The Statues of Liberty

I have had the luxury of traveling and reading the past few days. I read and watched the following in one glorious spurt:

I preferred the books and movies with animals & the magic of our thriving universe in them over the ones with just humans in this lot though.

  • Forgotten Beasts  – by Matt Sewell 
  • 100 animals to see before they die
  • Ice Walker – A Polar Bear’s Journey through Fragile Arctic – James Raffan
  • Birds, Beasts & Relatives – by Gerald Durrell
  • The One & Only Ivan – by Katherine Applegate
  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – By Taylor Jenkins Reid
  • Back from the Brink – Documentary at the Boston Science Museum
  • Moons: Worlds of Mystery – Documentary at the Boston Science Museum
  • Kung Fu Panda – 2 – Dreamworks Animated Movie

Granted that the 7 Hs of Evelyn H was a fast read. The narrative style pulled us along with just a hint of intrigue keeping us going till the very end. The story itself appeals because it is a story of someone trapped in the endless trap of fame and glory, and the constant insecurity of ratings and popularity. It is, though, a reminder of the things valued by plenty of humankind, and the reminder of love in a tumultuous world. The interest in another’s life, is a never-ending case of human interest, and the story does justice to that indeed. There are several well-written lines in there on human nature. I must say I have never been enamored by the Kardashian-type of celebrity life shows, so my review is somewhat lukewarm for this one.

The heart-lifting tale of The One & Only Ivan was up next – the gorilla who saves his little elephant friend Ruby, after making a promise to an older elephant friend, Stella. Based on a true story, this is the kind of story that tugs at heart strings. Katherine Applegate’s writing is a class apart. I have been a fan ever since I read The Tale of Despereaux. 

I wonder, sometimes with a tinge of envy I admit, about how animals, birds, and marine creatures live without the trappings of economics and finances, and social influences and so on. They navigate by the cosmos as much as we do – In Ice Walker, the author, James Raffan follows the life of a polar bear, Nanu, as she grows, hunts, mates, and raises her young in the polar ice caps. How surely she knows the changing seasons, and the direction in which to lead her cubs for food and sustenance, is beautifully written and portrayed. The bright stars that we peek at, is so much more for these creatures. How far we have come as humans, and how much more left to go? Nanu is killed by humans, and her surviving cub is forlorn. 

On the way to view the Statue of Liberty, we stopped and watched plenty of statues of liberty along the way. Boston Public Gardens hosts the marvelously made statue of Make Way for the Ducklings by Robert McCluskey. 

New York’s Central Park hosts many statues : Alice in Wonderland & Hans Christiaan Andersen with a swan are marvelous reminders of life and the marvelous influences of imagination. I wonder how many people worried about the economics and finances of the economies, their lives, and their jobs stopped to take deep breaths and believe in magic once again as they make their way past these statues of liberty.

It seems only fitting to finish this marvelous post on the different things that sustain human minds and lives with a Seussism or two.

And Always Remember

And will you succeed?

Yes! You will, indeed!

(98  and 3/4 percent guaranteed) 

KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS 

Oh the Places You’ll Go – Dr Seuss

Or this one?

Expand Your Horizon

The more that you read, 

The more things you will know,

The more that you learn,

The more places you’ll go

– I Can Read With My Eyes Shut – Dr Seuss

Why is it all Political?

I was listening to an author, Sayantani Dasgupta, speak the other day, and she said, “Imagination is a political act.”

I jotted down the phrase. Several times during the next few days, the phrase would peek out at me as I went about my work. I mused and smiled when it unexpectedly caught my eye.

Four years ago, I had traveled to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania the week prior to the elections after mailing in my ballot in anticipation of the journey. The day of the 2016 elections, I was at a conference in Texas. The day was busy enough. I moved from session to session assimilating, learning and wondering a little how the elections were going. But I was not overly concerned. My focus was on learning. The polls had shown that Hillary Clinton will be in power soon. There was nothing to fear. I was ready to join the Pantsuit Nation in celebrating our first ever woman president. 

That night, alone in the hotel room in Texas, I switched on the television, after a hot shower, though all I wanted to do was sleep. It had been a 14 hour day, and I found myself drifting off to sleep every now and then.  Finally, when the tides began to turn, I thought my over-tired brain was playing games. The next few days were indeed one of shock, and given that I was far from my family and friends, I held it in as best as I could. Racism and bigotry seem to have received an amplifier and I felt more vulnerable than ever. I was not white, not male, not a Christian, not this, not that, and certainly not anything. How could one individual suddenly make me, a being of flesh, blood and emotions,  into so many things I was not?

Since then, we have seen things happen that are indeed too strange for fiction. Divisive people have a way of polarizing the environment around them. Slowly, I noticed how the literature around me changed: Posts and books giving us hope, filling us with age old wisdom. Every blustery tweet or policy was analyzed and we have had the busiest most riled up period in recent memory. 

But it also helped us all grow in so many ways. To realize that we are all different. All different in our ideologies, all different in what is important to us, all different in what  affects us, and how it does. For all of the politics, and whether or not people supported the Democrats or the Republicans, I do not waver in one thing – people are inherently good. They do want the best for themselves, theirs and the larger community, and in that regard, we are the same despite our differences.

Some days, I think of the Dalai Lama, meditating on the state of the world for 3 hours every morning. I wonder how he does it, and I marvel at the compassionate view he takes of humanity. The 45th President has taught us that no matter how strongly we feel about somethings, we cannot change how others feel about the same things. He taught us grudging acceptance. He taught us to value competence. He showed us how everything could become a political act with a dictator. 

everything_is_political

Travel became a political act.

Health became a political act.

Climate Change became a political act.

Science became a political act.

Now, Imagination is a political act.

Today, the only political act I can think of in my power, is Voting. 

Before Being becomes a political act, it is time to act.

Continue reading “Why is it all Political?”

The Kaleidoscope of Life on Earth 🌏

“Hmm…how Covid has changed things right Amma?” said the daughter when I walked into her room one day, and spotted ‘Greece’ sprawled across the whiteboard. She has been spending her summer making minor changes to the decorations in her room. As most teens do, she has a fond attraction to her room, and one day I found her looking at the pictures she had printed out to make a sort of picture collage. Her teenage eye-roll and monosyllabic answers fell away as soon as I showed an interest in the choice of pictures she had laid out on the floor arranging and rearranging them to see the best patterns.

How do you see the best patterns in a kaleidoscope? Everything seems beautiful, everything seems fine, and yet the artistic piece of her fussed with the layout and order of the pictures. There were pictures of happy people, little cafes, books, beaches, forests, city lights, quotations, rainbows, flowers, and small towns. The collage was eclectic enough to interest me. She gurgled and burst forth with the thought that went into them. I listened amused. 

By then, her excited voice had attracted her little brother and fond father into the room. Her brother painstakingly wrote ‘Mars’ below ‘Greece’.

“Mars! Seriously dude- next thing we know you will be lugging us into black holes and having us all burst into all the tiny starry bits like your Avengers or Star Wars superhero dudes in their adventures! No! No space travel!”

“Just yet”. I added and she gave me a look that indicated that this idiocy with space is because I indulge him with this stuff. I laughed out loud, and the children joined in too.

“And while we are at it,  no fictional or mythical places either. Only places that we can locate on a known map of the world.”

“Sheesh – she is so strict!” said the young explorer of the cosmos.

Travel_dreams

Cautiously, like deer in a prairie, we approached the topic of places we’d like to visit, ready to scurry back to Covid restrictions. Slowly, the name scrawled on a whiteboard set the stage. In the safe company of just the four of us, it felt good to take a peek into travel dreams again. It was done at first soberly – how happily we had taken international travel for granted? How happily we had taken good health for granted? Disconcerting as the Covid situation has been, it has also made us sit up and take notice of the beautiful things surrounding us on Earth. 

Once we started talking of lands beyond our day-to-day, a different energy gripped the room. Within moments, distances melted away, and the globe-trotters threw names on the board with no thought to distance or expense. Exactly how dreams should be.

Looking at the list on the board reminded us, however, that our lifetimes were not enough for this sort of ambition. How does one fit in a hike in the Himalayas for a zen feel, with a sort of Darwin-esque trip to the Galapagos? How can one fit the journey of civilization in Greece and Peru, to the pure sounds of nature as yet untouched by mankind? I suppose travel still has a lot to teach us, and post-covid, the world will start to cautiously explore once more.

We started, therefore, with a couple of day trips taken mostly on a week-day taken off from work, so we could avoid crowds. We looked for wide trails on which to get our dose of nature and exercise in. While for the first time thinking of a 2-3 day trip, we looked for godforsaken places. Places people do not usually go to for a vacation. But the house was a good one, pitched atop a hill with the nearest neighbor miles away. There was a  Jane Austen-esque feel to the whole thing. It reminded me of the poem by Wendell Berry: The Beauty of Wild Things.

On Being: The Beauty of Wild Things – By Wendell Berry

I set about the evening meal after the long drive there, while the children ran to find board games to be played that night. I cradled a cup of tea in my hands, as I set the water to boil, and rummaged the contents I had packed with me so as to minimize exposure to the outside world.  Slowly, the kitchen’s essence wafted around the room – smells, heat, textures all dancing together in an exquisite symphony of the senses. A symphony was playing as I cooked, and talked to the children. Here was a lively room packed with energy, activity, witty comments, and chaos that strangely translates to calm.

Inside this house overlooking a river valley, I felt the kaleidoscope of our life on Earth lap at me in waves. Watching the objects in the room around me evoked a strange sense of living  on this earth: the telescope, the books ,the music, the keyboard that promises the best music to those willing to invest in it, the creature comforts of a well-built house with the furnishings about us, the deer grazing in the hillside by us, the beautiful moon, the thousands of stars visible because of the distance from populated areas.

Life_On_Earth

The Peace of Wild Things: By Wendell Berry

I come into the peace of wild things

And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.

The daughter’s pictures had indeed done a good job of capturing life on earth.

How do we exist?

It had been another long day, and as the clock ticked towards midnight, the body yearned for sleep, but the mind looked longingly at the tsundoku pile, and craved for some quiet moments of solitude. I peeked out of the window, and the moon sailing high through the skies tugged at my heart. There is something so intensely beautiful about catching sight of our  lovely cosmic neighbor sending its mellow moonbeams through the leaves at night.

I looked for a word that captures the phenomenon, but there isn’t one.

There are two words in Japanese that come close (the Japanese language has such amazing words for admiring wondrous nature around us.)

Kawaakari ( 川明かり – a word depicting the evening reflection of light on water, or in some cases can refer to the reflection of the moonlight off flowing water.

img_20200407_195324-effects

Komorebi (木漏れ日): Sunshine filtering through the trees.

trees_komerabi

I had just started reading The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson. In the first chapter, Rachel Carson takes us with her steady voice into a time on Earth before the seas were created. When the planet was still heaving and churning its metallic ores, hot searing waves of liquid settling into a semi-liquid state in its outer cores. She wonders then about the question, how were the oceans formed?
“So if I tell here the story of how the young planet Earth acquired an ocean, it must be a story pieced together from many sources and containing whole chapters the details of which we can only imagine.
For although no man was there to witness this cosmic birth, the stars and moon and the rocks were there, and indeed, had much to do with the fact that there is an ocean.”

Then, she leads us from this fiery place in the cosmos with the sun heaving its solar flares, the earth itself arranging itself into concentric spheres with hot, molten iron at its core, and an intermediate sphere of semiplastic basalt , the outer layers of granite and basalt. And then gently she lures us into the possibility of the moon and the ocean being related to each other.

The next time you stand on a beach at night, watching the moon’s bright path across the water, and conscious of the moon drawn tides, remember that the moon itself may have been born of a great tidal wave of earthly substance, torn off into space.

How can one not be mesmerized by the creation of the moon? Was it truly hewn from the surface of the earth (The moon’s density does match the density of the outer crust). The hypothesis that the moon was hewn away after massive solar tides exerting a pull on semi-molten Earth is based on the theory that the large portion thus hewn away left such a large scar on the surface of the Earth. A scar that would continue to shape Earth and its lifeforms for millions of years afterward: The Pacific Ocean.

Later, as the Earth cooled and clouds formed from the steam rising, the rains started. Pouring onto the hot earth for years – initially almost immediately evaporating into steam, but eventually collecting as water – forming the first oceans.

It is, of course, fascinating that we still do not know for sure how the moon was created. There are several theories – theories of violent impacts, random objects being attracted by gravity, and young earth managing to keep one satellite, while heftier ones like Jupiter acquiring 67 etc. This is a topic still under discussion.

https://www.space.com/19275-moon-formation.html

Nevertheless, the very first chapter had me wowed. I would never be able to look at our closest cosmic neighbor with the same eyes ever again. How often I have stood marveling at the moon? Out on walks, my heart always skips a beat when I catch sight of the beautiful, faithful satellite accompanying Earth as she tears through space. To think that there is a possibility that the very creation of our cosmic neighbor was crucial to our oceans is awe inspiring. I live on the Pacific Coast, and never can I see the bays, the ocean or the moon without reminding me of this book.

The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson

sea_around_us

The skies hold the answers to our most philosophical stirrings. Why do we exist?

The seas, it seems, holds the answers to our most existential stirrings. How do we exist?

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.

this_is_earth

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.  

earth_myth

 

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

1200px-NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-Earthrise

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.

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 6.33.29 PM

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.

The_Lorax

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.

lorax

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.

img_7820

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?”

giving_tree

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.

losing_earth

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.

 

no_garagepale_blue_dot

Read also: Are we to become Lab Rats?

 

The Rings of Life

We were walking a familiar route through our neighborhood, 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.

img_7820
For an impatient flitter such as myself, trees are truly sentient beings. Beings that teach me about holding still, of being sentient beings for the small time we spend on this beautiful planet. Like a butterfly flitting through the Earth for a day. You can replace tree for a star in the quote below and it would still hold when one sees redwood trees, sequoia trees and old banyan trees.

“From the point of view of a mayfly, human beings are stolid, boring, almost entirely immovable, offering hardly a hint that they ever do anything. From the point of view of a star, a human being is a tiny flash, one of billions of brief lives flickering tenuously on the surface of a strangely cold, anomalously solid, exotically remote sphere of silicate and iron.”

― Carl Sagan

As I was reading Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively, I stopped to relish the section on trees. Though the book is largely about gardens, she does make a foray into trees briefly:
“Tree rings are wonderfully eloquent; here is time stated, time recorded, time made manifest. Dendrochronology- the scientific method of dating based on the analysis of tree rings-can determine past climates, or the age of a building, it can be used to calibrate radiocarbon dating, or by art historians to determine the date of a panel painting. And all because a tree grows slowly, systematically, but laying down each year a memory of what that year was likes – usually wet, dry cold, hot-whether the tree flourished and grew, or held back, and how many years have passed. And the more I think about it, the more I have come to the conclusion that this is why trees invite anthropomorphism. They are sentient in a way that a building cannot be.”

octopus_tree

When I read this piece in Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively, I thought to myself, that Covid-19 would not register in the life of trees, would it? Droughts, wildfires, these may, but Covid-19 would not. The human suffering is acute – there is no doubt about it. The true heroes are the front-line workers, such as doctors, nurses, water and essential service providers, cleaners, mailmen, supply chain workers for groceries and medication who are braving the outbreak to keep society functioning as best as it can, while the virus takes it toll. The human toll is one thing, Covid-19’s economic ramifications is quite another, reminding us of the tottering pile we have built our societies upon: Stock markets indices, economies, international boundaries, – everything that a virus can thwart on a whim.

3D_medical_animation_coronavirus_structure

What would Covid-19 imprint in our psyches? It can be a time of transformation. A time of reflection. A time to prune the unnecessary, a time to nurture the necessary, a time to get to know ourselves and our loved ones better. A time to think of needs vs wants.  A time of quiet.

We may never have taken pandemic preparedness seriously. Covid-19 is teaching us about the importance of these things. What would we need to do for far more severe outbreaks, with water-borne or air-borne diseases in the future? I am sure these will never be treated with the same levity ever again.

“Nature is always more subtle, more intricate, more elegant than what we are able to imagine.”
― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

The more I think about it, the more I want to believe that we shall embrace Science as a Candle in the Dark. Many children will take up research in microbes. I hope we shall, from now on, invest in our infrastructure, in our research, in our general preparedness, and appreciate the fragility of life and our social ecosystems itself. Our rings in time will bear out the wisdom in the coming years if only we learn from it. One dark circle reverberating it’s learnings outward, and spreading light in the subsequent rings afterward.

“In its encounter with Nature, science invariably elicits a sense of reverence and awe. The very act of understanding is a celebration of joining, merging, even if on a very modest scale, with the magnificence of the Cosmos. And the cumulative worldwide build-up of knowledge over time converts science into something only a little short of a trans-national, trans-generational meta-mind.”
― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

References:

  • Life in the Garden – By Penelope Lively
  • The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark – Carl Sagan

Time in the Garden

Regular readers know how much I enjoy nature and gardens. It is one of life’s ironies that my plants only thrive despite my loving care, and  many is the time I have made bloomers in the little patch I tend to. However, never one to shy away from blooming from the bloomers, I picked up this book, Life in the Garden, By Penelope Lively. 

life_garden

Lively begins by examining the gardens in Literature starting with the Garden of Eden, and working  her way through other fantastical gardens in the books, The Secret Garden, Alice in Wonderland and the beloved gardens of dear, absent-minded Lord Emsworth’s at Blandings castle. 

She examines the writing and finds out which of the writers are gardeners themselves and which of them have merely picked up the scenery from a gardening catalog. She teases the co-ordination of colors, the seasonality of the plants themselves in the landscapes and has given me an entirely different appreciation of gardens. 

Some passages are especially endearing and made me want to read them again. Especially her meditations on time, the gardener and the garden itself. 

I quote from her book: 

“To garden is to elide past, present and future; it is a defiance of time. You garden today for tomorrow; the garden mutates from season to season, always the same, but always different. … In autumn, I plant up a pot of “Tete-a-Tete” daffodils, seeing in the minds eye what they will look like in February. We are always gardening for a future we are supposing, assuming, a future. I am doing that at eighty-three; the hydrangea paniculata “Limelight” I have just put in will outlast me, in all probability, but I am requiring it to perform while I can still enjoy it.”

“The great defiance of time is our capacity to remember – the power of memory. Time streams away behind us, and beyond, but individual memory shapes for each of us, a known place. We own a particular piece of time; I was there then, I did this, saw tear, felt thus.”

She goes on to say, 

“A garden is never just now; it suggests yesterday, and tomorrow; it does not allow time its steady progress. “

Certainly, for me, part of the appeal of gardening is this ambivalent relationship with time; the garden performs in cycles, it reflects the seasons, but it also remembers and anticipates, and in so doing takes the gardener with it.”

As I look out the window at my clover-filled backyard with some foxgloves looking happy amidst the narcissi blossoms and the newly sprouted cherry leaves after their spectacular show of cherry blossoms, and the rose buds ready to burst forth in a few weeks,I cannot help feel the lessons nature is teaching us. Be forward looking – always, nurture what is important, and enjoy the passage of time. One moment at a time. Every flower has its chance to bloom and fade.

do-nothing-garden_1

Gardens are enduring lessons in hope. I cannot tell you the number of times, I have planted something in October and been surprised when they bloom in April, or the number of times, I have been pleasantly surprised that something  thrived  at all. 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all – 

Emily Dickinson – Hope

I am lackadaisical at best with my gardening and it shows. I have a minuscule patch that seriously  has more air-time on the blog than the square feet it occupies. Yet, it gives me immense pleasure, peace and calm. Spurred on by the book, I went outside to take a more active role in the tending of my plants. I have been admiring the sweet peas plants that have sprouted in the garden. Some time ago, I got a packet of sweet  pea seeds from our local library. Thrilled at finding them, I scattered them by the apricot tree and forgot about them. The plants are thriving now, quite tall, and seem to be sagging. So, I went – “Coming dears! Here I am to take care  of you!”, I said, in my best nurturing voice and tried to prop up the plants as best as I could, in the process, breaking off one of the plants’ main stems.

If the plants in my patch could talk, they would’ve chorused – “Go inside – we know you  love us, just let us thrive! Breaking off our stems indeed!”

The Gingko Trees 🌳

“Did you know about the Gingko trees?” I said, knowing fully well the reaction it would elicit from the daughter.

“Oh Please! There is no need to tell everyone you meet about the Gingko trees you know?” she said.

“But there is! Maybe I will write about it.” I said. The gingko trees have given me no end of pleasure , and I must say, a certain amount of anticipation tinged with a spot of trepidation, during the past few months. The one interesting fact I know about them has been beaten to mythical status and back like the shedding and revival of the seasons.

“Are you seriously telling me that you haven’t written about the blasted Gingko trees yet?” the daughter’s voice was tinged with laughter and embarrassment. The conversation was happening in front of her friends after all.

If you really want to embarrass your teenage child, please take them for a walk explaining obscure horticultural facts along the way. Touch the leaves of the Gingko trees, tell them the scientific name is Gingko Biloba, take them back to the time when the dinosaurs roamed feeding off these very leaves and the time travel is bound to work wonders on them.

Only the teenager most proud of their parents is bound to glow like the dew drops glistening on a Gingko tree at the first rays of the sun. Mine looked like a cross between a beetroot and a maple 🍁 . I stood there poetically exclaiming that the beautiful Gingko trees had shed their golden tresses after all; happy that the interesting fact had been borne out truly by the sturdy trees.

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Months before, as the colors of the leaves changed from olive green to golden yellow, I had told her about the fact that Gingko trees shed their leaves all at once.

“Don’t they all?!” she said being clever, but I had my answer ready.

“No they don’t as the crunch parties we have all of October and November show you. But the Gingko trees in the vicinity all shed together on one day in November apparently.” I said. “It is like the day of the party, and they somehow decide the day between themselves. Nature’s signals are truly quixotic!”

“Did you also know that Gingko trees have been around from the days of the dinosaurs?”
“And how do you know that?” the family asked looking at me curiously, as if my age was finally becoming clear to them. I did not like where this was going, and hastily assured them that paleontologists seemed to have found fossils and put their necks on the line with that fact.

Ever since, throughout November, we watched the Gingko trees with fascination, and self with a tinge of dread, for I had bored the family stiff with tales of the Gingko tree ever since I read the essay by Oliver Sacks in the book, Everything in its Place. He wrote of his learnings from the Horticultural Society of which he was a part, and he had said quite categorically that the Gingko trees party was one day in mid November.

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Mid November came and went, and the yellow leaves swung their tresses proudly as the cold winds coursed through them. Rains lashed at them, and they swished them some more. Haughty Princesses they’d make, I thought to myself.

Thanksgiving came and went, and the family was now baring their fasts at me. “After all those months with the blasted gingko tree, if they don’t shed, you’ve had it Mother dear!” they said. I said that November in New York probably meant December in California, but I also prayed a little. You see, I had made a bit of a pest of myself over the past few months, and I knew it. Oh the horror if they didn’t!

December came, and I went out of the state for a couple of weeks. I cannot say that the Gingko trees were in my thoughts for very long during this time. Year end work-travels don’t give time to think of Gingko trees.

I came back, and I had come for the walk with the girls, when the Gingko trees swam into my thoughts again. Luckily for me, Oliver Sacks, was an astute man. Though, I don’t know whether they had all shed their leaves on the same day, when I saw them, all the Gingko trees in the vicinity, young and old, were bare. Their leaves lay in a heap around their trunks, and I looked vindicated. Thank you Oliver Sacks and Thank you Gingko Trees! I said privately heaving a sigh of relief.

I told the girls about the whole thing: the pest I’d made of myself, and how the solid trees had helped me after all, and they laughed heartily. “I told you my mom is a nature kook! ” said the daughter, but there was laughter there – I seemed to have redeemed myself in front of her friends.

I am not sure when I will be willingly invited next: I’d better get going on some Spring facts to dazzle the lot.

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Book: Everything in its Place

By: Oliver Sacks

Essay: The Night of the Gingko

Charming Blooming Murmurations

It was a lovely morning before the rains set in. The hillsides definitely looked like they could do with some rain. The parched Earth still looked beautiful in the early rays of the sun. We saw a hawk at such close quarters eyeing a trip of rabbits down below that I felt a surge of its power course through the hills.

We were out on a hike and the son was ebullient. The morning air had lifted his spirits, and he was happily talking of this and that and taking us up steep hillsides.

On we went, through troughs and peaks, listening for the sounds of animals, birds and inhaling the fresh air. On top of one of the peaks, we stopped to catch a breath. I mock held my hips and said “Oh have a heart and give your old mother a break!” He guffawed and pointed out the next steep hill with gusto. I smiled, and held a finger to my lips – it was as we were standing there atop a hill overlooking a bay that we heard the murmur above. A susurration of starlings flying this way and that, forming and reforming beautiful circles in the sky.

A group of starlings are aptly called a Murmuration of Starlings.

I don’t know how often we have stood close enough to hear a whole flock of birds wings flock together – if you haven’t, it is truly magical.

A few days later, we were heading to Monterey Bay Aquarium? After tucking into their mac-n-cheese, which is apparently the best, we meandered our way through the place. Marine biology, research, conversation of species and all the noble things follow a splendid Mac N Cheese. The clouds were out gamboling in the blue skies. They had reason to. They had been grey and full of themselves for the past few days, They had made terrible whooshing noises as the rains thundered through the Bay Area. Having taken their load off though, they looked lovely in the skies.

“Hey amma! Do you see that one? Just the top of it looks like a dog!”
“Whoops! Now it is changing shapes to become a shark!”

Watching a billow of clouds is always a magical experience.

Later that day in Monterey Bay Aquarium, Nature showed us beautiful species of fish that could collectively shoal and swarm forming beautiful shapes as they swam in large numbers together.

Clip from Wiki:
During the sardine run, as many as 18,000 dolphins, behaving like sheepdogs, herd the sardines into bait balls, or corral them in shallow water. Once rounded up, the dolphins and other predators take turns ploughing through the bait balls, gorging on the fish as they sweep through. Seabirds also attack them from above, flocks of gannets, cormorants, terns and gulls.

Sardines
By TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋) – sardines / 鰯(いわし), CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7998525

A bloom of jellyfish is enough to fill one’s heart with joy for hours – floating seemingly aimlessly, their pulsing, electrifying bursts are nothing but therapeutic.

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A Charm of Goldfinches by Matt Sewell is a marvelous book outlining why we have the collective nouns that we do. Why do a Trip of Rabbits thrill us? Why are Charms of Goldfinches so charming?

With beautiful illustrations, it is a charming book indeed.

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I remembered a game we played on a car trip some time ago. It had to do with the one big super power we could wish for. While there were things like Lightning Blasters, I think the one that took everyone’s fancy that day was Shape Shifters.

We are so corporeal in our bodies that we rarely of even think of things we can shift into. But this kind of species shifting shapes at will collectively and in a coordinated manner is not just fascinating, it is mesmerizing.

Watching clans of humans though, not so much!