Star 🌟 Stuff?!

I don’t know if you have tried comet chasing every night for a week. A week in which photographers from the world over posted photographs that suggested a flaming, brilliant torch tearing past our heavens with an urgency that made you realize life was short, our journeys spectacular, and a whole lot of poetic asides.

The husband, the bright matter energy source in the household, if anything, shored up even more bright matter to counteract all the dark matter in the universe. His resolve only wiggled a bit when he saw these brilliant flaming pictures of the comet as though it was an olympic torch blazing through the heavens, when in reality, the comet looked like a Pluto after a good cry. (After the astronomer’s good cry, not Pluto’s!)

The son, kept his running commentary on photons, light years, superclusters, cosmic addresses, and the pair of us dreamt on.

The daughter, pragmatic as ever, squashed The Poetic Outlook like a bug under a hippo’s knee. Some teenagers may find it cool to tag along with their parents on adventures chasing 💫 comets: ours rolled her eyes, and the drag of the eye roll did resemble a comet’s tail.

I’d like to think that I was the calm influence that steered the boat into the cosmic oceans. The husband turned to give me an amused look, the son’s laughing rattled the comet to go back into hiding, and the daughter pulled her coolest teenage look of scorn and said the all-encompassing word, “kook!”.

“You know? I don’t see why people are wasting so much  time with the skies. I mean, if you  do see  the comet, I suppose it is nice and all, but  what’s the point of sitting there for hours on end and trying to find something hurtling through space. Huh-hmm!” she said, her lips thinning just the way her grandmother’s would.  I love it when the mannerisms of her grandmothers slip into her speech in unguarded moments like these, and couldn’t help smiling.

“I  mean – what sort of career is that? And what use is it?!” she cried, clearly asking for it.

The son & I, inferior debate  companions as we are to her sharp tongue, rose up to the occasion.

“Hey  hey hey! Going at the rate we are, scanning the skies may give us an opportunity to find another habitable planet to expand into. The same can be said of all kinds of research – the actual research does not immediately yield results, but every little bit of understanding advances us  a little bit further.”

“Yeah – also we need to know where we are in the universe! Are we in Milky  Way, Virgo Supercluster, Observable Universe:  what is our address?” said the son.

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Andrew Z. Colvin / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

The daughter’s tongue could have  sliced an apple in an instant as she rattled off our home address and said, “Why do we need to know huh? I mean, here we are. This is it. Live here, what is all this knowing where-we-are stuff? Waste of time. What is it going to do for us?”

The son & I blanched. You see: the pair of us are dreamers, standing beneath the stars, and endlessly wondering whether we belong to the Lainakea supercluster (is it the same as the Virgo supercluster?)  After the observable universe, then what? What if all the observable universe in inside a massive black hole, and time is only  something in this space? 

“But we are made of star stuff – isn’t that magical? Star stuff!” said the son wistfully.

“Yeah – duck poop is is also star stuff – deal with it!” said the daughter. The son wilted under this argument. The daughter caught sight of my eye looking like an angry comet, and mollified the little poetic fellow. “But duck poop is good star stuff! Heh??!!”

I cannot say the debate went anywhere. It was a disappointing bunch of evenings after all, and the teenager felt it keenly. I mean, when one has posted  to one’s friends that they are going comet gazing, and then come back after hours, having  grazed on half a luna-bar, there is bound to be a dearth of the poetic. 

“You know young lady, I have just the book to cure you of this disappointment.” I said and gave her the book, The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer Illustrated by Ekua Holmes

The illustrations in this book make it an absolute treasure. In the past few days, after a clearly disappointing  comet gazing experience, I found myself gazing at the marvelous pictures in the book instead. 

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💦 🌳 Earth 🌏 Magicians 💥❄️

Magic was in the air. The afternoon sun was shining with an intensity that surprises us every summer. The high temperatures should really not surprise us anymore, but we still scuttle inside in the afternoon sun and wonder how it got to be so hot so soon. Inside the home, we were grateful for the cool atmosphere – the suns rays were filtering in through the large sycamore tree in the backyard, bathing us in Komorebi.

Komorebi (木漏れ日): Sunshine filtering through the trees.

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Komerabi is beautiful and especially marvelous to experience on a week-end afternoon after a hearty lunch.

I was sprawled out on the sofa beside the son with a heavy book, a light heart, an empty page, and a full stomach. I was reading Harry Potter, A History of Magic. It is an impressive book that has on the cover apart from a magnificent rendition of a Phoenix, the words- The Official Companion to the British Library Exhibition at the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library.

Leaving the title aside, it is a comprehensive compilation of some of the magic and folklore in the Harry Potter world. I was happily frisking through the magical journey of our species through the ages stopping to savor the beautiful images in the book, and marveling for the n-th time about the brilliant mind of J K Rowling and her rich repertoire of knowledge that led to the marvelous wizarding world.

Some of the tidbits in the book were truly mind-boggling. Like the plethora of plants the myths have grown from and some superb paintings of the flora through the ages.Reading about the book, A Curious Herbal, for instance, made me realize how lucky we are to be living in this era of human history where high quality renditions of art, photography etc are available for reading and sharing digitally.

A Curious Herbal seems to have been a labor of love by Elizabeth Blackwell. Written between 1737 and 1739, the book had pictures of over 500 plants used “in the practice of physick”. Written, illustrated, hand-graved and hand colored by Elizabeth Blackwell, it was used to free her husband from debtor’s prison. He repaid her by leaving the country and being executed for treason in Sweden.

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The son was sitting next to me and making cards for the game he was designing. The looks of intense concentration were matched only by the splash of colors – clashing, brilliantly hued, and sparkling. The sound effects were not captured on the document itself, but if it could, it promised to be quite the party.

We sat each wrapped in our own imaginary worlds of thought in companionable silence for a space, when I asked him how his game was coming along. A sneak peak into the document revealed a marvelous world. There were a lot of pictures, points for this and that, and what-not. It looked like the end game would be a fascinating one, if somewhat high on the dishoom-flashoom-bazinga factor. Muons, quarks and photons made their brave show alongside tornado-crushers, wave-ripplers and what-nots in the game cards (a reflection to all that he enjoys reading and watching really.)

“Okay – I’ll tell you!” , he said the magic of Creating bubbling over as he explained his cards to me. After some time, his exuberant tones came to a hush and he said with flair. “This is for Earth Magicians! You have to get 15000 healing points to become an Earth Magician.”

“And how do you get 15000 points”, I asked, for who doesn’t want to be an Earth Magician? What a lovely title to be bestowed with?

As he explained, I scratched the old chin, and stumped him by asking what special powers Earth Magicians have.

The little fellow hemm-ed and umm-ed a fair bit as he thought through his answer. When finally he gave his answer, it went on for about two minutes, and I gathered that he had envisioned earth magicians as having the powers to create something amazing from the ordinary.

“You know? I like it – I should fight trolls and dragons and what-not to become an earth magicians. This time I will choose gardening as a earth magician superpower!”” I said.

He looked puzzled and I said with a serious expression on my face “Well…Gardeners, singers, dancers, writers, artists, aren’t they all Earth Magicians?”

I pointed to our little patch in the garden outside, where I have tried to grow many plants and flowers. Elizabeth Blackwell would have a bit of a challenge drawing a plant of rare repute from my backyard, much as I love it. I’ve even had instances of ordinary flowers which seem to thrive in the wild simply limp along and give it up as a bad job when I set to it.

“See? I try with all the best intentions and little business results. Yet, there are so many talented gardeners among us who use the same potting soil and are able to raise not just trees, but get the flowers to bloom – a new set for every season, in them! If that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is!” I said, and he guffawed.

“Well…I suppose that is true!” he said

“Want some more magic powers from Earth magicians? ” I said.

He rolled his eyes, a habit he has picked up from his teenaged sister. I told him I am going for some ice-cream, and he eagerly joined in – if Earth Magicians can make ice-cream, is there a bigger super-power?

 

To Nourish & To Cherish

This May marks 15 years of nourish-ing &  cherish-ing. I started the blog out as a sort of a personal journal with embarrassingly personal posts. But over time, the journal took on a life of its own. It has helped me find my voice, helped me resoundingly answer the question, “What is your friend?“, and has definitely played an outsize role in the family joke circles.

My family and friends have been marvelously sportive about starring in the posts, reading them and encouraging me. Over time, the nourisher became the cherisher, and vice-versa. Fiascos were looked on with amusement knowing it will take on a life of its own and pave  the way for amusement. Travelogues are interwoven with family  drama, and it makes it all the more memorable.

When I am out in nature stopping to admire the butterflies flit between flowers, 🌺 🌸 , I think of how I would capture these beautiful images in the one place I nourish and cherish. I have a phone filled with images of family, friends, travel destinations jostling along side the everyday wonders of sunsets, lakes, rivers, butterflies, mountainsides, grasses, flowers and trees, and still the photographs seem to lack a narrative. A narrative that words round out.

“To walk on Earth and fall in love with it. “, as Mary Olivers would say.

When I am reading books, I stop and wonder about particularly  well written passages. Books take us on incredible journeys and some of them, I manage to write down to nourish later on. Some books open my mind in ways I did not imagine possible, some others reiterate what I had nebulously known, while some others do the most marvelous job of soothing and calming the mind. For every article I do write related to books, there are probably 15 others that I didn’t get to finish writing.

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A friend of mine once asked me how I stumbled upon writing as a passion, and I found to my surprise that I had no clear answer. I remember a marvelous childhood filled to the brim with absolutely stunning and inspirational personalities, joyous friends, beautiful nature, dance, music, reading and writing complete with toppings of marvelous reveries and journeys into the make believe worlds. But somewhere in my early twenties I lost touch with it all. I meandered in the corporate world spending almost all my waking hours pursuing work and my part-time post graduate degree simultaneously. What time I had for reading was dedicated to academic work, and all other times were dedicated to learning and unlearning technologies to continue work.

Shoshin was in short supply.

Life in the meanwhile had brought me to the shores of the United States, opening a whole new world of possibilities. When I became a mother, something beautiful happened. I came in contact with the marvelous feeling of youth. Being an immigrant, the children’s books were all new to me, and with the children, I read and devoured books alongside them, reminding me of Kenneth Grahame’s note on the Wind in the Willows.

“A book of youth, and so perhaps chiefly for youth and those who still keep the spirit of youth alive in them; of life, sunshine, running water, woodlands, dusty roads, winter firesides, free of problems, clear of the clash of the sex, of life as it might fairly be supposed to be regarded by some of the wise, small things that ‘glide in grasses and rubble of woody wreck’.”

With all the supposed ‘achievement’ of being in the big world, there was a niggling dissatisfaction though. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was missing my link to Art. When eventually, I stumbled back to Art forms, albeit in a much reduced fashion, I started feeling whole again.

“The most regretful people on Earth are those who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither time nor power.” – Mary Oliver

My hope and wish is for everyone to nourish and cherish their own creative powers to the extent possible.

 

A Rose is a Rose

We were out hiking one day in mid February. The son and I eagerly packed our snacks, water bottles and headed off as the sun rose. It was a golden day in which we stood under trees listening to the blackbirds trilling overhead. Squirrels scuttled past with their duties, while woodpeckers drilled in the trees above. New born calves stood demurely by their mothers. We stopped to sniff at the flowers every now and then, looking indulgently at the buds waiting for the spring bloom. A thousand smells rent the air, and I said “How marvelous it must be to be a flower in spring time?”

He laughed – the sort of tumbling laughter that children have, and we adults can do with from time to time. His words tumbled out between his giggles, and he said, “Did you know? That a flower 🌹 comes up when its ovaries burst open?” 

I gasped dramatically and the little botanist went on to explain what his teachers must have told him in school. I listened enamored, wondering not for the first time why we ever grow out of schooling, and the shoshin of childhood.

Anyway, there we stood with the beauty of spring all around us. The rains had made the hills green, and in this verdure, it was hard to imagine anything but positivity and beauty. It was hard to imagine that in less than 2 weeks, the world would be reeling under the influence of a virus.

Talking to my colleagues & friends over virtual calls, and phone, reading what people have to say over Social Media, I feel a general sense of overwhelm, gloom and what-next overpowering some. Some seem to have taken to the new normal, doing the best they can with the new set of circumstances, others not so much. The relentless news cycles have been pounding us with streams of news that reminds me of Oogway. 

Oogway, the wise turtle: “There is no good news or bad news, there is only news!”

Master Shifu: “But Tai Lung has escaped” (But Corona has escaped!)

Oogway, the w turtle: “Oh, That is Bad News!”

Oogway & Shifu

As human-beings, we are always forward looking. We want to set forecasts for corporations, we want to predict & measure, and when all of these things are fluid, it is understandable to feel unmoored. 

We want to know we are in control of things, only rarely do we realize that Control is an Illusion. 

Walking past rose bushes one evening during this time, we stopped to admire the buds ready to bloom. I thought about the beautiful poem by Mary Oliver. A poem I often think of when the human calls of productivity and being busy beckon. 

Roses, 🌹🥀  Late Summer – Blue Iris 

 – By Mary Oliver

I would be a fox, or a tree

full of wing branches

I wouldn’t mind being a rose

in a field full of roses.

 

Fear has not yet occurred to them, nor ambition.

Reasons they have not yet thought of.

Neither do they ask  how long they must be roses, and then what?

Or any other foolish question

rose

 

The Dream Within The Dream

It was Saturday morning. I got up, convinced I had come back to the real world. The world outside looked beautiful. The dew drops on the cherry blossoms glinted in the morning sunshine . A Californian blue jay was sitting on one branch and pecking at the flowers – such a beautiful sight is to be seen to be believed.

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Was that a really vivid dream or what? Covid-19 did feel surreal – what a dream?!

I sat on my bed the previous Friday evening exhausted. It was the first week of large scale disruptions – schools, offices, and malls had closed; crazy grocery shopping was behind us; and while I was grateful for being to work from home during all of this, I also realized that I was enervated.

That was how, you found me on Friday evening, determined to not think of the Corona Virus anymore at least for the night. I put it resolutely from my mind. I eyed the stack of books near my bed. I retreated to simpler times in an English village with Miss Read, I read about gardening, and I read about the life and times of Jane Austen in the 1800s.

The daughter was happy to not Coronaspeak anymore, and magnanimously offered to sit and watch Little Women with me. By the time, I went to bed, I had restored the mind to a semblance of normal.

Maybe the preceding Coronaweek was in my version of The Lathe of Heaven after all.

The Lathe of Heaven is a marvelous book written by Ursula K Le Guin. The book examines a scenario where a young man is gifted with the ability to make his dreams come – his psychiatrist realizes this, and uses his condition to his advantage. He attempts to change the world by offering to guide the young man. While under hypnosis, he makes suggestions and leads his mind into conjuring up dreams. One such dream reminds me of this scenario the most.

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He dreams for World Peace and for all of humanity to be united.

When he gets up, his dreams are realized. Humanity is united. United against the face of an alien attack. The aliens are already positioned on the Moon and are poised to strike Earth soon. Suddenly, Earthly borders and barriers melt away. All of humanity is united against the threat of green-belted aliens on the Moon

The psychiatrist tries making amends from them on, but the patient realizes what is happening and tries to distance himself. He is scared, vulnerable and refuses to fall asleep.

Could Covid-19 be a version of a dream playing out? It certainly feels like that at some times.

But if this were a dream, how would we know? I went and stood outside below the Cherry tree, and the cherry blossoms flitted down and landed gently all around me. The California blue jay was still there having a blissful breakfast as it let the petals float to the ground below. One petal settled on my hair, and I felt it. It was solid and soft. It was real. That settled it – the preceding week of Covid-19 must have been a dream.

Slightly shivering with the morning cold, I traipsed into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. It was full: stacked with extra cans of milk, vegatables and 2 cans of soup – so, we were in the Covid-19 reality. That wasn’t a dream.
The blue jay was confirming what with me exactly? That this too was a reality?
That our realities have a tendency to get warped?

I related this the daughter and son as they walked into the kitchen looking sleepy and exuberant respectively. The husband said, it did feel very much like a scenario in the movie Inception. The Dream within a Dream. That is how we always depicted it in our dumb-charades games.

The day wore on. As Saturday ticked into Sunday, I saw the digital clock in the microwave glow 11:59 – a moment in time that the young son loves to see. Maybe this was a reality within a reality too.

I am going to bed. After all, this version of reality does have some aspects that I dreamt about too:

  • I did hope to get a month to spend with the children at home.
  • I did hope to be able to spend at least time together without external demands on our time, to hear the clock tick in the quiet of the home.

I can understand why the whole thing seems so surreal. While some problems certainly unite humanity like Climate Change and our effect on the Planet, none seems to be as urgent and visceral as the Covid-19 reaction. It is happening, it is real, it is what it is.

This week seems less surreal than the week before. We have settled in to new realities of life. The life in which the simple, bare necessities of life will come to you. They’ll come to you!

 

Fascinating Hidden Worlds

The son sat next to me one evening as I was typing out this article and looking up the picture of the Corona Virus.

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Image By https://www.scientificanimations.comhttps://www.scientificanimations.com/wiki-images/, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=86436446

We both sat looking at the image that showed up and he said, “Wow! Is this really the virus? It looks so lovely, doesn’t it?” I had to agree.

The unimaginable beauty of the microscopic world is so rarely stopped and admired. Who knew a blade of grass could be this spell-binding?

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This particular virus has caused such unimaginable disruption world over, it is humbling to see the world buckle on its knees against the onslaught of this virus. While, viruses and bacteria often come to the spotlight in scenarios such as these, the truth is that we need a multitude of them to survive on a daily basis. There are studies linking gut bacteria  to mental well-being for instance.

Theodor Rosebury, a microbiologist, wrote in 1928, during his research that:

“The knowledge that micro organisms can be helpful to man has never had much popular appeal, for men as a rule are more preoccupied with the danger that threatens their life than in the biological forces on which they depend. The history of warfare always proves more glamorous than accounts of co-operation.”

The Corona Virus has brought the rich world of microbes to the forefront for the world. To give us an appreciation of how many microbes we regularly thrive on for our living, consider these figures: There are an estimated 100 Trillion microbes in our bodies. The estimated number of stars in our galaxy is around 100 billion.

Many children growing up in these times may well be awed by the power microbes, bacteria and viruses exert on us, and go on to study Microbiology and change our understanding of the worlds within us in unimaginable ways.

The microscopic world is a marvelous one. Revealed to us 350 years ago by the talented man often hailed as the Father of Microbiology, Antony von LLeuwenhoek, his letter about animalcules was published by the Royal Society in London. As Ed Yong says in his book, I Contain Multitudes, his letters were published by the Royal Society in “an extraordinary monument to the open-minded skepticism of science“. LLeuwenhoek had no background as a scientist, yet he applied the scientific method to sampling and studying the world around him. In 1680, the draper cum businessman, whose curious mind and hobby led to the revelation of Microbiology was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

I Contain Multitudes – Ed Yong – Article from Brain Pickings

For those of you wanting a quick, fascinating glimpse into a Universe within our Universe, please check out the book, Hidden Worlds by Stephen Kramer with photographs by Dennis Kunkel.

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Hidden Worlds

While Lleuwekhoeks early microscopes could only magnify upto 260 times, the images revealed in the book, Hidden Worlds magnify images by upto 1000,000 times. The resulting images are breath-taking.

The images revealed are only black-and-white by the microscopes. Scientists then use computer modeling to color in the images and the stunning pictures are better than works of Art. For instance, the picture below shows some common allergens and pollens that cause so many to sneeze all Spring.

The book briefly explains about SEM and TEM microscopes, the work that scientists typically do to prepare their specimens.

  • Transmission Electron Microscopes: TEM can magnify images by 1000,000 times
  • Scanning Electron Microscopes : SEM can magnify images by 10 – 300,000 times

Looking through the pictures in the book, we realize how marvelous life is, and what a fragile ecosystem we have to thrive in.

Covid-19 has also made us realize the importance of our normal lives. The gratitude to be alive and healthy, to be able to do the work that interests and moves the world forward, to be able to revel in the beautiful companionship of our friends and family.

“As the years pass, I am coming more and more to understand that it is the common, everyday blessings of our common everyday lives for which we should be particularly grateful. They are the things that fill our lives with comfort and our hearts with gladness — just the pure air to breathe and the strength to breath it; just warmth and shelter and home folks; just plain food that gives us strength; the bright sunshine on a cold day; and a cool breeze when the day is warm.” 
― Laura Ingalls Wilder, Writings On Wisdom and Virtues

References:

Is It Only Tuesday?!

I don’t like to go on about First World problems when the world is grappling with the stifling effects of the Covid-19 lockdown, but as a chronicler of the Nourish-N-Cherish household, my job is a tough one. There is much to write – my list of unwritten posts grows by the day.

In the latest news, I had to shoo out protestors before my meeting started. The protestors were noisy, marched with placards and while their motion held merit, I could not allow protests of this nature to carry on into my meeting slot, plus they did not have the critical mass of individuals required to ban the protest altogether.

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The morning had started with the son asking “Is it only Tuesday?” and we laughed.

“Yes it is only Tuesday my child – only the second day since school closed! I hear you!” I said. The daughter was singing the Disney song “When will my life begin?!” and looking forlorn before her day started. Covid-19 has us all in Shelter-in-place mode, and that has thrown all of us in a loop.

While we are grateful for the ability to be able to work from home during these times, it also makes for an interesting dynamic in the home. Do we wear gloves and arm wrestle for the office space? The daughter has online classes and is therefore quite happy to be holed up in her own room.

In what is a low move, the Television in the house has decided to go into social distancing and is sheltering-in-place. When asked to glow and sing, and generally make merry, the television has decided to go mute and shut down with a satisfying click.

The daughter, when she heard of it, moaned and said
“What?! Oh my goodness! Do you really think we can spend all that time together without TV and not drive each other nuts?” I laughed and said that I was touched she thought that way of her kind family. She rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean!”

The son rallied as best as he could and said it would be lovely since he has never spent a summer with parents with all of us at home through the day. I was touched, and also glad to see the silver lining. He, too, did not take the TV blow stoically, however.

That is how I found the pair of them crouching and writing up protest slogans on a piece of cardboard, which in happier times would have been used for making traps for St Patricks Day. patricks_day_ij-v1

Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 11.57.17 PM

They came marching noisily protesting for the TV and I found myself laughing.

I was reminded of the New York Times article that a friend shared with me a while ago, “Let Children Be Bored”. One thought in that article particularly spoke to my heart, As children, we rarely complained of boredom, because we knew where that would get us. It would get us the task of cleaning our room, or cleaning up our clothes cupboard, or worse yet, the haunted, “Why don’t you study?” refrain. It was vastly better to draw five hundred versions of a snowflake than to concede your boredom to an adult.

Thich Nhat Hanh said, We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.

Life is boring and the sooner we learn to keep ourselves occupied, the better for us. We learnt that lesson quickly did we not? So, why do we feel the obligation to whip out a form of entertainment for the children or feel the need to engage them in anyway? By doing so, are we not starving the creative self in some way? The eternal self , as Mary Oliver calls our creative self, needs solitude, it needs boredom to whip up an imaginary world, a novel game or a piece of Art.

Three days of no television, shelter-in-place mandates, no school, and continuing work will quickly have me begging for the Television, but for now, I have a list of chores ready.

“Come children – let’s start dinner! While you put away the dishwasher, why don’t you help me with the vegetables?” I said in my best head-chef voice humming loudly – “When will my life begin!?”

I heard the daughter say, “Is it only Tuesday?!”

Read also:

 

The Dream Weavers Web

It had been a few years since we had taken the magical pill. When the daughter was younger, she was enamored with Disney movies, was obsessed with unicorns and mermaids (the mermaids still hold sway), but the general euphoria with Disney has come down somewhat, or so we thought. It turns out, magic may be dormant, but thankfully not absent. When those Mickey ears came on, so did the smiles, the magic, the ridiculous mixed with the plausible, the tales with long tails, the myths and legends, everything came bubbling up in one hot cauldron full of fun and adventure.

I must say I was thrilled too. The day to day living tends to routinely pound magic out of us unless we make a concerted effort to keep it. The schools manage to do so for the children. There are Dr Seuss weeks, there are Read-a-thons, crazy hair days and crazed sock days to keep it all intact. But as the business of earning a living and adult hood takes on, there is a brush working in the background to make us more even keel, more predictable and less whimsical.

Reading children’s books keeps it for us in some ways.

I had expected to have a good time at Disneyland. I manage to put my whimsies on with a delight, and get the children going too. So far so good. But there are serendipitous surprises lurking even in the most magical of places. The Disney World in Florida was even better than I had expected. There was Animal Kingdom, in which I expected plastic hippos and lions made to scale. Consider my surprise then when we went on the Kilimanjaro safari to be taken into the hinterlands with animals in relatively free reign. It is marvelous to see a bloat of hippos, a tower of giraffes, a something of warthogs, and a blush of pelicans roaming freely. When a white horned rhino waddled across our path, we simply waited for it to move quietly. Even the children, though looking awed, did not utter a sound. There is majesty in nature.

One of the best surprises for me was the onus on conservation of our beautiful planet for the years to come. There were green houses showing us the marvels and possibilities of vertical farming. It was apparent to those of us floating in the boats by the lazy river taking us through these green houses, that many of us had never seen plants of many vegetables and fruits before. One excited child pointed to an eggplant plant, and squealed – “Look the eggplants are hanging from them!” I could see it was a beautiful revelation for the child who had simply assumed you picked it up in the grocery aisles of the supermarket, while making a passionate case for a Hot Wheels toy car at the billing counter.

Saturated with the magic of life on this beautiful planet, we spent a day amidst the shots to space. Kennedy Space Center. The past merged with the magic of fairy-tales, the present beautifully thrumming with possibilities for conservation and conversation, and the future hits among the stars. Looking for possible planets for us to expand into.

It is marvelous to see we are on the cusp of a decade that holds so much promise. For among the young I saw in the parks, there will be quite a few starting their careers in the coming decade.

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The whole time, I was absorbing the atmosphere around me, little words were forming themselves into sentences. I was making my journey on the river of time and I was grateful for so many things. Some good sentences disappeared because I had not written them down, but I didn’t fret. It is often like this – playing with the words to relive my experiences.

Imagine how I felt then, when I read Ursula Le Guin’s essay on Writing. I felt the sage author’s words like balm, and nodded along. Writers are creators, but unlike potters and weavers, our products are less tangible. Our dreams are webs weaved in the magical recesses of the brain, and not all of it worth reading or sharing.

“Writing is a risky business. No guarantees. You have to take the chance. I’m happy to take it. I love taking it. So, my stuff gets misread, misunderstood, misinterpreted, – so what? If its the real stuff, it will survive almost any other abuse other than being ignored, disappeared, not read.”

When I read this piece in the essay though, I was grateful. I have written 800 posts over the past 14 years, and I would never have done that if not for the encouragement I have received from my dear friends and readers. It is magical. Encouragement like Love, is so fuzzy a thing to try to describe. For both the forces have the power to gently nurture, nudge, and poise for acceptance.

Thank you for all of that. Let the magical dreams weave on in the coming decade as well. Happy New Year and Happy New Decade – May the River of Time course on gently.

The Magic of Story-Telling

“Stop being a Jellyfish!” said the husband.
“I knew you were going to say that – you are such an open book yourself!” said I.

We both giggled like children at our own pathetic joke. T’was the time for hulking men with or without mustaches and serious women to quack like ducks, twirl like fairies, flex those non-existent abs, and find that little teeny bit of whimsy that adulthood so expertly hides away beneath the layers. Halloween was here.

 

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T’is the time people astound you with their imagination. Who doesn’t like having 3 spidermen knocking on your door all at once? Or to see the twin toddlers dressed as Nemo & Dory? The super-heroes and ninjas cowering behind their larger siblings in Vampire clothing, or the witches cackling hard?

There is something so uniquely beautiful about Halloween – the one festival where we can display our idiosyncrasies with grace, be accepted for whatever we are. You want to be a skeleton? That should be fine. Here is some candy for you. Really, buddy? You want to go out in the world in that costume? Well, if this appeals to you, then I suppose you deserve some candy anyway!

How many times in our lives do we get that kind of universal approval?

The husband and I were very proud of our last minute Halloween costumes: an open book & a jellyfish.

The little fairy lights I had taped into place made the jellyfish glow, and I received many compliments – I must say I glowed all evening with the praise, though I did credit the Internet with it.

When people asked me where I got the inspiration from, I replied truthfully that I have always wondered what it must be like to live under the sea, and they invariably laughed at my answer.

But it’s true. Every trip to the aquarium rekindles the magic of another world – right here with us. Reading Gerald Durrell’s essay about scuba diving is enthralling.

I have often wondered how we would have adapted if we had evolved under the ocean. Would we have figured out the laws and physics of the Universe to the extent we have, or would the medium have made little difference in understanding. The Octopus’s evolution to have more neurons than us is truly astounding.

Quanta Magazine: What shape is the universe? Closed or Flat?

It is why I like reading about the intelligence of dolphins and whales: the fact that they have epics the sounds bits of which are roughly the equivalent of our Iliad is amazing. Quote from Carl Sagan’s essay on Whale song:

If the songs of the humpback whale are enunciated as a tonal language, the total information content, the number of bits of information in such songs, is some 10 to the power of 6 bits, about the same as the information content of the Iliad or the Odyssey.

What must their epics say? For all our anthropological worldview, I wonder whether humans figure in them at all. That will be a fine thing to hear – a Dr Dolittle who finally translates a Whale Epic, only to find their world far richer than our own.

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Art work by Daughter

I recently re-read the Voyages of Dr Dolittle by Hugh Lofting. I must say I thoroughly enjoyed visualizing myself sailing the seas with his motley group – either by skimming along like a porpoise, or better yet by getting a place inside the giant snail’s back as it sailed along smoothly churning the ocean as it went.

Swimming with Dolphins

We are all children of stories. We need epics and tales of fantasy. Our very own imaginations need an outlet, and Halloween gives us just that. I know my enthusiasm rubs off on the children as they go about planning their costumes. While I am out with a big smile on my face, a number of people give me an indulgent smile as if to say “Aren’t you a bit old for this?”

Mary Oliver gently reminds me to react with this nugget of wisdom:

“You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.” 

― Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

Privately, I am happy that our inner child never really leaves us.

Authors:

Running like Elephants

“Guys! Let’s hurry up a little. I like how we are dawdling, but the school bell waits for no ships to sail across the seas! ” I said. There had been a mild spattering of rain across the dry summer season. A few snails had popped out to enjoy the moist, and the son and his friends were looking at them as they chatted and made their way to school. Rain drops on the late summer roses and oleander flowers made the scene a rather endearing one.

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The response from the children was predictable – they ran, and I ran shouting like a charioteer pulling the reins on the excited steeds, “Slow down! No running here – oncoming traffic!”
“But you asked us to hurry up!”
“Yes – run like Elephants!” I said.

I had told the children earlier about the Elephant’s gait, and they exchanged glances and started laughing. The snail they were studying looked startled and showed a leap of speed as it made its way back to the comfort of the garden bed.

Is this walking? *giggle*
Is this running? *giggle giggle*
Is this fast walking? * giggle giggle giputly duggle*
Is this slow running? *giggle puddle chuckle duffle*

I smiled slowly. “Pretend you are Elephants teaching Snails to run.”

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I suppose that was a wrong metaphor altogether. By the time we arrived in the school, not only were we out of breath with the laughing, but we were also fashionably disconcerted. The legs seem to not remember how to walk straight or run properly, and were caught in this limbo of the Elephant’s Gait.

Later that week, I was sitting in the garden and watching the world go about its true business of living. I watched a hummingbird’s fast-paced wing movements up in the trees. A few butterflies were flitting hither and tither. A skein of geese were flying overhead in that beautiful v-shaped formation. Closer to the ground, a few snails were marking their slow way across the courtyard.

This combination of sitting in a garden, and watching life flit by had me take a hundred pictures with my phone. Pictures that may or may not be seen and appreciated again. I could capture the slow motion video of the humming bird whizzing up above or the butterflies in my midst. I could use time-lapse videos to capture the slow moving snails and a dozen pictures to capture the beautiful movement of the caterpillars.

As I sat there musing on the ease with which we capture movement these days, I could not help comparing and contrasting humanity’s struggle to capture that. I remember yawning in the Art galleries after seeing the n-th painting of a horse or the x-th statue of a horse drawn chariot.

But as I sat there that afternoon, I wondered whether I had appreciated them enough. After all, at the time of their making, studying movement was not all easy. One had to have an almost eidetic memory to understand the muscles and the way they moved.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s work is appreciated because of the lengths he went to study the anatomy of the creatures in his works. 300 years ago, movement must have been particularly hard to study.

In Oliver Sacks’ essay on Elephant Gaits in the book, Everything in its Place, he writes about the problem of studying movement.

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More than a century ago, Etienne-Jules Marey had made a pioneering investigation of elephant gaits. Of course, he did not use video analysis then, but still photography. I quote: “Marey’s lifelong fascination with movement started with the internal movements and processes of the body. He had been a pioneer here, inventing pulse meters, blood pressure graphings and heart tracings – ingenious precursors to the mechanical instruments used in Medicine even today.

Later, he moved onto the animal movements and analysis.
For animal analysis he used pressure gauges, rubber tubes, and graphic recordings to measure the movements and positions of limbs. From these recordings, he rotated in a zoetrope, reconstructing in slow motion the movements of the horse.

Muybridge, a contemporary of Marey, however, a peripatetic artist as Sacks describes him used 24 cameras along a track where the shutter would be tripped by the horses themselves as they galloped past to capture the movements of the horse as they raced.

When a similar technique was used to analyze the fast movement of elephants, it was found that they neither walked nor ran, but rather a combination known as fast walking.

I remember a long ago conversation with a friend who was training for a marathon on the more recent study of leopards running, and how he had changed his running technique to take a few tips from the world’s fastest runner.

As we watch the world around us, I wish different creatures could teach us some of their marvelous techniques. The dragonfly and the humming bird for flight; mallards and coots for water locomotion. Doesn’t Biomimicry as a field of study sound more fascinating than ever before? I positively yearn to be Dr John Dolittle at times!

Books/Articles to be read/referenced in this post: