A Question of Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Longitude by Dave Sobel 

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

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

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

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

Mrs Pringle of Fairacre: About Minnie Pringle 

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

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

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

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

‘But not every hour.” I pointed out.

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

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

Mrs Pringle – By Miss Read

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

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

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

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

Feeling Blue?

Fascination with the color blue I realized on picking up the books, BLUE – In search of Nature’s Rarest Color – Kai Kupferschmidt, is not a nourish-n-cherish household trait, but a universal one, and what a lovely revelation that was. 

Blue – In Search of Nature’s Rarest Color – By Kai Kupferschmidt

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.

I understand the yearning to write about the color blue. Who hasn’t been uplifted by the blue waters of a lake or ocean, or the sight of the blue skies first thing in the morning? Blue seems to assure us that we are here. We Belong on Earth – on this Pale Blue Dot.

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.

You can read about its serendipitous discovery here: https://chemistry.oregonstate.edu/content/story-yinmn-blue

YinMn or Oregon Blue – Image from Wikipedia link : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/YInMn_Blue

As I sat watching the son in his swim class, I felt a forced sense of ease settle upon me when I opened the book to read. The swimming pool was tiled with light blue tiles, the white lighting overhead made it a calm enough locale even though there were about a hundred people in the pool area. Waters do have a calming influence if you let it. This summer, we have been swimming a little so we could appreciate the wonders of the underwater 🗺 world 🌎 in the Pacific Ocean. Closing my eyes, I can still visualize the vibrant school of fish and the large turtle in the blue waters. 

The Sea Turtle near Kauai, Hawaii

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. 

Image from the book as given on the Amazon page

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.)

Art work by Daughter

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.

The Woodpecker & The Tree

I am enormously grateful that I am moved by the beauty and strength of a tree. I have spent many (but not quite enough) tranquil moments watching and admiring trees. Trees provide an unassuming, grounding presence for restless spirits such as mine.

I remember one day not too long ago when spring had turned to summer, and I stopped short and quite abruptly in front of a gingko tree. The tree was now fully covered in green leaves – when did the bare winter transform to full grown summer? I don’t remember the quiet miracle of life marching on though I passed the tree almost everyday: The efficient leaves photosynthesizing and nourishing the tree.

I am reminded of William Blake’s quotes on trees:

“To some people a tree is something so incredibly beautiful that it brings tears to the eyes. To others, it is just a green thing that stands in the way.”

William Blake

How sagely they bear the scurrying squirrels, the boisterous monkeys, the birds who make their homes in them including birds like woodpeckers who must be a noisy presence, the army of insects, and so much more? Even in my most whimsical moments, I cannot envision an angry tree or even an annoyed one. A tree is always what it is: steady, useful, beautiful.

I was watching a woodpecker peck steadily at a tree branch one day.

Tok-tok-tok-tok-tok-tok-tok

Tok-tok-tok-tok-tok-tok-tok

I stood there taking in the beauty of the suns rays, the straight angle at which the woodpecker was perched on the tree (really – how was it holding on like that without ropes, and banging its head against the tree all day long?), the beautiful red of its feathers glinting against the rays of the sun, contrasting with the light green of the trees leaves.

Tok-tok-tok-tok-tok-tok-tok

Tok-tok-tok-tok-tok-tok-tok

I remember wondering why the tree didn’t just shudder a bit to shake the bird off. But it didn’t. The woodpecker for its part seemed to be so happy at yammering at the tree like that it shocked me. For such a small bird to absorb the waves created must be quite high even if it was self inflicted.

Musings like these are music to the soul. For I came back and the internet gave me plenty to read up on woodpeckers. Coming from the human world, I assumed a design structure such as shock absorbers for the woodpeckers to endure the yammering. But nature surprised me yet again. Biomimicry as a discipline continues to hold me in awe. Woodpeckers really do not have shock absorbers. Instead their skulls are designed to endure the impact much like a hammer takes the impact of a bang. Given their size, the impacts they make are just enough for them to absorb throughout the day. 

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/woodpecker-skulls-dont-absorb-shock-like-previously-thought-180980426/

About 12 thousand times a day, woodpeckers drill their beaks into trees to search for food, make nests or communicate with other birds. 

Article linked from the Smithsonian Magazine

When pecks arrive through the day, I think of the tree, and the happy woodpecker. Even though all those who knock and peck at my attention are not exactly happy to do so, I assume they are happy like the woodpecker, and I try, poorly, to act the part of the sagacious, gracious tree and all is well.

The Comedic Snorkelers of Kauai

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. 

Snorkeling for the first time in an ocean was mind boggling.

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 :

The Art of Instruction – Vintage Educational Charts from the 19th and 20th centuries

The pages indicate the anatomy of many marvelous creatures. 

The Anatomy of a Sea Turtle isn’t in this book, but the pictures of jellyfish, cuttlefish, herring fish, starfish, whales and numerous other fascinating creatures makes it a marvelous book to peruse.

Starfish anatomy

For the Sea-turtle anatomy: This is  a useful link

Smithsonian Sea-turtles

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.

🌺 🌹 🌸 Leilani Pua 🌺 🌹 🌸

Almost as soon as one lands in the quaint island of Kauai, in the Hawaiian islands, the unmistakable feeling of rural bliss welcomes you with the rooster crowing and the colors of the flora.

Within hours of being in the island, the phone yearned for some plumeria pictures and before we knew it, there were hundreds of pictures of plumerias, hibiscus and so many plants whose name we knew not, but contributed to the vibrant colors of the Hawaiian islands.

Really! How marvelous flowers are.

“Who was that poet who said something about ‘infinity in a flower’, or ‘universe in a grain of sand’ or something? I think he hit it spot on.” I said burying my beak into a fragrant multi-colored frangipani blossom and sniffing rapturously. 

A flower elegantly floated down from the tree above into the grass below and I ran to catch it with open arms. I proposed to adorn my hair with the beautiful blossoms. The children wondered whether to clip this behavior or indulge it when I picked up a blossom from the verdant green grasses below and gave it to the children. The perfect symmetry of the flowers won their hearts instantly, and they gave into my whimsy, with a smart quip instead.

‘The grain of sand is probably parrotfish poop, but whatever!’ 

How does sand form?

As I looked into the photos of the particularly alluring flora of the fertile land, I fell in love with the flowers themselves as much with their names. I am not one for classifying and categorizing everything to within an inch of their existence. But even I couldn’t resist the poetic beauty of being classified as a Nymphaea Capensis (Egyptian water lotuses in brilliant colors) or Heliconia Bahai (false birds of paradise) 

On hikes through the rain-forest like surroundings, the canopy above invited one to look up, but every now and then some beautiful wild orchids would attract the attention. A slender piece of purple or pink vibrance holding its own in a lush forest of greens, just as surely as the Moa (roosters) held their own on tricky rocky beaches, rainforests and parking lots alike.

Painter’s Palette, Laceleaf, bamboo orchids, purple wild orchids (spathoglottis plicata), milkworts, pink and purple colored thistles, crepe ginger, red frangipani, lance leaved coreopsis, Cooktown orchids, shell gingers, Egyptian lotuses (nymphaea capensis or pygmy water lilies) , birds of paradise (heliconia bahai – the red ones or the false birds of paradise) 

Pua means flowers in Hawaiian 

Leilani denotes heavenly flowers

The most beautiful surprise was the clumps of touch-me-nots (Mimosa Pudica) everywhere. All those warm afternoons of playing with these marvelous plants in the countryside in the Nilgiris as children came flooding back.

The son, who spent a whole hike through a mahogany forest endearingly called The Enchanted Forest, playing with the touch-me-nots said with a contented look on his face. “I think touch-me-nots are my favorite plants!”

I agree with him. They have learnt to adapt and interpret the steady trickle of rain doesn’t need them to close up their leaves, but other external stimuli warrant that. How marvelous?

If ever one needs to be intensely aware of all the things that need to co-exist for a beautiful ecosystem, a well preserved island would do the trick. Being there amidst nature’s bounties only reminds me of Mary Oliver’s quote on attention being our only task.

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

Mary Oliver

Our quaint cosmic neighborhood!

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. 

If, along with these images, and the equally glorious full moon, one has not caught a whiff of shoshin, I urge you all to do so. I also have the resident astronomer of the house on summer vacation, so I am constantly being given statistics along with the images. 

It is fortune indeed to, purely by chance, be immersed in starlight myself even in the reading world.

The beautiful images in the children’s book: The Stuff of Stars – Illustrated by Ekua Holmes, Written by : Marion Dane Bauer 

The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer Illustrated by Ekua Holmes

I just finished reading Bewilderment by Richard Powers last week. Bewilderment: the book and the feeling

I am now reading Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir.

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.” 

Richard Powers, Bewilderment

With images such as these, we are perhaps closer than ever to finding another planet that is capable of harboring earth-like lifeforms. 

But till then, Carl Sagan’s words hold true:

Frog & Toad Would Be Proud!

The husband in a fit of enthusiasm started a vegetable patch. When the h starts a project, he goes at it with all the usual enthusiasm. Which is to say that he was coming home every other day with a different piece of equipment – a fascinating looking thing called a trellis, spades, a garden patch, large bags of compostable soil. 

As much as I moaned about the necessary and unnecessary things in our midst, I was impressed with the work the man was putting in. He had the look of a man with a mission toiling to accomplish his vision.

Within days, the man had created a veritable garden patch. Enthusiastic and proactive actions such as these lead to unexpected outcomes. Soon, the local library’s solarium seed packets made their way to the patch, visiting aunts and uncles, neighbors and friends who are far better at gardening than us, added their bit to the seeds, and gloriously, the vegetable garden grew.

For the next few mornings and evenings, I would take my tea over to see if the plants had grown. Feeling a bit like Frog & Toad, I walked up and down several times and poking the ground (Arnold Lobel writes of hilariously identifiable situations with Frog & Toad as his protagonists) In one story, Frog gives Toad some seeds to start a garden:

“Here are some flower seeds. Plant them in the ground. “ said Frog, “and soon you will have a garden.”

“How soon?”, said Toad.

“Quite soon.”, said Frog.

He planted the flower seeds.

“Now seeds”, said Toad, “start growing.”

Toad walked up and down a few times.

The seeds did not start to grow.

Arnold Lobel, Frog & Toad

I wondered whether a spot of singing would help and all that. (there is research that suggests that music helps the plants) 🌱 🪴

I must’ve discussed the possibility in earshot of the plants, for I felt the earth shudder and the underground networks that these plants seem to have buzzed with coming disaster, and the very next day, they started to grow and flourish in the patch. 

Once the shoots peeped into the ground above, two things happened. They benefitted from the hot Californian sun and the nurturing of the mother who is here a-visiting. She would fuss over the patch, spray tea leaves, crush dried vegetable droppings to the soil, and water the plants regularly twice a day when the plants were young.

The patch attracted butterflies and and the creepers looked for ways in which to latch onto the trees nearby and take root. 

The vegetable patch is a daily joy – we had the first cucumber from the creepers today, and I must say: the raita (cucumber + yogurt) was tastier than anything I have eaten before. The vision and initial spade work was the husband’s, the mother’s was the subsequent tendering and nurturing of the patch. 

I clapped the husband and mother on their backs in a congratulatory note. That cucumber was a marvel. Something that was produced by the hardworking plants on Planet Earth. 

“People don’t know to make a leaf, but they know how to destroy one.” 
― Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

Oh! How easily we go to the store and rip out one of those plastic bags and pay for the produce? It makes us appreciate all the agriculturists, farmers, and gardeners in our midst. 

“It takes a long time to turn into what you’re supposed to be.” 
― Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

Bewilderment – The book and the feeling

A friend of mine teased me lovingly and perfectly validly that every time she looks at the stars she thinks of me looking up and wondering about the various kinds of worlds out there, the vastness of it, the beauty and grandeur.  “You will become a star one day.” , she said, and we laughed. 

I would love to become like Oogway the Turtle master who, when the time came became one with the stars. That picturization is brilliant and so poignant. 

Oogway becoming one with the stars

It is true – after a long day, when most earthly duties of the day are done, I take myself off to ponder at the stars – the distant worlds and the beauty of sentience to appreciate the vastness of our presence in this universe. Truly, one of the biggest leaps of humankind is to have found our humble place in the cosmos – the worlds do not revolve around us, the gods were not thinking of us and our fates during the grand creation. We just are, and while here, we can make the best of it. 

Photo by Mohan Reddy Atalu on Pexels.com

The more we discover earth-like planets, the more we realize that our planet is probably the only home we have for at least 10 (possibly much higher) light years in every direction. It should be a moment of awakening then for us to look after our one home. 

Life on Earth

Space.com – Earth like planets

Obviously, I was thrilled to read the book Bewilderment by Richard Powers. He writes about a dedicated, loving father who is raising his neuro-divergent son as a single father. He is also an astrobiologist whose job it is to model the worlds found depending on their atmospheric possibilities and constitution to simulate the kinds of life possible. (Even on Earth, the extremophiles found in sulphur vents deep inside the ocean were a revelation. If that was possible, what else and how many kinds of life were possible? )  The unique nature of their relationship, the steadfast and somewhat refreshing outlook of the possibilities of life outside Earth make for a fabulous read. A dip into the stars and beyond while being earth-bound. 

Bewilderment – By Richard Powers

For those of you who wish to read the possibilities of worlds and the ability to dream past our current home and circumstances, I shall not spoil the end (but I wish it had not ended the way it did) .

Richard Powers is quickly becoming one of my favorite Science and nature based authors.

Snippet :

One night in mid-August, he asked for a planet before bed. I gave him the planet Chromat. It had nine moons and two suns, one small and red, the other large and blue. That made for three kinds of day of different lengths, four kinds of sunset and sunrise, scores of different eclipses, and countless flavors of disk and night,. Dust in the atmosphere turned the two kinds of sunlight into swirling watercolors. The languages of that world had as many as two hundred words for sadness and three hundred for joy, depending on the latitude and hemisphere.

He was thoughtful, at the story’s end. He lay back on his pillow, hands clasped behind his head, looking up at the idea of Chromat on his bedroom ceiling.

Bewilderment – Richard Powers

The book has rekindled the wonder of the universe, and the wondrous ponderings associated with them. How can one be bored by our narrow lives when the cosmos offers itself as a venue to ponder and more importantly, get a perspective on.

Birdwatching & Biomimicry

The bike ride was a long one on a hot summer’s day. The sun was rising steadily and though it hadn’t reached its blazing glory across the Californian coasts, it was promising in its ascent. Even within the first 5 miles, we could feel the temperatures rise enough for us to be grateful for the mild breezes continuing to fan the body as we pumped through the trail. 

A little while later, we stopped for a quick peek at the pelicans lazing in the waters nearby. As the hot day wore on, our spirits only grew. All around us were the spritely images of life – birds swooped and flew in the mild breeze. As we stopped to see the pelicans lazing about in a patch of freshwater, a fellow biker and nature enthusiast stopped to share the calm of the pelicans with us. He asked the son whether he’d seen them fishing together like ballerinas. The son flashed a smile at me – a fellow nature lover using the same words to describe the pelicans?

The man told us how to identify harriers, hawks and bald eagles, and we biked on looking for the regulars as well for the new species he had told us about.

Right enough, in just a few miles, we spotted a harrier taking rest on a rock before scouring the fields for prey. There is something joyous in being to able to identify a newly learnt about species even if the species has existed far longer than we may have.

Harrier resting

But the ones that truly mesmerized us were the avocets. The avocets are a joy to behold on a hot day. They fly to a reasonable height, take a second to stabilize and then swoop down into the water below for a quick dip and fly out again. The smoothness of the breaking of the surface tension between the mediums is so flawlessly done. Their sharp beaks assisting them and reminding me of the little tidbit I had read in the book, Biomimicry by Jane Benyus. 

TED Talks by Janine Benyus on Biomimicry

Apparently, sonic boom was a big problem for the fast trains in Japan. The sonic booms were felt as far as a few hundred meters away as the trains emerged from the tunnels, and obviously this was a genuine problem that risked the success of the entire operation.

One of the engineers on the team, on his vacation, sat by the waterside watching a kingfisher swoop into the water and swoop out again with a smoothness of movement that inspired the engineer. How come the little bird was able to transition between mediums as different as water and air so sleekly? That is when the design of the sharp beak stood out. Eons of evolution may have shaped the beak in that particular long shape for a reason. The engineer went on to shape the train’s beak, and solved the problem for the fastest train of the day. 

The more our world functions like the natural world, the more likely we are to endure on this home that is ours, but not ours alone.

Janine Benyus

As the son & I stood there on the bay watching the avocets dive in and out, I told him that the collective noun for these lovely birds is an orchestra, and he beamed, and approved of the name. Their trilling, swooping, and pirouetting were apt.

Watching the little avocets on a hot day was a lovely little reminder of the designs of nature and its many wondrous ways. Not every saunter into nature is bound to solve a problem wracking humankind, but they very well might. 

Dancing Hippos of Loango

The summer solstice was unusually hot this time of the year. 

I was just back from the pool. The children looked at me approvingly as I hummed through the early evening light making dosas for dinner. “Amma is like one of those partying surfing hippos of Loango isn’t it?” said the children, and I beamed.

“Those hippos are so cool – riding the coastline, swimming so well – I want to be able to swim like them. I mean, I sputter and bumble in the pool. Imagine if I could swim like the happy hippos of Loango?” I sang and danced a little hippo jig. 

The children exchanged glances and burst out laughing. “You know? Some moms would be offended if they are called the surfing hippos of Loango. “ 

“Well, I am honored.” said I truthfully. “Fascinating creatures hippos. Do y’all remember the hippo handbag I had? Drew admiring glances a few times that one.”

“Yeah – also pitiful ones ma. That one was falling apart – we know, actually the whole world knew, you liked the hippo handbag.” Said the older eye-roll and the younger eye roll in unison.

I laughed. “By the way, did you also know that Taweret – the greek goddess of childbirth was a hippo?” Said the mythology experts in the house, and I glanced up from my dosas with wonder and curiosity. 

Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taweret

Taweret , a goddess depicted as a pregnant hippopotamus standing upright.

Mankind has for ages gleaned its inspirations from the animal world. All the more reason for us to protect the diversity of life and the planet that nurtures them all. 

Ever since we saw the first episode on National Parks narrated by Barack Obama, we all fell in love with the surfing hippos of Loango, the flying sifakas of Madagascar, the camouflaging coolness of the sleepy sloths that have the potential to cure cancer and so much more.

Watching programs featuring the wild in the National Geographic or the National Parks series make me glad that I am alive in today’s day and age. The camera angles, the kind of cinematography, the explosion of knowledge and sharing, the entertainment options and standards, technology everything is instrumental in a wildlife show. Where previously, we had to rely on the mental imagery through words such as Gerald Durrell’s, now we have the ability to see the guanacos act of survival in the Patagonian landscapes right along side the sluggish sea lions on the Californian coast. If that isn’t lucky, I don’t what is.

I have tried capturing a butterfly with my phone several times, and I must confess this simple act is all it takes for me to gain a sense of awe with the captures of these wildlife photographers and documentary producers. 

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