When a Tree Laughs

We have had slightly colder days the past few days. The clouds seem to be making an appearance and the wind rustles and bustles through the precocious maple trees starting to turn crimson. I have been looking happier and more wind-swept than ever before after my little walks, and I said so to the folks I met.

“I hope you are pulling my leg somehow.” said one of them with a smile when I confessed how much I love windy cold days after the placid hot days of summer sunshine. But I was not. Californian summers are marvelous, and glorious no doubt. But they do have a tendency to go on for just that extra bit of time. If they got on their horses and rode off with the autumnal equinox, it would be marvelous, but they don’t. They linger and surprise us with hot, hotter and even hotter days well into October. 

One afternoon, I had come back from an impulsive afternoon walk, in which the strong breeze was billowing everywhere. One of the best places to take in the beauty of a strong breeze on a sunny day is near a pine tree. Every pinecone delights, every sliver of pine shines a different color, and every whiff of breeze sends a contented sigh that ripples through the trees. It is like watching the tree laugh – great hearty laughs in waves. 

How can one feel anything but joy when a tree laughs: slowly, deliberately and wholly?

“No,” I said with conviction. The most mesmerizing delightful sight is there for those who brave the breeze. The crunch parties are here, the purpling of the skies is magical, the visit of clouds is beautiful, the gingko trees have their rich parties changing from their robes of green to golden. ” I do love Autumn!”

I am so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers

– Anne of Green Gables, Lucy M Montgomery

I whole heartedly agree with Anne of Green Gables. I believe autumn does trigger warmth of the soul even as the world around us starts getting colder. We roll through Octobers and arrive at Thanksgiving in November with the beauty of the world surrounding us. 

November Gifts

When the colder regions of the United States start rejoicing in the beautiful colors of Fall in October, California is still reeling with hot summers’ last gasp. Wildfires, and heat waves sound alarms of summer fading out. We are almost there, we pant to each other, as the withered flowers cling to their stems, and dust settles adamantly on cars and rooftops. Parched rivers, dried up lakes and dusty trails with wildfire warnings are the norm. Then suddenly, as though, there is a secret message that Halloweens cannot be during a hot spree, the days become nippier in the evening.

Elsewhere in the colder regions of the United States, it is the Octobers that are splendid, but for us here in the Bay area in California, November is the month of brilliant fall colors. A splendid sight that I had not fully seen in my initial years – in the unseeing way in which I rushed from one spot to another, in the unending rush to and from my job. Post the autumnal equinox, the sunsets became a rarity as it would be dark by the time I left the office and got out of the train. But over the years, I have noticed the colors with more appreciation every passing year. 

This year,  as I set out on walks on clear November days, I feel the gratitude for a less rushed commute and I sometimes get the feeling that all of this wells up within me to burst forth into the myriad colors in the universe I see around me. As I stood last week, first under an oak tree, then a sycamore tree, and then a large maple tree, a gingko tree and a willow tree (it’s hard to stop once you start!), I felt a sense of liberation in the air. The leaves were maturing, and some of them were letting go of their own volition.  (A lesson the occupant of the highest office in the nation can learn from if only he took the time to stand under a tree.) 

I stood there for a few minutes without rushing about my walk, and quietly reluctantly, when I moved away, I reflected on the gifts:

🍁 The music 🎶 🎵 🎼 of the wind rustling through the trees, to the accompaniment of chirping birds, and tittering squirrels, is music enough, and a soft lesson of symphony.

🍁 Watching a yellow, orange and red world bathed in the November light with the leaves fluttering down at their own pace is an unhurried lesson in pace.

🍁 Every now and then, a blue jay flies down from its perch, a couple of little yellow thrushes swoop in joy, while the melodious blackbirds and the nimble hummingbird go about their day. I can rejoice in the glorious feeling of the heart soaring with the birds. A lesson of hope and joy.

🍁  I see the younger gingko trees in our neighborhood already brilliantly yellow, but gingko trees apparently wait and coordinate among themselves to shed their leaves in unison. The older gingko tree isn’t quite there yet. It is working its way through the green leaves and slowly turning to yellow. The splendid yellow young ones are waiting patiently. A lesson in gracious patience.

🍁 How could I forget the squirrels with their final nut collection drive? A lesson of work while stopping to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor.

img_0090

November is also the month of celebrations. Hot on the heels of Halloween when the adults find the child in themselves, comes Deepavali, the beautiful festival of lights indicating the victory of light over darkness, good over evil etc, and then just before pulling gracefully into the zone of gratitude and thanksgiving, I get to celebrate my birthday.

What isn’t to love about November? It is a time for hot tea, butter toasts, fall colors, the sounds of pattering rain, the warmth of a sweater, and all the wonderful things of Hygge.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Autumn 🍂 🍁 🍃 of Hope

T’was the week-end of gifts. I had no idea how much I yearned for the promise of hope, till I felt the nimble feeling in my heart again.

I stepped out into the autumn 🍂🍁🍃 day with the children after a bout of dancing in the kitchen. The day was beautiful. Overnight, the Earth seemed less harsher, with the summer heat replaced by a nippy feel in the air, and a blue, blue sky with wispy clouds lilting away their day. I bent every now and then picking up a autumnal bouquet of sorts. Yellow, maroon, red, greenish-yellow, yellowish brown, greenish-red, and everything in between. 

“Don’t you feel like dancing 💃  though?” I asked the daughter, and she said firmly. “No! Not out here.”

“Oh – its okay!” Said her little brother coming to my defense. “Everyone knows she is a bit of a nature kook, it should be alright!”, and I laughed. My reputation was intact with the children.

The gingko trees were waving their golden green flags in the air – proudly proclaiming the daily joy of living to those who would stop and take a moment to take it all in. I stood there thinking, that the day is a wonderful one indeed if we have within us the power to pause and wondersavor the simple act of Shoshin, and marvel at the sheer audacity of life. Every night reminds us of the cosmic wonder that is our life. It affords us a peek into the darkness in which we float, the bleakness of it all, if there were no light. Yet, there is light, and more importantly, there is life!

“Remember the gingko tree my dears?!” 

img_0002

“Yes! We do – we missed it last year, but if all the leaves don’t fall at one shot, you’re in for a rough time!” Said the daughter, her voice ripe with indulgence.

I stuck my nose down the yellow lilliums on the path, came up with a nose of powdered pollen, and promptly wanted to sneeze. 

The children gave me pitying looks and the daughter said, “Look at you! Like a little dog sniffing at flowers and raising that long beak of yours into the air!”

I had no idea dogs had beaks, but setting that aside, I said, “Behaving like a puppy?! What greater accolade could a mother get? I am a very happy puppy 🐶 indeed!”  As soon as we came home, read out to the family in one rapturous gasp a poem written by Mary Oliver in the book, Dog Songs:

dog_song

Luke

I had a dog
who loved flowers.
Briskly she went
through the fields,

yet paused
for the honeysuckle
or the rose,
her dark head

and her wet nose
touching
the face
of every one

with its petals
of silk
with its fragrance
rising

into the air
where the bees,
their bodies
heavy with pollen

hovered—
and easily
she adored
every blossom

not in the serious
careful way
that we choose
this blossom or that blossom—

the way we praise or don’t praise—
the way we love
or don’t love—
but the way

we long to be—
that happy
in the heaven of earth—
that wild, that loving.

Shortly afterward, I headed out on another walk. This time, because the day promised rain, and as the first droplets pattered down, I listened to the music of the heavens. How parched our dear Earth was, how bereft our souls without hope?

On the way back from another gorgeous walk, a rainbow 🌈 peeked out. Hesitantly at first, and then with pride, with conviction, the universe’s assurance of not just light, but light with wavelengths between 380 and 700 nanometers on the visible light spectrum.

That is Hope. Hope is Joy. Joy is Peace. Peace is Love.

img_0031

When Autumn Feels Like Spring

The first day of fall was here, and it felt like the first day of spring.

I stepped out to see a blue, blue sky with some cumulus clouds flecking the ocean above with froth. My heart soared like the eagle above. High and higher still. The air felt fresh like it does after the Earth has had a good rain. Even though it hadn’t rained, the Earth sparkled. The effect the clear blues, mellow temperatures and cumulus clouds have on our temperaments is remarkable. The Californian blue jay chirped, the squirrels tittered, the hummingbirds frisked and the hawks soared. Even I burst into song, and poured my joyous nonsensical lyrics into the world. 

But duty beckoned. I had a string of meetings awaiting me, and though my heart soared and flew with the eagles, clouds and all that, I headed inside musing all the while on how marvelous a blue sky is.

I read somewhere that the smog in some polluted cities is so bad that children growing up there think a ‘blue sky’ is a poetic liberty, for the skies are never blue. I could empathize with the poor children so far away. It was similar to that in California over the past few weeks. Wildfires burning over millions of acres hundreds of miles away drew a smoggy veil across the skies, and cast a pallid gloom at times, made for brilliant sunsets at others, but through it all, there was an air of impending doom.

That feeling fell away on the first day of autumn. Fall in California are not as drastic and spectacular as autumn in north-east or north-west parts of the United States, but it is beautiful nevertheless. The gingko leaves have started turning from their brilliant green to a golden yellow, and the maple leaves are turning colors slowly. The air is not nippy yet – in fact, we are bracing for another hot spell.

Meanwhile, inside the house, I was feeling a trifle boxed-up after a continuous string of meetings, in which people had showed up with varying amounts of enthusiasm and optimism. Some of them had managed to retain that cumulus cloud effect, others matched the brilliant blue skies outside – uplifting and promising, and some others retained the pallid gloom of the smoggy fire-ridden days. I glanced outside the window and could identify with the young pupils of Miss Read, who taught her on a beautiful Spring day that words and pictures are but imitations of the real thing. I reached out for the essay in Tales from a Village School from my newly acquired bookshelf (a gift from the dear husband for he could not stand the piles of books everywhere in the house).

Tales from a Village School – By Miss Read

Titled ‘The Real Thing’, the short essay evoked the essence of Spring in one breathtaking stroke of a page. She writes of a Spring morning she started to read The Wind in the Willows to her class.

“I had planned to start ‘The Wind in the Willows’ next term, but what more fitting occasion than this could be found for beginning such a spring song?”

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning spring cleaning his little home…” but after a page or two, I am conscious that Henry’s restlessness is infectious, 

‘Say’, he urges loudly, ‘lets go out!’

There is a shocked silence. What madness is this? Will it make me fly right off the handle?

The essay lilts on with ease and ends on the sagacious note:

It was he, the babe among us, who led us befuddled elders to reality when he cut straight to the heart of the matter with those three words, ‘Let’s go out!’

I heeded the clarion call of the essay, and briskly stepped out. Standing outside on that glorious day in September made me doubly grateful for things as normal as a blue sky and a breath of fresh air. May we continue to be blessed with these normalities! May we never complain about what a delight an ordinary day is!

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” ― Albert Camus

A Whiff of Youth & A Hint of Innocence

As summer closes its curtains, I look forward to the beautiful season of Fall. I yearn to see the colors of the leaves changing, resplendent in their glory for a few weeks, and the inevitable flutter they produce in my heart as they come to terms with letting go of their branches.

The children and I had our first scrunch-party this morning: We saw a small bunch of dried leaves near our feet, and we jumped and heard the delightful scrunch that was then followed by giggles that caused a squirrel to pause on its scamper and chitter at us looking amused from the roof above, reminding me of one of the poems in the book, A Whiff of Pine and a Hint of Skunk ( A Forest of poems by Deborah Ruddell & Joan Rankin)

IMG_6932

  • Above my head a robin sings
  • a shy hello and flaps her wings.
  • She whistles to a waiting squirrel
  • who gives his fuzzy tail a twirl
  • and bounces on a flimsy branch
  • which starts a leafy avalanche
  • of red and gold from every tree
  • as if they’ve planned it all for me.

IMG_6931
A Whiff of Pine, a Hint of Skunk

Afterward, we made our way to the son’s school. I waved goodbye to the fellow, and then dilly-dallied for a minute after he had gone into his own classroom. I love the atmosphere of the fresh energy and exuberance of children on a Friday morning. I was soaking in the scene when I saw a child crying. Great big tears coursed down her cheeks, and her face was so troubled, I stopped to ask her what the matter was. I cannot bear to see children cry (Tantrums annoy, but these genuine feelings of sorrow wrack my heart).

It was then I saw three girls her own age come and stand around her in a knot. They comforted her in their own way, asked her what the matter was, and then took her along to walk to the classroom with them. Her slumped shoulder straightened just a wee bit after a few steps, and her hands that were held by one of the girls was given more willingly. I watched them walk away together, and a warm glow suffused me.

In that glimpse of school, I saw the heartening stirrings of a friendship, the kind heartedness of fellow classmates, the easy grace with which relationships start – an art that adults seem to have forgotten along the way.

I walk around the neighborhood seeing the early stirrings of fall. The precocious among leaves are turning color. Fall raises the question of mortality, and I admire the example the fall leaves set for us, when the time has come for them, by letting go and fluttering down. with the promise of renewal in the air.

forest

It reminds me of a conversation I was having with my parents, as many people of the older generation grapple with the problem of aging. For the first time in the history of mankind, we will soon have the same number of people over the age of 80 as below the age of 5. Depression and anxiety among the aged is common. (My article here on Aging: Toby Turtle’s Lesson on Life)

If old age were indeed the second childhood, what would it take to keep forging relationships without expectation, and reaping its unexpected rewards, like the little girls that morning? How to infuse our minds with a hint of innocence and a whiff of youth?