Magical Novembers

Novembers in Bay Area are magical. There is a promise of rain in the air, the fall colors are out and the dry sordid months of summer finally seem to be behind us. The trees burst forth in a sudden splash of color. Octobers are to Prince Edward Island in Canada as Novembers are to California. So, I have absolutely no problem in gushing like Anne of Green Gables : “I love a world with Novembers in them.” 

The son and I had were taking a short break after a bike ride. We stood there admiring the way the leaves seemed to be flipping as the wind went through them when an ornithologist found us. We politely made space for him on the park bench. After a few minutes, we went on to having conversation on nature based hobbies and such. 

He had with him one of those cameras and lenses that can zoom upto 714 times. The son & I exchanged glances. Could that pelican sitting on that small island in the lake be seen well with that lens then? Jack (the ornithologist cum photographer), told us indeed he could and he went on to take a few photographs to show us. We were more than suitably impressed, and he was gracious and generous in showing us how his lens worked.

I have always been in awe of those who were able to get fantastic photographs of the birds. I have several friends whose photographs have me yearning for their gift of composition. With landscapes, while I still admire the artistic compositions, with moving targets such as birds, I find the whole process fascinating. My attempts at hummingbird photography have proved to me that (a) hummingbirds are very fast – research says they can flap upto 50 times a minute and (b) my phone is usually unable to capture them flying. 

But my new phone and Jack’s attempts at the photographs were inspiration enough for me to go back to mooning about the lakesides and riverfronts looking for birds. I suppose these birding photographers do this all the time, but when I did, I felt like I had developed wings myself and fluttered away – whether as an angel or a devil did not matter.

I got my first picture of an Anna hummingbird (albeit one resting on a tree), but I got a picture nevertheless. I also captured on my phone,  a mockingbird, a siege of herons, a pod of pelicans and an assortment of wood ducks, grebes and coots.

The skies, in the meanwhile, look like nothing I’ve seen before( although my phone best to differ based on the number of pictures it classifies as ‘Similar pictures’). I would love to be a crepuscular artist knowing fully well that I could never aspire to the true artistry that is on display every day for us – especially during the rainy season. 

I suggest everyone take some time to enjoy the rains and the clean skies and earth afterward.

I sat in the car watching the rain pouring down and feeling the sense of life’s stresses washing away. Californian rains are whimsical: one minute they beat down, maybe even give in to a thumping hailstorm, but in the next few minutes, the clouds scud away as quickly as they gathered leaving a jaw-dropping sort of blue and white clouds behind them. It is magical. 

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”

Henry David Thoreau

The Joy of Cloudy Days

Summers in California are true and long, lingering summers. The grass becomes hay, the green hills become brown, lawns boast of signs that say ‘Brown is the new Green’, and birds and animals alike droop from the sun. The flora though thrives – vegetable gardens burst forth and produce in the bountiful rays of the sun, flowers bloom everywhere, and in the midst of all the heat, there is beauty at every corner. The weather sometimes heeds the arrival of the autumnal equinox but has no qualms about ignoring it either.

This year, the summer has been excaberated with the drought. The riverbed that gives me so much joy was dry, the lake beds were parched and all the creatures gone. 

This year, even the cloud cover seemed scant. Sunsets were less than spectacular, the skies were a brilliant blue and slowly turned pinkish before becoming a deep ink-ish blue.

My sunset photographs from yester-years seemed magnificent in comparison. For clouds – scattered, wispy, thick, grey, white, fluffy, dense all make for brilliant sunsets.

You can imagine then, the joys of seeing the clouds rolling in. We were traveling and to see the clouds from the flight was magical. The son & I sat mesmerized by them. As the aircraft dipped in altitude and made toward the Earth, it was pure magic to see the clouds around us – the aircraft was literally flying through the clouds.

A lover of clouds is called a Nephophile. 

In the book, A Pale Blue Dot, Carl Sagan writes about how he could probably identify which planet on the solar system he was in merely by looking at the color of the sky. Our home, Earth, is a characteristic blue sky with white clouds. The absence of these day-to-day marvelous wonders, that Carl Sagan calls as the signature of Earth for the past few months, made us truly appreciate the beauty and grandeur of cloudy days.

Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.

Rabindranath Tagore

It is why you saw me with my face upturned and beaming at our heavenly companions as if they had feelings and needed to be welcomed. 

Clouds & Rain

Rain Rain Go Away

Come Again An-other Day

The son was plucking away at the notes on the keyboard. I recognized the nursery rhyme and said, Let’s sing it as :

“Rain Rain Come Again

We have had none To-day”

He gave me a quizzical look, and started laughing. “Is this your words have meaning thing-y?”

“Well…yes! I mean everyday the forecast starts out as 100% rain, and then by the time the day rolls over, it is down 80% and then 40%, and then a tiny squirt like the clouds are having unitary tract issues. “ I said. 

Once their guffaws subsided, I sang along 

“Rain Rain Come Ag-ain 

We have had none To-day”.

I pondered about the garden-beds knowing that they should be bursting forth with clovers right about now, and the daughter would tell me not go about removing them, as they are so pretty. I mock-sigh, but enjoy this exchange every year all the same. I love the clovers too. The three-headed beauties remind me of the resilience of life, and the sweet and sour nature of life itself. When all the world is waiting for a spring, the snowdrops and clovers are the only ones brave enough to poke their head out and take into that leap of life.

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I am so glad to say that the first proper rains of the season descended on us this week. The sounds of the rain provided a beautiful back-drop as we went about our days. At nights, I relished the sounds of the gentle pattering rain, and the smooth whishing of the trees in the backyard. 

How beautiful gentle-ness is and how different from the gale-force winds that had ripped branches off a few days earlier? 

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I took a proper walk relishing the solitude of the fresh Earth two days after the heavy rains yesterday. Clouds were everywhere and there is nothing at all that nudges the philosopher awake like clouds and the smells of clean Earth. Thousands of seeds seem to have taken the leap of faith with the waters that descended over them in the past week, and the hills were green with possibilities. The poignancy of the writing in the book, Lab Girl, By Hope Jahren, nudged me. I stood there, admiring the fresh shoots, and relishing what she wrote:

“Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” – Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

The possibilities of beginning and waiting play out endlessly in our lives. Sometimes, it is with the need for action, the time to spurt forth. At others, it is in the waiting. The time for things to play out so we can gain clarity. For those of us who favor action, the waiting of the seed is an important lesson. At others, the spurting of life itself is the nudge to take the leap of faith.

I came back with that look of contentment that the family recognized: there was no denying it, I had photographs to show them, and though I recognized the medium could hardly capture the magnificence of Being There, I still reveled in showing them pictures of all the wonders I had seen. 

Sometimes, nature astounds me with variety: In one day out with nature I saw hawks, wildcats, squirrels, turkeys, deer, herons, grebes, fresh shoots of all sort of flora and fauna, not to mention the play of the light through the clouds at sunset. A friend of mine feels that animals cross our paths to send us a message. I think the menagerie I encountered was trying to send me the message that life is beautiful, if we take the time to live it fully, creatively and wholly.

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Some of the books in January had already set the message :

  • A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson
  • The River Bank and other stories from the Wind in the Willows – Graham Greene
  • Friends at Thrush Green – Miss Read
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon – By Kelly Barnhill
  • The Water Princess – Susan Verde (Childhood experience of Georgie Badiel)
  • Emily Writes – Emily Dickinson and her Poetic Beginnings – Jane Yolen, Christine Davanier

That evening, the son plucked at the notes for Clouds on his keyboard, and the clouds flitted above:

See the Clouds, in the sky

Wonder how they, Fly so high!

The Chrysalis of Clouds

Long flights are a time for introspection and solitude. Maybe given how little I get of this precious time unconnected, and alone, I am doubly appreciative of these spots of solitude gifted to me.

It is strange to think I am surrounded by sentient beings on a flight amidst the clouds. It was cramped being surrounded by people, but yet, free enough to let my fancies roam the beautiful worlds outside. The stars that I stare at from down below seem closer, and more familiar without the forms of the lit urban landscape to obscure the view.

Squinting into the night, it is faintly possible to remember a world swirling below and worlds swirling all around us, and worlds in which our problems are just that – fleeting wisps of cloud.

It is also rarely that I get to indulge in the beautiful meditations afforded by looking out the window. The tinkling lights of spots of civilization below make me think of how our problems look from above. I can think benignly of mankind just as I can do so when I am atop a mountain looking down at our lives.

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The rain bearing clouds were floating heavily as I surveyed them longingly from the airplane window. There is a strange uplifting feeling in being up among the clouds. When you are up there for hours together just quietly admiring the clouds, and the various lights that illumine them, there is cosmic beauty there. A calm beauty that words cannot do justice to. The idea of a soaring high atop a large thrumming bird watching the moonbeams light up the clouds is magical.

Watching the sun rise from above the clouds is even more magical. The transformation between dusk to night and from night to dawn is amazing. When on a long flight like that, it is doubly interesting to note that it is hard to imagine trees among the clouds. There is just a white/grey world tinged with silver, gold, yellow and orange against a black or blue sky. Where are the greens and purples that the eyes yearn for up there?

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Flying among the clouds, there was a strange sense of being transient. Aren’t we all transient beings, here among the clouds for a while? This world. While it feels beautiful to experience this fleeting sensation, it is also bourne upon us about the fragility of our beings. We are in pressure controlled vessels , being looked after by flight attendants with food and drink that our peculiar palates can accept.

As the flight announcements came on about our landing, I felt an unease. A return from the lands of fancy above to one tinged with reality. Was this how adventurers felt? Maybe it was because of the chapter I was reading in The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen as he wraps up his 6 month trek in the Tibetan Dolpo region on the lookout for snow leopards:
“To emerge gradually from such a chrysalis, drying new wings in the sun’s quiet, like a butterfly, to avoid a sudden tearing of the spirit. Certainly this has been a silent time, and a hallucinatory inner journey too, and now there is this sudden loss of altitude.”

The transcendental nature of flights,  watching the moonbeams, suns-rays and so on illumine the fluffy worlds below is a gift indeed. A time of mellifluous thought,  the landing to the earth is seldom smooth – do birds feel that way?

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A Poem From The Clouds:


The rain bearing clouds shimmer over the city lights below

Giving way to a darker journey where

The stars keep me company as they twinkle over the wing

Blinking and twinkling their friendly greeting as my eyes fathom their shapes.
The sun’s rays across the wing span creep in, slowly

Ushering in a new world

The same world blanketed by the stars

Or is it?
A billion diamonds replaced by one

One Star that outshines everything – The Supreme Star

Till Time takes charge at dusk again

A reminder that Time alone endures.

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