A Sky Full of Bucket Lists

April is Poetry Month apparently. It is also the month that hosts Earth Day, the one day we dedicate to saving the only home we know, Earth. As far as I am concerned, they are all excellent themes for the month bursting with the prospects of Spring. It has been an unusually hot spring, but that does not detract from the beauty of the season.

This is the season for life’s stirring: Poetry and Earth are both what lend credence to our human experience, and possibly dolphin experience. (As regular readers of the blog know, the dolphins have poetry whose tonal vocal content is equal in size to the Illiad or the Odyssey.) 

Read also:

Carl Sagan’s Essay on his interactions with Elvar The Dolphin
Epic of Whalayana – Carl Sagan

What better time than to write about a book that has been in my thoughts so often since the first reading? A small book of Haibun poetry steeped in the experience of living on Earth.

My review on Amazon:

A Sky Full of Bucket Lists is one of those books that has found a place on my bedside table. Every time, I need a glimpse of life, the slim volume is there to allow me a peek into the life of a fellow human-being in a very different situation. Written by a poet whose empathetic life experiences with social work shape the words on the page, this book is worth reading and re-reading. Shobhana Kumar reminds us that being humane is what makes us human. Charming, heart-rending, profound and simple.

A Sky Full of Bucket Lists seeps into your day as you go about the busyness of living. 

The incorrect font, the cross dresser, the neighbor in hospital, , the alcoholic, the abusive or the the true friends who give more than one deserves. It seems Shobhana Kumar has a haibun for a wide range of human living. The poignant note to her father is an especially special one. (Dear Mr Raaga) 

Sometimes, at night when I am too bushed to read anything long or heavy, I instinctively reach out to A Sky Full of Bucket Lists. The humanity manages to seep through the pages and into your consciousness. They say reading makes one more empathetic. Reading the experiences of someone who has seen so much, suffered through so much, and yet, has the time to not just care for a fellow being, but care deeply and share it with the world, is a gift indeed.

Whether the first cave painters realized the art form could encompass human living, I don’t know. Every time I look into the book, something attracts: why this picture for this Haibun? How did she know my yearning for a library and how I sniff the books to get the children to love them as well? How did she detect the ‘poetry that settles into corners’ and give it words? Is there a thread that runs between every different piece, or is it just the shared experience of being human on a planet that hosts millions of lifeforms?

That is the Earth!

“Do you know what this is?”

“That is the Earth! From the moon.” said the son matter of factly. “I saw it before!” he said in response to my awed expression.

We were looking at the back jacket of a book, that I flipped to the last page first.

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This is the Earth, by Diane Z Shore & Jessica Alexander with paintings by Wendell Minor.

It was a picture of the Earth rising on the Moon’s horizon.

A picture that generations of humans for millennia could only have imagined, and never really gotten close to the sheer beauty of it. Our myths are at once rich and limiting in its reach. They have imagined Earth as being elephants on elephants, turtles on turtles all the way down, flat discs, imagining heavens above and hells below.  

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The picture was taken by an astronaut, Bill Anders, aboard the Apollo 8 spacecraft in 1968. I looked on mesmerized at the picture.

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Bill Anders / Public domain

But this picture is truly astounding. The pale blue dot when seen from the Moon is a brilliant, blue orb, suspended in space, intriguingly spattered with clouds, oceans, landmasses, not really depicting the billions of lives it fosters, or the number of ecosystems it has in its fragile balance. 

Bill Anders said: “We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”

What a lovely statement that is, and together with his Earth Rising image, contributed to the concerns around Planet Earth that led to founding of Earth Day in 1970.

50 years later, we have made rocky starts and gains towards conservation. But this April 2020, 50 years later, purely coincidentally, Covid-19 has the world on lockdown, not just imagining a life of bare necessities but embracing it for the social good. We, the people, now have the time to observe our fellow inhabitants.

Heart warming tales of peacocks making its foray into the deserted cityscapes of Mumbai; turtles coming ashore to hatch in the beaches along the Bay of Bengal; seeing the Himalayas from a 100 miles away once the smog fog lifted; deeming the waters of the Ganges near Rishikesh fit for human consumption again without all the factories along the way dumping its wastes into the flowing water;or bears enjoying their natural habitats unhindered by human presence in Yosemite National Park, are surfacing, and it has my heart lifting again. I have often enough lamented on this blog about the poor attention we pay to the Planet that nurtures our fragile selves and egos. 

Watching the even more fragile ego of the stock market indices, it seems to me that we can very well have the world function this way, by having a month off every year in which everything stops but essential services. An Earth Month every year to reflect, slow down, plan and recoup our staggering impact to the environment. After all, the stock market seems to have a life of its own and seems only to want some stolidity in its expectations. So, we anticipate a month with no major events, no excessive or unnecessary travel, and only essential services operating. The notion isn’t that far-out either. 100 years ago, no one thought we could have 5 day work-weeks. Yet, here we are, in state where it is the norm now. 

Maybe this could be the measure we take for Earth Day to slow the rise of Carbon Dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

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Please go this site to see the curve over 2 years and over 200  years Keeling Curve – Scripps UCSD

If you look at the extrapolated curve from the 1700’s, it has risen exponentially. It is probably too soon to see the effect of Covid-19 on CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

Could, Earth Month become the new normal for us. So children matter of factly accept that Earth Month as essentials month in the coming generations?

Let’s care a whole lot!

T’was family movie night. An evening fraught with decisions, and everyone’s voice and opinion clanged over the dishes and sizzled over the noise from the stove.
Suggestions rose, opinions swelled and movies quelled.

“Uggghhh! No way!”
“That again?”
“What are you? A kid? Oh wait! Yes you are a kid! Okay never mind!”
“Nope! Too much for Amma! “
“What do you mean? It isn’t too much for me?!”
“You bawled last time for a movie that wasn’t even a tear-jerker, nope! How about this?”
“Star Wars!”

A collective moan went up. Finally, it was revealed that the youngest member of the family had no recollection of the Dr Seuss movie Lorax. He has read the book multiple times, and so we all settled in to watch Lorax.

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Dr Seuss is an inspiration, of course; but just how insightful his take on humanity is uncanny. From fresh air as a commodity, to a land without trees, to surveillance at every pore, his far sighted vision has so much to nod your heads at.

The Thneeds, created by the Once-ler, in his story are made from Truffle trees. Thneeds were fashion statements – doubling up from head scarves to sweater vests and shawls. (“But even he, it seems, could not envision a future where ripped jeans were fashion trends!”,  I said and drew a grudging chuckle from the teen with the ripped jeans. ) Eventually, of course, the Once-ler’s greed led to decimation of trees, habitat loss and a devastated landscape is all that is left.

“Wow – that was such a good movie Amma – though the movie had scenes that the book didn’t have.” was the verdict of the youngest.

“Really! Humans are impossible!” said the teenager, and discussion turned to conservation, Greta Thunberg and some you-tuber who talks about going green.

“Did you know the Lorax was banned in some schools in California because loggers felt it was not friendly to the ‘foresting industry’. ” I said.

I looked at their agonized faces with awe – how is it children get these things, and adults don’t; and I felt a surge of hope.

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We were walking a familiar route through our neighborhood a few days later, stopping to see some of the felled trees as we do every so often. The rings in the pine trees show they must have been at least 80 years old, and to see the forlorn stumps reminded of the beautiful book, The Giving Tree.

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The book starts with friendships between a young boy and an apple tree. The boy plays and swings on the tree’s branches, but as he grows older demands more and more from the tree. He needs her apples to make money, cuts her down to build himself a house and a boat, and finally comes back tired and spent with life, when all the poor tree can offer is the stump to rest.

The Giving Tree, can be interpreted and discussed in many different ways. Givers & Takers, Need & Greed, Selfish & Selfless, but the most beautiful one is the simple one, the one where your children make a sad face at the end, and say, “Why doesn’t this boy/man/grandpa ever feel sorry for what he’s done?”

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The boy reminds us of human’s relationship with nature. The human species can be broadly classified as takers: from the planet, & from our co-habitants on this planet. You might have seen this video clip of Man’s greed By Steve Cutts:

The Giving Tree too was banned interestingly for sending sexist messages – the tree was female and the little boy continued to take from her without ever giving back.

I just finished a book called Losing Earth – by Nathaniel Rich. The book, deals with the science, politics and action of climate change.

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Despite humanity having the science locked down more than 50 years ago, little action has resulted. The closest we came to getting everyone to agree on unified action was the Paris Agreement where all countries agreed to work towards keeping emissions such that we not go above the 2 degree increase of temperatures world-wide. The largest emission offender for decades, United States, pulled out of the agreement when Donald Trump became President.

I was shocked to find that Climate Change as a topic has been banned in certain schools, skirted around in others and given a miss altogether elsewhere. The science behind Climate Change and the effect of our industries were long proved – as far back as 1970.

This April 22nd is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with a special onus on Climate Action. Maybe this Earth Day, we can renew our commitment to the only pale blue dot that will harbor us. Let’s care a whole lot about our planet before all we are left with is the word ‘Unless‘ like in the Lorax story, or the tree stump in The Giving Tree.

 

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Read also: Are we to become Lab Rats?

 

Happy Earth Day Mr.Peck

The first few minutes of my train ride are always on the dramatic side. I am charging to get on the train, no matter at what time I catch the train, I charge to get on it. My feet pump like a fast flowing river and my heart resembles a mambo drum echoing in the Kenyan national forest.  Obviously,  it takes a bit of soothing to calm down the nerves after that.

The scenery outside does just that. You see the first few minutes afford a view of a smallish lake and the hills nearby. Come Springtime, the water bodies are full of ducks with their ducklings in tow and the heart slows down. It has to. It is a marvelous sight and I must say it is with reluctance that I pass up that view as the train heads out into the bustling city.

How lucky those ducks are, I tell myself. If these ducks knew of the life Mr Peck leads, there would probably be a pang there. No trains rumbling nearby to disturb Mr.Peck’s peace. No Sir. Mr Peck was a magnificent duck the son and I befriended on one of our hikes down  at Lake Tahoe. As we set off down the steep slopes towards the lake, there was an ominous looking sign that wanted hikers to know that it was a steep hike back. While cylinders roll down easily enough, they find it hard to roll back upwards seemed to be the gist of it.

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So, off we went, gibbering and jabbering all the way. The snow had started to melt in places and we heard little gushes of streams all the way down. We stopped to play with some of that water and even gulped a little.

The son and I were the ones who reached the lake shores first. There was nobody down there. There was a thicket of trees behind us, a sandy beach on which there was one picnic table and the water gently lapped the shores by the picnic table. We sat together in companionable silence, and watched the distant island in the lake.  One duck, paddled away serenely at a respectable distance.

After a few minutes of this silence, the duck came to join us, probably to satisfy a noetic urge about humans. We sat quietly and he came and looked at us in turn. He then pecked at something on the lake shore and circled us taking us in. The son was beside himself with excitement, but for a toddler with a loud voice, he kept silent and the duck and son had a silent rhythm of reciprocated curiosity going. If I had not been right there, I wouldn’t have believed how long this state of affairs went on.

The duck gazed, we gazed. The duck lost interest and pecked and we looked at the lake. Then the duck gazed and we gazed back. The duck did not seem to think of us as pestilential creatures out to ruin his habitat, or if he did, masked it politely. It is one of those moments of time when a fast spinning top slows down just enough to take in the world before spinning at top speed again. It was only after the duck swam away that he was christened Mr Peck.

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The daughter came charging with her father and grandfather from the thicket of trees a few minutes after that. The sun was starting to set, and the pinkish hues were already coloring the peaks as if the mountains were blushing. All the contained excitement about Mr Peck came bursting forth from the son when he saw his sister. Excited gabbles were heard for miles in the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains as Mr.Peck assumed a small role in our family story, and nestled in next to Patchy (that sweet lamb who taught us a thing or two on patience and perseverance).

I think of Mr.Peck everyday when I cross the lakes with the ducks and wonder if he knew what a lovely life he led.

Happy Earth Day to all our fellow beings. Mr.Peck, I hope you are having a nice day down by the lake.

P.S: Mr Peck has since been identified as a Canadian Goose. (The local ornithology club probably has a picture of us barring entry, but we have a history: https://nourishncherish.wordpress.com/2005/08/25/ducks-fishes/)