and even less trained people to work with, he slowly learns the areas in which he can make a difference. He learns the importance of cultural awareness, and his humility for people’s knowledge and way of living, helps him reach the people he is attempting to serve. Without this realization he might never have been able to understand the devastating Konzo (‘Konzo’ means tied leg referring to the paralytic symptoms) disease that was paralyzing children in rural areas.

His work in Nacala, and his researches around the paralytic disease, konzo, led him to a life in research after his medical practicing days. The cassava plant is a staple diet in these areas. The cassava root is treated to a long, and arduous process of preparation before being made fit for human consumption. For example, the cassava is dried in direct sunlight for more than 8 weeks, to remove bitterness coming from a cyanide like substance that causes partial paralysis in human-beings (The long process is usually sufficient to remove the amounts of cyanide, but during times of drought, the plant produces more of this chemical content). Dr Rosling was the person to identify this link between the food process and the paralysis in his patients, and it was because he made the effort to understand the way of life in these areas. In times of food crises, the cassava plants are the only source of nutrition, and the results are devastating for those affected: their disability spiraling them further into poverty.

His ability to reach dictators, elected officials, and private industry for the sake of public health is remarkable.

His book, Factfulness, is the next one on my list to be read. In this one, he outlines the state of the world in terms of actual numbers. Is our world as bad as we think it is, or are we progressing better than we give ourselves credit for? I am waiting to read this one.

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by [Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Ola Rosling]

The Covid Vaccine

We rolled into the expansive grounds to receive the Covid vaccine. Everything shone with efficiency starting from the way our appointments were scheduled. It always astounds me when I see undertakings as large as this. Any public health initiatives are amazing in their scope and ability, and I was in awe. Like a child at the fairgrounds, I soaked in the sign boards, the appointment process, the courteous health workers all working on Saturday mornings to ensure the world can be a safer place. 

There were no questions unrelated to one’s health. No checks other than ensuring one was eligible age-wise and health-wise and had no known allergic reactions. 

As we waited for our turn and watched the registered nurses, volunteers and traffic attendants go about their duties, I thought once again of all the great things human beings are capable of as a species. Within a year of the coronavirus bringing the world to a stand-still, a vaccine was not just found, but mass produced and administered to millions of people. That is nothing short of a miracle. Even as the virus continues to spread its tentacles in waves, the vaccine outreach program was offering hope.

Extensive testing, mass production, and a dizzying level of community outreach and logistics had gone into place for this to work. But how did the mRNA vaccines work?

We live in the Information Age, and know first-hand how it can quickly be turned on its head to a Misinformation Age. A Quote from the Demon Haunted World came to mind.

“We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements—transportation, communications, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting—profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”

Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

The nurse came up to the car with a thin needle and I closed my eyes instinctively. She smiled and said, “It’s done. You feeling okay?”

Just like that, the tiny ant-like pinch of the needle that delivered a tiny dose of messenger RNA gave rise to something else.

I felt a surge for love for America

A touch of pride in its efficacy and its courtesy

A ripple of gratitude for Science

A shiver while thinking how it might have been had the 46th President not been elected.

And finally a sense of gratitude that we did have a President who valued these things.

 

The Pandemic Year

“Why don’t you pick out a children’s book from the ones stacked there?” I said nodding at the pile from the library.

The son picked out Our Great Big Backyard for us to read together. Written by Laura Bush and Jenna Bush Hager, and illustrated by Jaqueline Rogers, the book extols the beauty of the natural world around us. It is about a girl, Jane whose family takes a wonderful road trip across the United States making several stops along the way at the magnificent national parks. Jane is very reluctant at first, and fights with her brother missing her friends back home initially. But as the family makes their way from Everglades National Park in Florida to Yosemite National Park in California, Jane’s appreciation of the natural world expands.  She cannot wait to share the wonders of the natural world with her friends back home in their own backyard.

“Can you imagine last year this time, we were traveling all over the world?” I said, expressing shock at how soon our world changed for the n-th time since Covid-19 started

It was true. I had made several trips back to back in December 2019, and early January 2020. I remember feeling unmoored from Earth, somewhat dizzy in my speed of movement around the globe, and had felt a strange sense of being connected to the earth when I saw the spider’s web glinting in the winter dewdrops after the hours of flying. (I call it Tao)

It is a whole year since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. A year in which some people adjusted admirably to their changed circumstances, while many others found it much harder.  Life everywhere was shaken out of its steady state. 

The past year was the year in which we morbidly looked at the death rates on a daily basis, and adjusted to losses of family members, and friends to Covid-19. It was also the year in which humanity astounded us by developing a vaccine before the year was out

The vaccines are being rolled out to older populations and front-line workers, teachers etc. While there are variants of the virus, there is already talk of returning to work, normal functioning etc. Many schools have resumed in-person instructions. 

This past year, Covid-19 has made everyone take pause and tread slower. Travel plans are seldom made, and even then, hopefully, are made considering crowds, infection and exposure. Most folks I know have turned an appreciative eye to what lies close by though. How many years the trees near us have had the same flowering in spring and fall, only to be barely noticed by us? Yet these past few months, the enjoyment of it has been greater. 

I feel like a renewed appreciation for Thoreau as he observed the intricacies of nature in Walden Pond. For this long, I hadn’t noticed how the moon rises later and later during the waning period, and earlier and earlier during the waxing period. (Or just the changes in when we see the moon) 

Full Moon Rising – March 2020

The Spring equinox means the days are getting longer, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, and the leaves are sprouting everywhere. I remember one night when I was wakened by the sound of the pelting rain. I watched the rain for sometime, but wascompletely awed the next day, for the rains had ushered in the leaves on the trees overnight. I swayed around the trees wondering how  it would have been to watch the leaves grow overnight. 

Like Jane, the protagonist in Our Great Big Backyard , many of us realized, maybe for the first time, the many wonders of the natural world around us. 

As the vaccines are rolled out, and life limps back to normal, I hope we put the trying period behind us, but also remember the good things of this phase. The CDC announced that those who have been vaccinated can now gather indoors safely.

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. 

Screen Shot 2021-02-21 at 2.46.02 PM

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?) 

martian-ray

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

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