Out on a evening walk one day, my heart rose. The corona virus may be taking the world for a spin of its own. Days seem to be blending into weeks, and weeks into months. There are times, I sit up and notice the weekend is here. Some other times, I sit up and wonder where the week-end went. All of life seems to be one long news cycles of confusion & anxiety. What is a good time to reopen, should we reopen?
Human-beings may be in a state of confusion and anxiety. But Nature around us has no such doubts. She brought on Spring just in time. The leaves sprouted in one marvelous unified stage opening. I stood mesmerized under the fresh, new leaves, sometimes glinting with dewdrops, and other times, filtering the rays of the sun beautifully around. Early tulips bloomed, spring snowflakes made their hearty show.
Then slowly, and just as surely, the temperatures rose, and the hills near where we live browned in the suns. But that meant, it was time for the summer flowers to take the stage. The jacaranda trees took their cues from the receding spring snowflakes, and assured them that the show must go on. On the evening walk, I noticed the beautiful purple flowers blooming against the green leaves, the early oleander flowers are revealing their pinks and whites, and roses everywhere are out on their annual romps warming hearts and lifting spirits with greater sincerity this year.
The son and I stood watching bees buzz from one flower to another taking with them the memories of a thousand blossoms with them, slowly but surely nurturing the circle of life. I was reminded of Ray Bradbury’s saying:
“Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.” ― Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine
When I watch the dew drops glisten on the spring snowflakes, When I watch the rainbow makes up its mind and throw itself like a garland across the skies When I watch the eight-legged marvels creations catch in the sunset When I watch the waves lap and play with the sandpipers
I feel hope stir in the spirits I feel decisive and conviction in Being I feel solitude’s gift can be tangible and needs to be nurtured for its fragile state I feel engaged with the planet and all its gifts
There is beauty in knowledge of the changing seasons, and wonder in anticipation.
What Do You Do With A Chance?Written by Kobi Yamada and Illustrated by Mae Besom, is a insightful read on a young boy who sees a chance, and decides not to take it. The chance flutters by him, and he misses it.
The next time, he decides that he will not let a chance pass by him again, and he reaches for it as it flutters tantalizingly by him, but this time, he falls flat on his face, and is laughed at by the other children.
So, he refuses to entertain chances again. They flutter by him multiple times, but he turns his back on them. Slowly, they stop fluttering by.Time goes on, and he starts to yearn for a chance, This time, he thinks, come what may, he will grab on and go wherever the chance takes him.
The chance does arrive eventually, and it is a huge one. A bright shining illuminance that lights up everything nearby, and he jumps on, and soars watching the monochrome world around him explode in technicolor.
Like all good children’s books, this one made me wonder too.
How often have we missed chances? It is one thing for a book to beautifully illustrate a chance, but quite often the chances we miss are not always that beautifully illuminated in the landscape of our life, except perhaps in hindsight. Sometimes chances come in the guise of problems, and they transform into opportunities. Sometimes chances are so common-place you barely recognize them at all. Sometimes, a chance comes in the form of slowing down, catching a deep breath and taking a glimpse of the world around us.
Take for instance the time I was running around a lake, watching the sunset throw its myriad patterns on the lake waters. It was beautiful and fleeting. My pounding heart was pouting at this sudden enthusiasm for fitness. I myself was quite miserable. Running can be quite the mental exercise: the mind jabbers on:
Why does it have to be so hard? Really, after all this time, has it only been a mile? So slow, I could have beat myself if I had been 5!
Then, I looked at the shining lake waters and chided my brain for being such a wet sod, took a deep gulp and pushed on. But after a few miles, I stopped by my favorite pepper willow trees. I had been running around the same spot, and yet, I had not noticed so many things. It was as though my senses suddenly woke up when I stood still. I could feel the evening breezes lift off the stray tendrils of my hair, the sun’s rays seemed magical: sunset orange is a lovely color, and the way it transformed the clouds in the sky was beautiful. Breath-taking as it was, its true beauty lay in its very essence of being ephemeral.
Dandelion Wine: A Sunset is only beautiful because it doesn’t last forever. – Ray Bradbury in his book, Dandelion Wine, when discussing the Happiness Machine.
I watched the pelicans go about their evening business of co-ordinated fishing, small groups of geese were making their way back to the lake, landing together smoothly with the most melodious sounding splashes, and a fluidity of movement that would have made any pilot look on with awe.
We are lucky indeed to be able to stop and enjoy nature. As humanity huddles more and more closely in densely populated urban areas, we seem to have squeezed out these natural pleasures. For decades now, people have flocked to cities in search of livelihood. What option is there otherwise? Cities get larger, people cluster closer together physically and yet farther apart emotionally. How many city dwellers know all their neighbors?
I looked at the pelicans and geese spotting the lake as they settled down to roost for the day. There was companionship there. The pelicans were steadily drifting towards me – together, gracefully, and I could not resist going to a vantage point by the willow tree. I have always loved how these trees look like princesses, letting their tresses down in the stream – looking joyful, and serene to let the flowing water tickle the hair-tips, even as the breeze caresses their locks.
Nature, the soother, had worked her magic again, and my heart bloomed and expanded with joy. Sometimes a chance flutters by and you need to stop and take a breath to catch it.
In what was an impressive track record for last minute booking, the husband booked a trip, that flew us into Las Vegas and from there onto the beautiful sights in Utah. In one week, we had been in 4 states: California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah.
Sitting in the car that bright morning as we drove past Zion national park into Bryce Canyon national park, I felt the familiar stirrings of wonder. Nature often has this effect on me. The magnificence, brilliance and grandeur of nature never fails to instill awe. Always partial to trees, rivers and mountains when it comes to scenery, I could not help thinking how nature had once again jostled me out of my familiar likes and dislikes and opened my mind to appreciate beauty so different and so breath taking.
The diversity of the phenomena of Nature is so great, and the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich, precisely in order that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment.
We had driven past Zion national park early enough in the morning to go on to Bryce Canyon National Park. We received the first glimpse of hoodoos in Dixie national forest. Set against the bright blue sky, they looked like statues from another world sent here to evoke an art that stuns and astonishes. We were listening to a Harry Potter audio book: a series that nudges even the most reluctant thinker into imagination, so it was no wonder that my mind buzzed with actors from another world setting the stage for the impressive hoodoo theatre.
“What should we do at Bryce?” asked the husband
“Well… the Queen’s Garden trail comes highly recommended, so that and a few other trails ought to do it.” I said vaguely, and continued musing.
Would the Queen’s Garden be as poetic as its name? Would there be any hoodoos? Little was I to know that Bryce Canyon hosted an entire amphitheater of them, and that we would be able to walk amidst them.
One of the things I like best about road trips through the National Parks in the USA are the poetic names every point is given. Take for instance the Queen’s Garden. Instead of saying Rock Point or Hoodoo Lookout, the trail was given a mystifying and satisfying name: Fairy Loop through the Queen’s Garden in the Amphitheater. Who wouldn’t want to do that? Apparently, one of the hoodoos resembled Queen Victoria in the setting sunlight’s shadow.
Could there really be a weird coincidence of having one’s silhouette set in stone that gives us a clue as to which human beings live on in name and fame? Or do we only assume likenesses to those already living on in name and fame? Hoodoo musings are quixotic.
The day at Bryce Canyon was beautiful and as other-worldly as it is possible to get in so short a span of time.
Meandering through the park, we found ourselves washing up near the Queen’s Garden trail towards day’s end. The trail itself looped from Sunrise Point dipped via the Queen’s Garden and came back up near Sunset Point. If the point had not been named Sunset Point, would we have stopped to take in the grandeur of the sunset over the Amphitheater like setting of the valley? I am not sure. I do not think the sunset is any more spectacular here than at any other point in the Canyon, but simply by naming a point Sunset Point, we were encouraged to wait for the hues of the setting sun to unleash its marvelous palette of colors across the skies, thus bathing the amphitheater before us in surreal colors.
The setting sun took its time. It first peeked behind a hoodoo and then cast its fading light slowly upon the horizon.
As we stood there bundled up bracing for the sudden dip in Winter temperature after the sun sets, I could not help thinking of Ray Bradbury’s thought on the Happiness Machine in the book, Dandelion Wine: A Sunset is only beautiful because it doesn’t last forever.
While it lasted though, it was magical.
“Doesn’t it make you feel poetic?”, I said gazing mesmerized at the hoodoos in the amphitheater before us. “This Queen’s Garden hike reminds me of Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole. This is a Wonderland. The gargantuan arches of orange and pink beauty beckon!”, I said theatrically, flourishing my hands wide and raising my face heaven-wards. It is imperative at moments of impetuousness such as this to ignore teenagers inserting the practical note into life.
“It is just erosion.”, said the daughter bringing me back to Earth in a thud, but I saw her smiling happily and taking in the horizon.
Without art, science would be as useless as a pair of high forceps in the hands of a plumber. Without science, art would become a crude mess of folklore and emotional quackery. The truth of art keeps science from becoming inhuman, and the truth of science keeps art from becoming ridiculous. -Raymond Thornton Chandler
The Queen’s Garden Trail leads hikers past wonderful rock formations, including Gulliver’s Castle, the Queen’s Castle and many that are unnamed. Man-made bridges are scattered throughout the trail. At the end is Queen Elizabeth’s garden and the Queen herself, standing on a backward facing camel, calling out orders to the ships in the garden. The queen can also be seen from Sunrise Point.
Standing there under the rays of the setting sun, waiting to unleash another cold night, before rising again, the daughter and I imagined the place as it would have been millions of years ago, with underwater life teeming in its depths, crafting the very hoodoos for us to delight in today.
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” — Lao Tzu
If only, we let Nature go on its course without hurrying to leave our indelible imprint on the canvas, I am sure something even more remarkable can be handed down to generations after us.
In one story track of the Dandelion Wine, one of the characters, Leo Auffman, sets out to create a Happiness Machine after listening to low-spirited conversations among the old. Grandpa Spaulding, does let us know early in the process not to wait for the thing with bated breath, but we do.
Leo sets out to make his happiness machine imagining all the things that will make us happy. One quiet evening when he asks his wife what she thinks of it, she is stiff in her response, but Leo is too excited to notice that she doesn’t approve of the project. He spends more and more time creating the machine much against the wishes of his wife. He grows increasingly fond of what he is creating and neglects his family, too busy to notice the discordant strings starting to play out among the children. His wife tries to get him to see reason, and tells him that he is better off with his children, and spending time with them, but the excited Leo can barely wait to unveil the beautiful Happiness Machine to the world so there will never be discontent among the populace again.
It is only when he discovers his son weeping uncontrollably after taking a spin in the Happiness Machine that he fumbles. He is confused and cannot see where he went wrong. He pleads with his wife, Lena, and she too tries it out. At first, he hears her laughing, but slowly a deep wracking crying emerges from within the machine. Poor Leo – all he wanted to do was make people happy.
Lena comes out, and tells Leo that at first it was beautiful and she thoroughly enjoyed it. There was Paris, and all the wonderful places to see, right there in her backyard, but slowly a discontent set in. Hitherto, Paris and Greece were wondrous places, but not ones she ever dreamed of going to, and she was happy with her chores and the family. But now, the happiness machine had shown her everything that was possible.
What’s more, she goes on to say that she truly started crying only when the Happiness Machine took her dancing with Leo again. They hadn’t been to a dance in twenty years. Leo says he could take her dancing that very evening, but she says that is not the point, since all the Happiness Machine did was remind her of those golden times and foolishly wish for it again instead of treasure the memory. The children have to be fed, chores need doing around the house. Who wants a sunset to last forever? The sunset is only beautiful because it does not last forever. The whole time I am thinking I have my real life to get back to. My children to feed, my home to clean, my work that awaits me. Oh Leo, how could you forget that real life can never match up to what a Happiness Machine says my life should be like?
The story finishes with Leo realizing that a Happiness Machine was there with him all along – he was just too absorbed to notice it. One that doesn’t always work, but will do – his family.
I used to eat wild berries. This is the kind of statement that gets folks today squeezy. Were you really okay after eating wild berries? Yes. You sample one and then another if the first felt okay. Leave it at that and then a few days later, if you haven’t spent the preceding few days heaving up your insides, go for it again. Yet, every time I try to eat one, the husband grabs my arm and looks at me accusingly. The daughter twirls her eyes at the rebellious mother and berry eating becomes another adventure that is reflective of my wild youth.
In other news, I read an excellent book, Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury. Dandelion Wine is essentially a book of a boy’s summer in a small sized town. The first time he realizes that he is alive. Alive in a way he can observe the smells of summer, relate to the activities the hot sun brings with it, deduce what relationships mean, deal with the pain of seeing a childhood friend move, and how we need a sense of community. In this short book of related short stories, there emerges a brilliant, simple narrative of a 12 year old boy, Douglas Spaulding.
In one story, Grandpa Spaulding realizes that Bill Forrester, their young gardener, who is training up to be a journalist one day, buys a particular variety of grass that only grows to a certain height and then stops, thereby making a lawn mower redundant. (Luckily, no such grass exists to this day.) It is just a pretty lawn requiring very low maintenance. Grandpa is shocked at Bill for considering buying something that inches out the clovers and dandelions which means there will be no bees or butterflies in the garden. He goes on a tirade saying that this is the problem with the younger generation.
He tells a stunned Bill that he wants nothing to do with the grass till he dies, for he likes mowing the grass. He likes the joy in small things. The problem with the younger generation, he says, is that they hop from one big thing to another and find methods to get rid of all the small things that fill the day. He tries to explain to him that one day he would go crazy trying to find little things to fill his day.
“Lilacs on a bush are better than orchids. And dandelions and devil grass are better! Why? Because they bend you over and turn you away from all the people and the town for a little while and sweat you and get you down where you remember you got a nose again. And when you’re all to yourself that way, you’re really yourself for a little while; you get to thinking things through, alone. Gardening is the best excuse for being a philosopher. Nobody guesses, nobody accuses, nobody knows, but there you are. Plato in the peonies, Socrates force-growing his own hemlock. A man toting a sack of blood manure across his lawn is akin to Atlas letting the world spin easy on his shoulder. As Samuel Spaulding, Esquire, once said, ‘Dig in the earth, delve in the soul’. Spin those mower blades, Bill, and walk in the spray of the Fountain of Youth. End of lecture. Besides, a mess of dandelion greens is good eating once in a while.”
I haven’t eaten Dandelion stems though – time to try some freshly washed ones from the backyard. I like the way Grandpa Spaulding thinks.
I just need to remind myself of Grandpa Spaulding’s wise words when I am moaning in the kitchen doing the after dinner cleanup.
Published in 1957, this story’s theme resonates on multiple levels. Today, we find other distractions to fill our day. We graze on Facebook, we try the pulse of Twitter, we farm with the flick of a finger on Farmville. Which brings me to the next lovely topic on The Happiness Machine in Dandelion Wine.