The Covid Vaccine

We rolled into the expansive grounds to receive the Covid vaccine. Everything shone with efficiency starting from the way our appointments were scheduled. It always astounds me when I see undertakings as large as this. Any public health initiatives are amazing in their scope and ability, and I was in awe. Like a child at the fairgrounds, I soaked in the sign boards, the appointment process, the courteous health workers all working on Saturday mornings to ensure the world can be a safer place. 

There were no questions unrelated to one’s health. No checks other than ensuring one was eligible age-wise and health-wise and had no known allergic reactions. 

As we waited for our turn and watched the registered nurses, volunteers and traffic attendants go about their duties, I thought once again of all the great things human beings are capable of as a species. Within a year of the coronavirus bringing the world to a stand-still, a vaccine was not just found, but mass produced and administered to millions of people. That is nothing short of a miracle. Even as the virus continues to spread its tentacles in waves, the vaccine outreach program was offering hope.

Extensive testing, mass production, and a dizzying level of community outreach and logistics had gone into place for this to work. But how did the mRNA vaccines work?

We live in the Information Age, and know first-hand how it can quickly be turned on its head to a Misinformation Age. A Quote from the Demon Haunted World came to mind.

“We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements—transportation, communications, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting—profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”

Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

The nurse came up to the car with a thin needle and I closed my eyes instinctively. She smiled and said, “It’s done. You feeling okay?”

Just like that, the tiny ant-like pinch of the needle that delivered a tiny dose of messenger RNA gave rise to something else.

I felt a surge for love for America

A touch of pride in its efficacy and its courtesy

A ripple of gratitude for Science

A shiver while thinking how it might have been had the 46th President not been elected.

And finally a sense of gratitude that we did have a President who valued these things.

 

The Pandemic Year

“Why don’t you pick out a children’s book from the ones stacked there?” I said nodding at the pile from the library.

The son picked out Our Great Big Backyard for us to read together. Written by Laura Bush and Jenna Bush Hager, and illustrated by Jaqueline Rogers, the book extols the beauty of the natural world around us. It is about a girl, Jane whose family takes a wonderful road trip across the United States making several stops along the way at the magnificent national parks. Jane is very reluctant at first, and fights with her brother missing her friends back home initially. But as the family makes their way from Everglades National Park in Florida to Yosemite National Park in California, Jane’s appreciation of the natural world expands.  She cannot wait to share the wonders of the natural world with her friends back home in their own backyard.

“Can you imagine last year this time, we were traveling all over the world?” I said, expressing shock at how soon our world changed for the n-th time since Covid-19 started

It was true. I had made several trips back to back in December 2019, and early January 2020. I remember feeling unmoored from Earth, somewhat dizzy in my speed of movement around the globe, and had felt a strange sense of being connected to the earth when I saw the spider’s web glinting in the winter dewdrops after the hours of flying. (I call it Tao)

It is a whole year since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. A year in which some people adjusted admirably to their changed circumstances, while many others found it much harder.  Life everywhere was shaken out of its steady state. 

The past year was the year in which we morbidly looked at the death rates on a daily basis, and adjusted to losses of family members, and friends to Covid-19. It was also the year in which humanity astounded us by developing a vaccine before the year was out

The vaccines are being rolled out to older populations and front-line workers, teachers etc. While there are variants of the virus, there is already talk of returning to work, normal functioning etc. Many schools have resumed in-person instructions. 

This past year, Covid-19 has made everyone take pause and tread slower. Travel plans are seldom made, and even then, hopefully, are made considering crowds, infection and exposure. Most folks I know have turned an appreciative eye to what lies close by though. How many years the trees near us have had the same flowering in spring and fall, only to be barely noticed by us? Yet these past few months, the enjoyment of it has been greater. 

I feel like a renewed appreciation for Thoreau as he observed the intricacies of nature in Walden Pond. For this long, I hadn’t noticed how the moon rises later and later during the waning period, and earlier and earlier during the waxing period. (Or just the changes in when we see the moon) 

Full Moon Rising – March 2020

The Spring equinox means the days are getting longer, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, and the leaves are sprouting everywhere. I remember one night when I was wakened by the sound of the pelting rain. I watched the rain for sometime, but wascompletely awed the next day, for the rains had ushered in the leaves on the trees overnight. I swayed around the trees wondering how  it would have been to watch the leaves grow overnight. 

Like Jane, the protagonist in Our Great Big Backyard , many of us realized, maybe for the first time, the many wonders of the natural world around us. 

As the vaccines are rolled out, and life limps back to normal, I hope we put the trying period behind us, but also remember the good things of this phase. The CDC announced that those who have been vaccinated can now gather indoors safely.

2020 Genre Unknown – Tops Bestseller List

I started this post out to write about all the books that have made life so enriching and beautiful in 2020. It has become a lovely annual ritual – a look-back on the kinds of things that interested and sustained me throughout the year.  But as I started writing, I felt a commentary was in order, as my reading changed with the events of the year. One felt like an eager student trying to cram everything relevant into one year, and then still feeling there is so much left to learn, so much to change, and so many things left to be done.

However, this overwhelm helps no one unless one reflects on the year past. So here goes. (The book list follows in another post.)

2020 is like one of those template books that somehow make it to the best seller lists. It started off as usual I suppose, maybe even showed a little promise, then the story takes you on a rollercoaster.  Deftly crashing you here, and bashing you there, the flow of events sometimes called for rolling one’s eyes.  Yet it took us to places one only imagined in thought experiments. There, inside a dystopian world, the story plunges on from one bizarre happening to another. True Schadenfreudian style if ever there was one. 

Then having rattled your innards, somehow in the end, it manages to end on a hopeful note.

Were it a novel, we would write up a review that said ‘Unbelievable at times’.

2020 had it all. 

🚀 It showed us Time Travel was possible. How? you ask.

  • Consider this: a leader of the free world denied science, and actually made impassioned calls for medieval forms of thinking (sigh!). If that wasn’t traveling back by a few centuries, I don’t know what is.
  • The past few years have also shown us how truths can be twisted, our realities distorted to suit the loudest people with the loudest voices in our online echo chambers. 

🌏 You want an inconvenient truth? 2020 gave us several.

  • From unprecedented bush fires and forest fires to hurricanes and snow storms, the year showed us all the true extent of what we have done to the one planet we call home.
  • Wall-E is becoming a reality. Our man-made things weigh more than the biomass of the planet put together. That’s more diapers, concrete, nylon, cars, and plastic than all the whales, sharks, seals and fish in the oceans; trees, shrubs, flowers and vines in the forests; elephants, rhinoceroses, bisons, zebras in the world.

If only we had mastered biomimicry before mass production!

⚖️ In my close to two decades of life in the United States, never had we had to face a curfew owing to civil unrest, but 2020 saw plenty of these too. The Black Lives Matter movement reminded us yet again about how equity and justice are terms that not everyone can use with a level of trust. 

🌌 It was also a year of cosmic splendor:

🏳️‍🌈 It was a political thriller (Will the elections happen? Will the votes be counted? Will the results hold? Will the winner be able to take up power?)

😩 It was one of the most tragic years in recent history. More lives were lost this year in the United States to Covid-19 than all the major American wars in recent history

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🥳 But it also has a hopeful end. Who would have thought that a virus that surfaced out of the blue (well bats really) killing thousands of people around the world, would have a vaccine found, and mass produced for consumption before the year was out? It feels like a Science Fiction movie in real-time. #CovidVaccine

What’s your 2021 WotY (Word of the Year) Choice?

2020 escapes adjectives and mere words cannot quite capture the irony of the year. Ironically, last year when we selecting a word for the year in the nourish-n-cherish household, the teenager vehemently voted for the word, ‘Ironic’ (after I shot down ‘Sarcastic’ as an entry of course). I had been inspired by a colleague who regularly answered ‘How are you?” with the word “Terrific!” (In meetings through the year).

One time, I asked him whether he always said that, since it was a shot of positivity in the middle of the humdrum, and he said that it was a family tradition for them. Their family sat together and decided on a word to use through the upcoming year to answer the question ‘How are you?’. The logophile in me sat up and took notice. I got the gleam that the children have identified, and scram when they detect it. It is what gets them into walking miles in the wilderness, or fun read-a-thons.

Where was I? Yes – the word thing. When I came home with this heart warming suggestion, I expected in my naïveté, to be taken up on the word-building, and lists filling up with words such as : Fantastic, Fun, Awesome, or even a word that is only used in our home, Imaginate. But of course that is not what happened.

The words put forth by the teenager were not going to be my words of the year by any stretch. So, given chaotic, neurotic (Really! This child expects me to answer ‘How are you?’ with ‘Neurotic’!) , dystopian, terrible, quixotic, and another few like this, we decided on Ironic. Luckily, we did not use this word to answer every ‘How do you do?” question during the year. Last night when I mentioned the word-of-the-year-greeting-exercise again, the children said, “Come to think of it, our word choice was not bad huh?! Ironic how that worked out! Get it? Get it?”

It was my turn to moan, but also think. Maybe there is something to the whole thought->actions->universe themes that we hear about all the time.

“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” – Lao Tzu

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It was a year in which ‘Ironic’ could be used with ease. Ironic how people react to pandemics, ironic how markets and stock market indices react to global pandemics, ironic how we are able to find pockets of quiet in the hectic world thanks to the very pandemic that is causing so much pain and suffering. Ironic how we determine leadership responses or lack thereof in our electoral choices, ironic that the very science naysayers will be benefited by a vaccine developed within a year of the genome mapping thanks to Science. Ironic how humans the social beings reacted to social distancing, and ironic too, how the themes of nationalism, chauvinism, racism, sexism were all rendered meaningless by a virus (too tiny to be rendered in colors by electron microscopes, but large enough to unite us all in the act of being human). If you are human, you are susceptible to the virus. 

  • 2020 word of the year turned out to be (no surprise here): Pandemic. 

Quote from BBC article:

This year has seen so many seismic events that Oxford Dictionaries has expanded its word of the year to encompass several "Words of an Unprecedented Year".

Its words are chosen to reflect 2020's "ethos, mood, or preoccupations".

They include bushfires, Covid-19, WFH, lockdown, circuit-breaker, support bubbles, keyworkers, furlough, Black Lives Matter and moonshot.

Use of the word pandemic has increased by more than 57,000% this year.

"It's both unprecedented and a little ironic - in a year that left us speechless, 2020 has been filled with new words unlike any other."
  • 2019 was the inclusive gender neutral pronoun, They
  • 2018 went for Justice
  • 2017 for Feminism
  • 2016 was Surreal (truly!)

I wonder what 2021 holds in store for us. 

2020 also embodied a lot of good words such as Shinrin Yoku (forest bathing) Komerabi (the beautiful word denoting sun rays piercing through the leaves).

I’d like to hear some of the words you can think of for the coming year. I am thinking of ones that made the children say ‘Meh!”. Whatever else 2020 taught us, it is that we can make it through together if we can retain our sense of humor (the floods of WhatsApp forwards come to mind), and to delight in the ordinary. So I pump for the more humdrum ones: Life, Hope, Joy, Peace, Happiness.

What about you? I wonder what frabjous words Dr Seuss or Lewis Carroll would pick.

The Covid Vaccine!

One blissful afternoon a few months ago, when the summer heat was beating down upon us, I was curled up on the couch overlooking the Umpqua river. The river was flowing gently in the valley below.  A deer and her fawn were grazing nearby, music was playing on the laptop, a book on the History of Medicine lay open in front of me, and every now and then, I read a piece out from the book to the family nestled nearby in various forms of ease. The unease surrounding Covid was there everywhere. (Grapes of Wrath).

History of Medicine is a somewhat misleading title for the book. Jane Goodall documented apes healing themselves by going to a cave miles away when they had stomach upsets, to find a herb to cure themselves.  So, I am pretty sure healing ourselves has an evolutionary angle.

We must’ve all seen the viral quote by anthropologist Margaret Mead, who supposedly said that the first evidence of civilization was a healed femur bone, since usually breaking this bone in the animal kingdom means death by starvation or predators. 

(I am not sure of the veracity of the quotation itself, but here it is)

In any case, I think the book addresses the last 200 years of practiced medicine.  

“What are you reading about now?”, was a frequent query as I made my way through the ailments listed in the book.

I told the children the hilarious tale of Jerome K Jerome, the author of Three Men in a Boat feeling off and searching up his ailments much like many of us first do with WebMD.

“I came to typhoid fever – read the symptoms – discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it – wondered what else I had got; turned up St. Vitus’s Dance – found, as I expected, that I had that too, – began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically – read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight. Bright’s disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years. Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid’s knee.”

“I had walked into that reading-room a happy, healthy man. I crawled out a decrepit wreck.”

― Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

The history of medicine is a fascinating one. The book contained some black and white pictures too. There was a few pages dedicated to the sad tale of James Garfield’s assassination. Apparently, hand-washing was not a prevalent practice in 1881. Though the shooting itself was not immediately fatal to Garfield, infection set in to the wound in the days following the shooting essentially killing him. His shooter infamously said, “I didn’t kill the President! I only shot at him. The doctors took care of the rest.”

Given how often we wash our hands during these Covid-times, it seems like something elementary, but was such a problem even 100 years ago. 

“I am so glad that human understanding of the microbial world has come such a long way in the past century!” I said after reading this piece out to the children. “Just think of this, within days of the genetic sequence of the coronavirus being shared, scientists had finalized the sequence of the antibody required to combat the virus. mRNA-1273

The author wrote about the time his mentor told him to document the symptoms of polio for posterity: this, at a time when the polio vaccine was not yet available. To quizzical glances, he apparently said with confidence that Polio will be cured within a few years. This was the sort of conviction and hope that is at once admirable and remarkable about the human race.

News of the corona virus vaccine is a welcome one indeed, and a true testament to Science. The first vaccines were distributed to 50 states in USA from Pfizer’s facility in Michigan today.

3D_medical_animation_coronavirus_structure

What is mRNA, and how do they work? Link from CDC

Like Bill Gates said in his 2015 TED talk, it isn’t missiles that we need to fear (since we now are invested in peace, knowing how we can annihilate ourselves many times over), but epidemics such as the Spanish flu. The coronavirus really did take the world by surprise, and showed us how we are all more interconnected than we realize – we are just a small pale blue dot floating in the cosmos – united in our destinies and apparently as weak as our vilest virus.  

Eudaimonia – Human Flourishing

Somewhere in the forest of my rough notes nestled this little piece. I had evidently written it with a view to tying the pursuit of happiness to the happiness of pursuit and all that. 

A couple of the son’s friends had come over and without wasting a moment, they started a vigorous game of I-honestly-don’t-know-what. I could hear loud giggling by the couch as they jumped from the sofa to somewhere else and back on. After an hour of this, I asked them the point of the game. They exchanged quizzical shrugs. 

* Was there a point in the jumping game? 

* Was there a point in jumping? 

* Was there a point in a sofa or the cushions below? 

I laughed at their loss of words, and let them go back to their game. They were kind enough to ask if I wanted to join. Detecting a distinct take-pity-on-me vibe from the frazzled, frayed sofa, I gallantly told the children to proceed without me. They looked relieved and continued happily.

I looked at their flushed faces and saw that the point of the whole thing was that they were happy. Happiness as a concept has the philosophers stumped. Philosophers who deal with heavy themes such as meaning of life and so on, spend a considerable amount of time pondering the meaning of happiness, the importance of the pursuit of it all, among other things. 

I am listening to a lecture series on the Meaning of Life.  Professor Drone (lookup the name later) talks about pursuit of happiness among other things when he is explaining Aristotelian Ethics. Honor, Wealth, Excellence are all worthy pursuits in our lives, but it can all be towards something else: Happiness. Underlying our quest for Honor, W & E is a desire to be happy, he says. 

Unfortunately, as we grow, the little drops of sunshine that so easily caused mirth and joy tend to fade.

But as I read the little note above, I also felt a little pang – for it showed me what the children were missing now. The camaraderie of classroom replaced with the tiny tiles of an online meeting, the wholehearted enjoyment of jumping replaced by online games.  I had spent the whole day in one meeting after another. Meeting fatigued days such as this one tended to blend into one another, especially when the daylight faded out so quickly that only darkness remained, with a cold wind to keep one company. Wondering what my son was upto, I rose – my joints creaking like the wooden floor below to see if he needed company. 

Just as I was feeling dangerously sentimental about social distancing, its long term effects on the young minds, and all that sort of thing, I heard peals of laughter and the familiar sounds of jumping up and down. There was a FaceTime call in session, and the little fellows were re-enacting a scene from an online game they were playing together. The brawlers, as they called themselves, were making themselves real-life Brawl Stars. The video call was propped up on the globe in the middle of the table, and the swinging adventurers flew in and out of view of the camera. Judging by the sounds of it, the children had adapted with their customary cheer. 

the_world_playground

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” Albert Einstein

“Hi ma! Want to join us? We are just ummm just umm brawling!”  

I looked at the little fellows’ pals squealing and leaping off the sofas in their screens, and I declined the kind offer much to their relief.  I headed into the kitchen with a smile on my lips, a tune in my heart, and hope in my being.

Eudaimonia, also spelled eudaemonia, in Aristotelian ethics, is the condition of human flourishing or of living well. Ask Professor Drone to play with children and learn a lesson or two. Happiness lectures indeed!

Once in a Blue Orange Moon

Halloween is one of my favorite times of year. In sunny California it is the time fall weather finally starts to settle in. I pick out pumpkins to set by the door. Most years, my carving takes a back seat, and I settle for painting or sticking outsize eyes and a mouth on it instead.

But we decorate the house – bats and owls stickers fly around avoiding the fake spider webs. Hasty orange construction paper is stuck around the outside light, and all things orange are ready to be displayed for one whole evening.

I remember a few years ago on an evening walk after a vigorous trick-or-treating, I felt a thrill and stood there mesmerized for a moment as an owl flew against the moonlight. I know Zen and Buddhist teachers tell us to enjoy the significance of every moment. I am not sure about every moment but a few moments do  lodge themselves in a magical spot. The owl flying across the moon was one such. I remember standing there bathed in the magic of it all. The owl of course is a visceral being, and was after its prey – nothing more nothing less. Halloween was an affair that was of no consequence to it. 

The blue moon will shine its benign light on us on Halloween. The trick-or-treaters will be thin on the ground, of course, because of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, and I should think bats will not be getting that warm a reception with humanity this year! 

The son got himself a costume that has a mask with an air filter on it keeping with the grim theme the world is cloaked in. “Hint!” I said holding up my hand in a V with two fingers on either side to those who tried to guess what it was on the video camera. The son shook his head disappointed and said, “Your hint is from Star Trek! My costume is from Star Wars!” Ahh well.

The son wore his Halloween costume to class today. This would have to be the poor substitute for the marvelous parade they usually get to attend on Halloween, but he dressed up with gusto . I was excited to see his classmates dressed up too: their tiny passport sized icons on the screen showing me the heads of princesses and pirates would have to do.  Their teacher was kind enough to let me read my book, Halloween in the Jungle, to them. Reading the books to the children is by far one of the best experiences I have had. Their reception to the story, their thoughtful questions thereafter, and their wholehearted enjoyment of the simple story is more than enough for me. Why? Oh why do we lose that marvelous feeling of youth as we grow older?

halloween_ij_fm

Tango Tiger, Janny Rat, Boy Elephant, Biso Bison, Spotty Rat and all their delightful pals are heading into their 7th year celebrating Halloween in the Jungle. The Halloween in the Jungle book has since given me immense joy. 

But this time, I feel a special bond to the little tykes as they revel in the clearing by Luda Lake, eating pumpkin pies, drinking orange and persimmon juice, and dancing to the lovely sounds of the musical orchestra with Nighty Nightingale, Owl, Bat and Frog. You see this time, just like the illustrations show, there will be a marvelous full moon night to light up Halloween. 

halloween_ij_fm_page

Blue moons are not as rare as we think, for they come around every 2-3 years. But apparently, this is the first time since World War II that a full moon visible from everywhere in the US coincided with Halloween. I am not one to set much store by signs, but if after the 1944 Halloween full moon, we were able to set the world to rights, surely a Halloween full moon and a blue moon at that should work miracles.

Happy Halloween!

Bestiary Tales in Covid Times

“Summer will be done in just two weeks!” trilled the children. The son was excited, as expected, by the fact that it was time for the autumnal solstice. (Earth’s tilt, cosmos, time are all fair game for him)

I stopped bustling about and nodded. It was true! That’s two whole seasons of Covid living.

Summer has been a blur. Sometimes, it was a happy blur of forests, rivers, beaches, craters, lakes, browning meadows, bundles of hay, wildflowers, towering trees, stars at night, comets zipping in the Earth’s vicinity, angry and mellow sunsets, pelicans and 🎼 “wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings” 🎶, hummingbirds flittering in the pale light of the rising moon, asters and star lilies in the shade of their massive neighborly trees. All of this with the sweet companionship of the family, and close friends – zooming in at times.

Other times, it was exhausting – heat waves, massive wildfires, poor air quality indexes, Covid numbers continuing to rise and showing no signs of abetting, protest marches, racism, bomb blasts, all on top of a news cycle that seems to think it has to deliver the heaviest punch into every day. It is like watching the world’s worst wrestling match. 🤼‍♂️ Really, someone should coach the world that not everything needs to be shocking and bigger and worse than ever before. It might be okay to watch a match in which the players seldom land a punch and are merely playing the game warily sizing each other up once in a while. 

Yet, life must go on, and it often goes along much better when we stop and look for promising moments in the gloom. There are moments that stand out clearly in this pandemic, when I felt a wave of gratitude overwhelm me, and I am also grateful for the sheer timing of these moments.

The time I stood on a windy, lonely strip of beach wrapping a towel about me for warmth and watching the sandpipers fly against the wind without wavering one bit, while I had a tough time just standing erect was one such. It was but a fleeting instant in which the little nippy sandpipers taught me about keeping one’s spirits up when the world is attempting to veer us off course every which way.

Or the moment, when on a road trip to a solitary house by the Umpqua river, the road wove on, the heat rose in waves around us, and the shimmering waters of the Lake Shasta looked like a green beast taking it easy in the summer, and laying low for what lay ahead. A few weeks later, the Sierra Nevada mountains were to be threatened by wildfires on a magnitude that sent the state of California reeling. Looking at the dry lands about us for a couple of hours, I felt a moment of dread, when the road turned, and a beautiful gushing river accompanied the road, and there on a rock in the middle of the river was a great big bear, looking contented and trying to fish or just cool off. 

As we took our summer walks in the evenings, I stopped so many times to admire the geese splashing into the waters after their great squawking, while the pelicans achieved this feat with none of the noise, but all of the grace.

I remember the time we looked up on a stroll to come eye to eye with a great turkey vulture. The elementary school going son was with me, and he thrilled at it. “Amma – I know you take pictures of the flowers  everyday because they only last for sometime, but this…oh…this is so special. It is so .. umm.. “ He struggled for the right word, but I think I knew what he was going for. I felt it too. There was a majesty about the bird that was hard to describe. There was a divinity and a razor sharp quality to its gaze that falconers love. I have tried to experience this when I read the book H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. But all I needed was that encounter lasting all of two minutes. 

“The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life.”

― Helen Macdonald, H Is for Hawk

Really! How much our fellow creatures have to teach us?! 

I think of what wild animals are in our imaginations. And how they are disappearing — not just from the wild, but from people’s everyday lives, replaced by images of themselves in print and on screen. The rarer they get, the fewer meanings animals can have. Eventually rarity is all they are made of.” H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald

Just like that, Autumn comes in all its glory to teach us what it does best. Preparing for Winter.

Weather Monsters

“Have you gotten your bags ready?” my friends’ voices piped over the phone. 

“Uh – not yet. Got a bag down from the loft – will get to it.” I said shuffling my feet as I said so.

“Well..what are you doing now?”

“Writing about the weather over the past week.” I said somewhat sheepishly, and a loud laughter emanated from the other side. 

We toodled off with the sentiment of “Well Nero fiddled, I write!” but I am not going to lie. I was rattled, and went off to pack the emergency kit. The wildfires were too close for comfort – the air has been thick with smoke.

Exactly a week ago:

The days had been stifling in the heat wave that gripped the land. Oppressive waves rose from the shimmering hills nearby, and the eyes squinted for respite after the briefest strays outside. Some evenings had a splattering of clouds giving rise to splendid sunsets, and while I swooned my way through the evening walk, I yearned for a bit of rain, if nothing but to smell the parched sizzling earth cooling off a little bit. 

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I may have wished too soon.

For the very next day, I was looking at the most improbable of sights. I had set a whimsical alarm to rouse me at 5:30 a.m on that Sunday rearing for a hike before the sun started beating down on us. 

While I am always crooning about Nature and talking about it being the greatest soother of all time and all that, I often forget nature’s fury. I live in California where we pay a weather-tax. For the most part, the weather conditions are soothing, flowers bloom the year around, and though I yearn for more rains, it is a mellow nature that greets me most days. But that morning, I listened astounded as thunder rumbled overhead and the noise penetrated the double-paned windows, and then in the darkness the whole house stood illumined for a few seconds. I glanced unwittingly towards the sleeping children, and I stood awed.

We have easily gone more than two decades without thunder and lightning storms of this magnitude in this area. What was going on? 

I whispered to the husband – “Wow! Rain was not even in the weather forecast huh?” and stood mesmerized by the window wondering whether a walk was still on the cards if not a hike.

The husband looked at me and said, “Are you nuts?! Who goes out in this weather? Hiking at that. Nothing doing – if this is you wanting to watch the rain, pull up a chair and sit by the window!”, and he went right back to bed.

So, I did just that – I woke the son and showed him the lightning and the rain pelting down. It made for a magical morning, but I hadn’t completely realized the harm a storm of this magnitude can unleash on an already dry and parched Earth. In under 6 hours, there were more than 10,000 flashes of lightning starting over 300 fires that continue to rage across the Bay Area.

Time Lapse based off Satellite images of the Lightning strikes and subsequent fires in the area.

In just a few days we had experienced everything from heat waves to lightning and thunder storms – all in the midst of a pandemic no less. The air quality deteriorated significantly as the fires raged and fire fighters poured in from everywhere to contain the fires. 🔥 The sheer magnitude of the fires 🔥 they were dealing with had simple folk like me blanching, but these teams had strategy and they were working tirelessly. The tenacity for a job like that! 

In our skies, an angry sun shone through when it could through the smog.

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One week later:

Wildfires continue to rage over thousands of acres of land. Beloved forests and mountains ranges that have provided solace and comfort to millions of people over the years have been lost to the fires. My heart caught at the news that Big Basin Redwoods were damaged badly. Though redwood trees are supposed to be extraordinarily resilient to fires  and would probably make it past these fires, I grieved. Every time I visited these forests, I have come back not just refreshed, but spiritually in a better place as have thousands of tree huggers over the years. A true space for forest bathing or shinrin yoku as the Japanese call it.

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It has been a week since the lightning strikes. 1 week in which more than 60,000 acres of land have been burnt, with ominous statistics of 5% fire contained, fire alerts etc.

California Redwoods 

2020 seems to be determined to make its mark.




 

The Grapes of Wrath

We were driving through the countrysides of rural America. Vast landscapes stretched on all sides reminding us once again of the beautiful and vast nature of this country. The countryside baked in the hot Californian sun as we made our northward. We drove past fields and small towns that reminded me of the areas featured in the Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck in more ways than one.

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The Grapes of Wrath evoked a sense of economic ruin, human struggles, and the helplessness of it all. I walked around for weeks pulled down by the plight of the millions of Joad families who had to survive post the Great Depression. 

You see, I was prepared to see a certain level of isolation. Covid-19 has changed the landscape unimaginably with the service sector and the retailing industry in hiatus. What I was not prepared for, was the eerie and pervasive shadow of desolation and ruin. The divide between the haves and have-nots a deep chasm yawning wide and deep. 

https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2016/employment-by-industry-1910-and-2015.htm

The husband and I were in a somber mood as we made our way back, and fell to discussing the nature of work and how it is has changed so drastically in the past century. Just under a century ago, there was a good percentage of the population working farming jobs, then factory jobs. So, there still was a dream for a middle-class life – a life that promised reasonably good education for the children, relatively good health care, a decent home, and food on the table. It seemed the only jobs left for people to work in these small towns were in the service sector or the retail industry. With both these sectors impacted so heavily with Covid-19, it was a terrifying sight. 

“There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do.”

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

If the elections bring the current president to power again, he will find a way to make things much worse – maybe even go to the extent of inciting riots and civil unrest. If another president takes the reins, I do not envy the poor president-elect – what a mess to unravel and what a huge responsibility to the citizens. 

How would the world get back on its feet? 

“But how on earth is the stock market holding up?” I asked, for wasn’t that supposed to be an indicator of the economic conditions on the ground?

There – right there, is what is called a mystery. Anthropologically, mankind has been through worse survived more, but there is no doubt about it  – we have rough times ahead of us post-corona. As children, when we sang the hymns in our school, we liked some, loved the lyrics of others, and some stayed on with us through the ages. The first song that came to me that day was this one:

“We shall overcome .. We shall overcome…We shall overcome…Some day….”

After all:

“Muscles aching to work, minds aching to create – this is man.”

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

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