Jörð, Gaia, Bhoomi

Fresh off the flight, and in our room, after loafing about during the day in Reykjavik, I was still groggy. I finally managed to sleep, happy to rest my tired frame on a good bed. The heart had already stirred in that nurturing soul mode, but was not in fully. A good night’s sleep is all I needed, I thought to myself.

It could not have been more than a couple of hours before I awoke to see the son looking cheerful, sitting on the bed alert, and tucking into Skyr, that delectable yogurt of Iceland that sustained our appetites anywhere. “Hi amma!” he said. The energy in his voice unfortunately was not echoed in my hollow moan.

The sun glowed outside, and I asked whether it was morning already. Tired or not, I was set on enjoying the holiday, and I tried to drag myself out, but the little fellow chuckled, “Nope! It is 2 o’clock amma. In the night. This is night!”

He was so enthusiastic and happy at this odd hour, that I smiled happily. (Smiled happily because he had the good sense to wake his father and not me for his night revels with Skyr)

I pointed at the window outside, and he said, “I know right?”

To be fair, I suppose that some of the clouds had a slight pink colouration indicating a sunset, but that was all. Within an hour, the sun had risen again without ever becoming dark or even dusky.

I goggled, the son giggled, and the sun cheerily ogled.

Our half baked theories are always fun, but this Khan Academy video of the Earth’s tilt is much better.

This infographic was useful to see how we would have to change our perception of a new day starting. Our minds are conditioned to the concept of dusk, the sun setting, and darkness enveloping our consciousness signaling the end of the day. But what if the Earth never signaled the end of the day. Would melatonin still be released?

 

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The long days, coupled with a sunny countenance made for action-packed days in which we had to force ourselves to sleep and take breaks. Nevertheless, it is truly wonderful when the earth offers its bounty to you the way Iceland does.

There were days when we saw fresh meadows filled with flowers that had sprouted afresh in the spring after the long winters, lava beds with thousands of years of moss growing on it, rivers gurgling with fresh snow melt winding their way across canyons and meadows, waterfalls thundering their way down as though their restive energy would not and cannot be contained, volcanoes and glaciers, all on the same day.

 

A country that blessed with natural beauty obviously tapped the imaginative strain in us. There was one particular place that looked like time had stood still in the middle of an epic battle in which a monster crocodile had pulled off a troll’s leg, and a bear was crossing the river.

 

If this sort of thing appealed to us within a few days of Iceland, it is only to be expected that the Viking myths and sagas are rich and bountiful. I am now reading Icelandic Myths, so I can continue to savor the experiences of that beautiful island.

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Years ago, when my dance teacher explained the poetic significance of the elements necessary for our very being, Panchabhutam – Earth, water, fire, air and space, I was thrilled with the poetic beauty of it.

My Icelandic experiences, I think, shall therefore be split into these elemental joys – this one of Earth(Jörð, Gaia or Bhoomi), followed by water, fire, air and space.

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Skip Your Way There

The school year was coming to a close, and I had promised the elementary school going son and his friend that I would show them a marvel on the way to school. Off we went then looking for this mystical being living in our midst. The excitement had built up in them. With the ready enthusiasm for serendipitous adventure that childhood blesses them with, they were chatting along to see this wondrous three-headed beauty, while I soaked in their infectious enthusiasm like a pup on a spring saunter.

We approached the marvel with hushed tones, and there it was, standing erect and tall, urging us to believe that there is magic and possibilities out of the ordinary: A tree in which the trunk grew for several feet , and then sprouted off in 3 different directions, like three siblings, or a three headed being, each with its own whims, but living together as one.

As I saw the tree, I could not help thinking of Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables:

I couldn’t live in a world where there were no trees; something vital in me would starve. – Anne of Green Gables – L. Montgomery

It is a beautiful tree, but what was more beautiful was the rapturous attention the children paid to it. They marveled, and the magical in them, so easily accessible under the surface bubbled up as they befriended and clambered on the tree. Off they went with their heart full of tales of the little adventure they had had that day. I could see it in the way they skipped to school that morning. 

One dressed like a princess in bubbling swirls of excitement, the other clad in a princely cloak of incredulity and wonder. An urge to skip gurgled in me. I definitely had a spring in my step as I watched them that morning. When is it that we stop skipping along? I don’t remember the time adults stopped skipping, but it should be a day we rap ourselves on our knuckles. What can be more enjoyable than skipping along to wherever we are headed? Why are our steps laden with the weight of the world?

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. 

Some see nature all ridicule and deformity. 

And some scarce see nature at all. 

But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself 

– William Blake.

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Why can’t we imagine ourselves as princesses and princes out for a royal journey with adventures along our path everyday? In fact, once we do imagine this, the world has a way of giving us the very adventures we don’t even dare to dream about.

For us it came about in the Land of Fire & Ice, and in a world where there weren’t as many trees as I’d like, but a place that captured my heart and soul to willingly belong elementally, fundamentally, intellectually to it.

Next Stop: The Land of Fire & Ice 

Also read: About Ombu Trees in The Mockery Bird

The Corner Case

T’was the last day of May. The day started with the revelation that the car we had parked outside overnight was gone. It had been towed away overnight because a parking permit was not visible. I need to take this moment to assure you about the permit. You see, the pater accompanied us to place the permit in the car. 

How can I be so sure? For one, when we leave the house, the pater locks the door. By that simple statement what I mean is that he hangs on the doorknob and pushes and thumps the door till I can hear it howl in anguish, and confirms that the door is indeed locked.

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So, when the pater checks the permit in the car, the permit is in the car. And can be seen from every angle. With torch light or without.

Of course we were flummoxed to find the car missing the next morning. A few minutes later, there we were in the towing company’s yard. We went in, and the fellow behind the counter, from now on referred to as Tow-man, started off professionally enough.  He showed me some hazy pictures and I must admit I could not find the parking permit in the pictures he showed me.

He then walked with me to an impressive lot surrounded by a 8-9 ft tall fence topped with barbed wires on top. I wondered then why a towing company’s impound lot needed that kind of prison security. I was soon to find out.

I went in with him, and right enough, the parking permit gleamed. It is a shiny red one, and the morning rays of the sun made it glint cheerfully. I showed Tow-man the permit, and he was flabbergasted. I saw shock flit through his face. He had been so sure he had not seen the parking permit in the pictures. 

I asked him if I could take a picture of the car with the permit, and he agreed. Immediately, he realized that a picture could mean no money. I could almost see these thoughts run through his head, for he immediately clamped down his stance. He insisted that I get out from there, his company had a no-picture policy, and that he needed to investigate this. That was when anger became his companion.

Ursula Le Guin in her excellent set of essays, No Time To Spare, dedicates a few pieces to Anger. In one essay, she says, Anger usually stems from fear. 

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In this case, that made sense. Tow-man feared his bosses would not be happy with him if he did not get the money for the towed car. But there was no doubt that the permit was there. This is something that felt like a mystery to me too, and one I hoped to solve amicably. But his anger bubbled up, and stopped all possibility of a dialogue. He made ridiculous claims such as: You must have scaled the fence and jumped inside overnight to put the permit inside the car.

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The impound lot, as I have mentioned earlier, was double my height, and topped with barbed wire on top. I asked him a bit incredulously whether he really believed I could jump over something like that. I have my merits, but pole-vaulting over 9 ft high fences with barbed wire on top is not of them. Ask the rose bushes I walk by. I love them to bits and stop to sniff at them rapturously every now and then, but I still keep clear from the thorns. Getting scratched does not appeal to me. 

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There was no talking to Tow-man about rosebushes however. With anger as his weapon, things got ugly soon. 

“We have a no-picture policy, and you have been taking pictures.”

I felt the no-picture arbitrary rule a bit unfair, but there was nothing to be done.

Things started heating up, and we went out of the premises. 

Quote from No Time To Spare by Ursula K Le Guin:

Anger continued past its usefulness becomes unjust and then dangerous. 

It is very hard to find the right response to anger in a situation where both parties are technically right: His pictures showed no permit; I know the permit was placed before midnight and the car in the lot held the proof. 

It is a gripping tale, but in the interest of length, shall cut to the place where Tow-man shook his head obstinately, and said no, I won’t give you the car even if you pay.

The police had to come now. Professional as ever, they listened calmly to both sides of the story. Jobs dealing with people in general are hard, but jobs dealing with people in duress, peppered with high strung emotions and actions has got to be toughest of them all.  

It reminded me sadly of the piece on Anger again:

Quote:

Anger continued past its usefulness becomes unjust and then dangerous. Nursed for its own sake, valued as an end in itself, it loses its goal. It fuels not positive activism but regression, obsession, vengeance, self-righteousness. Corrosive, it feeds off itself, destroying its host in the process.

The mystery was solved within minutes of his printing the towing papers:

The towing company indicated that they had taken the pictures at 11:26 p.m.

We had put in the parking permit at 11:30.

The vehicle was towed away at midnight.

The permit is only enforced between midnight and 6 a.m., but before towing the vehicle, they did not verify again. The Classic Corner Case.

How can we all be right and still live harmoniously together? (Link to Buddha In a Lotus article)

Quote:

What is the way to use anger to fuel something other than hurt, to direct it away from hatred, vengefulness, self-righteousness, and make it serve creation and compassion?

Our Rainbow Colored Hearts Can Sing

The elementary school going son and his friends were proudly showing off their art work at the open house. It always makes my heart sing when I see the beauty of effort. Tables that looked like flattened zebras, zebras that looked like striped platypuses, and platypuses that looked like duck bills were all being open to interpretation. I was admiring everything and the artists around me were very proud of themselves. They puffed their chests out and competed with each other to show off one another’s work. 

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The teenaged daughter tugged my hand to show me a particularly fetching piece of art done by her brother. “Oh beautiful!” I coo-ed, though I could not really make out what it was. But to paraphrase Ursula Le Guin, a potter’s job is not to explain a pot, but to make the pot. It is upto us to use that pot as we will. In her fascinating collection of essays or blog posts, No Time To Spare, she deplores this tendency in Modern Art museums for the artist to explain their work.

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An artists work, she says, is open to interpretation and mean different things to different people at different points in time. It is a sentiment that I agree with, and I relished her way of putting it into words. Something that I have always admired in Ursula Le Guin’s work. Of course, she put it far more elegantly than I have attempted to here. 

Please read this earlier post on the daughter’s drawings as a child.

Anyway, I admired the son’s work, and then the daughter pointed to the bunch of people in the picture. Peering closely, I noticed they had rainbow colored faces. I asked the son why the folks in his drawing looked like rainbow trout in the sunshine.

He said, “Oh my teacher said to the class, to put in some colored people.”

I turned to the teacher, and she said she did say that for Diversity and Inclusion. I smiled at her, and thanked our stars for all the lovely things teachers teach the children.  Half the adults seem to have difficulty remembering these simple lessons in these sad times. All the more reason why we should all attend a year of Kindergarten every decade.

I looked again at the rainbow colored people and thought how beautifully untainted and open minded we are before we learn our little prejudices along the way. To think how much we obsess on skin color makes my rainbow colored heart very sad. It was, therefore, with utter joy that I picked up the book, “Different? Same!” Written By Heather Tekavec and Illustrated by Pippa Curnick.

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Different?Same! By Heather Tekavec, Illustrated by Pippa Curnick

In this beautiful book, we are reminded of how each of us are so different and yet similar. How is a Zebra similar to a bumblebee? Or an Elephant and a Narwhal? 

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Different?Same! By Heather Tekavec, Illustrated by Pippa Curnick

The book finishes on a beautiful note that can make our rainbow colored hearts sing: If you look closely enough, it soon becomes clear … we’re not as different as we first appear.

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Different?Same! By Heather Tekavec, Illustrated by Pippa Curnick

Swimming Across The Media River

One week-end evening, the devices in the house were barking mad. Twing, twang, tring. Video calls, phone calls, instant messaging systems were all driving themselves to a tizzy. Far away, far, far away, 5000 miles away a temple bell was clanging.

I yearned for some quiet and asked if anyone cared on joining me for a walk in the cool Spring evening. Everyone sprang out of my sight like a cat let loose in a party of rats. The husband was trying to yelp his way out of a walk when the first free WhatsApp call came. He ran to pick up the phone with a sense of urgency, and secret relief that he did not have to go a-walking with me, but narrowly missed the call. I made for the open skies while he dialed back. 

The walk was a beautiful one. I admired squirrels chittering, birds twittering, even the raucous cackle of the geese seemed musical. I have, in my chronicles expressed an interest in finding out about animal communication. Misguided. It is better if we don’t know. This way, I could let the noise wash over me, and assume best intentions on their part. The breeze gently tousled my hair, and the setting sun threw brilliant hues across the scattered clouds.

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I stepped in to the home after some time, and saw the husband looking drawn and crumpled, like wet cloth tumbled about in a dryer.

Is everything alright? I asked him a little worried.

Yes! Yes! he said, and proceeded to tell me the thrilling tale of the past 1/2 hour. The saga clanged its way across temple towers, cell phone towers, underground cable networks, and busy human ones. Leaping from a small rural temple town in South India, a couple of metropolitan cities, and continents, with data bits coursing through half the earth, it read like the glossy blurb of these bestselling novels steeped in drama and suspense. 

I was intrigued, and gave the sympathetic ear at once.

The first phone call had been from his mother in India. She lives in Madras. WhatsApp calls are free, and people are free, so I will just give the gist. 

Mother in Madras: Can you call your cousin in New Jersey, and ask him for his sister’s number in India?

Husband in California: Why? 

M in M: His sister is here in India visiting no? 

Wait! I see even gists could take a while, alright let’s try this then:

Premise: Husband’s cousin visiting India for a few weeks.

Plot: Said cousin and her mother, viz, husband’s aunt, went to a small temple town in South India.  There, they planned to meet up with husband’s uncle, and go into the temple together.  

Plot Twist: Uncle tried to call Aunt, but she had put the phone in her handbag and did not hear it ring because someone was twanging the infernal temple bell with great righteousness.

Cliff hanger: Will they ever meet? The temple town had all of 3 streets culminating at the temple after all.

That is it. The entire plot. 

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How does that leap across metrops, continents and coasts, you ask? Fair question. 

As I see it, the itch to go temples stems from mankind’s search for spirituality. Learn to calm the inner anxieties and voices and so on. On this spiritual quest, when one does not meet the intended person in the first 32.5 seconds, the mind flutters and they place an immediate call to their sister in Madras. She then calms her brother saying there is no need to worry, and immediately places a phone call to the husband in California. 

Why husband in California? 

Repeat after me: Aunt visiting temple with d. Plot thickens when Aunt does not pick her phone. But the visiting cousin has a phone for use in India. Stroke of brilliance indicates that her brother preparing for bed in New Jersey will have his sister’s number. Call husband in CA *Tring* to call girl’s brother *Tring* to find out temp cell phone number in India. 

Husband misses call narrowly *Tring*. 

Husband calls mother again *Tring* as soon as possible, but mother’s phone is busy for she has called *Tring* her second son in New Delhi to call his cousin *Tring* in New Jersey and get the phone number. 

After several nerve wracking minutes, both folks call the poor fellow in New Jersey *Tring Tring*. The fellow moans sleepily that he has already fielded five free calls from various parts of the globe asking the same thing and there is no need for any of this, since they seem to have found each other. 

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Then a next set of phone calls were completed for the express purpose of letting everyone know that the concerned parties had met each other, and all was well. In all, I guess about 23 different calls were made. If one party had stood still for 5 minutes, the other party would have simply fluttered into them in the breeze. 

Though tactless, I laughed heartily. The husband looked like a spent force after dealing with this hurricane of calls. He eyed me, and said somewhat icily, “Let’s talk about something else, shan’t we?”

“Do you know how trees, and wild boars communicate to each other?” I asked the husband grinning. 

“Tell me”, he said, and we spent the rest of the walk discussing acacia trees, giraffes, wild boars and hunting laws in Geneva. (Inner Life of Animals, The Hidden Life of Trees – Peter Wohlleben)

“Did you know the wild boars are so smart, they have figured out that the Geneva side of the river has a hunting ban, and the France side doesn’t? So when the first gunshot rings out in France, all the boars scramble, splash into the river and swim to the other side of the river. I suppose they poke their tongues out at the hunters on the other side!” I said.

“Is there someplace that has a free-calling ban, so we can swim across the media river when the first phone calls start?” moaned the fellow, and I patted his hand in commiseration, wisely refraining from telling him that all of this could have been avoided if he had just come out on the walk with me leaving all modes of communication behind. 

Should Okras Be Peeled?

The father waddled up to me in the library and spoke in his whispers. “Oh! Look what I have found? I am going to become a force, and talk to Aunty by myself.” 

It was a Tamil book: Learn Hindi Through Tamil. I looked amused. Hindi has always been the pain point in the household. I remember being a single digit age, lolling on the bed in our childhood home, a few weeks before our trip to New Delhi, and the mother was exhorting us to learn Hindi.

I was the only one who was technically qualified to say anything in Hindi because I was the only one who learnt the subject, but I use the term ‘learnt’ loosely. The teachers taught, I struggled.  I always struggle with languages that force you to determine before hand whether a biscuit is masculine or feminine. Fine! Male biscuit! I say, and then it asks me, what about a dog? How does it matter whether the dog is a she-dog or he-dog?  ( although I suppose it matters to the dog, I see that now. Hmm.) Okay, She – The dog is female. Then what about a dog-biscuit? Is that asexual. You see how confusing it all is? 

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We made it to Delhi after a thrilling ride on the train that took us several days and various experiments with Telugu, Marathi, Bihari, Urdu, Rajasthani and Hindi. One day, we went shopping in Delhi. We were told by our kind advisors that the thing to do in Delhi markets was to issue a prompt, “Baap re baap Bhaiya. Itna?!  (Oh my goodness me! This much?!). Like a ‘Hello’, you first belt out the Baap-Re-Baap. After that you are on sound ground, and can proceed to ask for a price less than half the asking price. 

When we baap-re-baap-ed at this, our hosts told us that it is standard practice. Traders in that market priced goods at more than double for they knew it would come down to less than half, so it is a fair price game after all. I had no working knowledge of Economics then (or now), but this sounded wonkilicious.

So, we baap-re-baap-ed our way around the city.

In the crowded market, I heard the Baap-Re-Baap in the Pater’s voice emanate to much commotion. A soft voice was never his identifying feature. If he were an instrument in the band, he would be a trumpet, not the flute or the bagpipe.

The pater was bargaining hard. “Nahin, nahin. Pachees too much hai. Myn pachaas-heee givoonga, errrmm, day-oonga.” (“No no. 25 rupees is too much. I will give you only 50 rupees.” )

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I went over to investigate the fracas, since more and more people were joining in to get a good seat on the show. The pater was driving the hard bargain. 

I tried explaining in Tamil so folks watching the show would not understand: “Do you want to give Rs.15? He says the thing is Rs 25, and you are saying you will settle for Rs.50!”

The merchant was laughing to split, and several more were joining in by the minute. Finally, he said in perfect Tamil. “Saami – irupadhu kudu.” (Sir, just give Rs 20.)

After that, the association of market stall traders were most helpful – they pulled us into their stores and treated us to tea and more bargains. Who after all bargains to give more? Here was a soul of gold, they said to themselves, and went on to rip us off with perfect amiability.

I can’t say the decades in between taught very much more of the language.  One could get by quite well in South India without Hindi. 

Then, a few decades later, Aunty came to our household. She is a stellar help. She speaks Hindi and when excited switches to Urdu.

So, that day in the library, he was obviously thrilled that he found the book that promised to teach him Hindi through Tamil. That night, I heard the father proudly showing the ‘Learn Hindi through Tamil’ book to the mother, and telling her looking rather pleased with himself. “Look! The milk is here. Doodh yagaan hai! 

“Oh Look!” The father is a confirmed oh-look-er. “There is even a page for vegetables. Did you know aloo means potato? ”

The mother, always up to the challenge, told him that it was admirable, and said coolly. “Tomorrow, ask Aunty to cut the peerkangai (ridge gourd) into small squares, and keep the scrapped tholi (hide)”.

The father turned to the vegetable page, exclaiming loudly that it was a marvelous book, and asks like this are child’s play. Bacchaasplay. After a few minutes, he yipped loudly. “There is no translation for peerkangai in the book. I cannot ask her. Should I ask her to peel the bhindi instead? Vendakkai means Bhindi.” (Okra is vendakkai)

“Life is worth living as long as there’s a laugh in it.” – ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

The Land of Crumpled Cardboards

I love to see the children play their games of make-believe. One night the son went on and on about which island I would save and why. I was doing three different things in the physical realm as he spoke, and mentally fifteen. So, by the time the question was posed to me, I was flummoxed.

“Umm the biggest island.”, I said.

“Ugh! You didn’t listen did you? That has the ferocious dragon, and not just that, it won’t even listen to you! Do you really want a dragon that doesn’t listen?” he asked. Distracted as I was, I was glad that the irony of the moment was not lost on me, and I chuckled.

Sometimes, I need to get something at night, and howl and yip after stepping on gallant heroes, tired cars, planes and figurines parked on the ‘arena’ in neat rows so they can sleep.

An old cardboard box has occupied prime real estate in my home landing for months. Several attempts to throw the thing out fizzled out when I heard the touching passion with which the son argued for it to be kept. It isn’t an ordinary one: It has hosted grand prix races, super hero battles and has even been used as an air strip for firefighting airplanes. 

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Inside, you will notice several faded crayon marks, the battle scars on a war-field.  The faded crayon lines are the tracks where the races take place. The green colored lines are the lanes within which the firefighter plane has to land, exhausted after fighting fires raging over the crumpled forests of paper nearby.

I was reminded of the poem, The Land of Counterpane, by Robert Louis Stevenson. A poem so endearing to me given the situation with the crumpled cardboard box.

The Land of Counterpane – By Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850 – 1894

When I was sick and lay a-bed,   
I had two pillows at my head,   
And all my toys beside me lay   
To keep me happy all the day.   

And sometimes for an hour or so     
I watched my leaden soldiers go,   
With different uniforms and drills,   
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;   

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets   
All up and down among the sheets;  
Or brought my trees and houses out,   
And planted cities all about.   

I was the giant great and still   
That sits upon the pillow-hill,   
And sees before him, dale and plain, 
The pleasant land of counterpane. 

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Illustration from Book of Poems – R L Stevenson

 

One evening, all the adults and teenagers in the house were busy trying to figure out how to amuse themselves. Netflix was straining its algorithms, and saying, If you liked that, how about this? You-tube stars were creaking and moaning leading folks down rabbit holes of if-you-like how the soap bubbles popped in this purple bucket, then you will surely also like how the soap bubbles pop in this pink mug.

The elementary school going son, however, was playing vigorously. The Piston Cup was in progress, and he was charging round and round the stadium trying to see whether Lightning McQueen would win yet again. After an hour or two of this game, he became a firefighter, and flew off, his mouth-engine purring brrrr—prrr—vrooom—broom. 

 

Ask any adult about how they played as children, and you can be sure of being entertained.

“Because when you are imagining, you might as well imagine something worth while.”
― L.M. MontgomeryAnne of Green Gables 

I wonder when we lost this admirable skill. What would it take for us to regain the ability to amuse ourselves, and delve into the wonderful worlds of our imagination? 

I can understand now what Robert Frost meant when he said something to the effect of, the older one gets, the younger the teachers. 

When I was young my teachers were the old.

Now when I am old my teachers are the young.
Robert Frost