Birdwatching & Biomimicry

The bike ride was a long one on a hot summer’s day. The sun was rising steadily and though it hadn’t reached its blazing glory across the Californian coasts, it was promising in its ascent. Even within the first 5 miles, we could feel the temperatures rise enough for us to be grateful for the mild breezes continuing to fan the body as we pumped through the trail. 

A little while later, we stopped for a quick peek at the pelicans lazing in the waters nearby. As the hot day wore on, our spirits only grew. All around us were the spritely images of life – birds swooped and flew in the mild breeze. As we stopped to see the pelicans lazing about in a patch of freshwater, a fellow biker and nature enthusiast stopped to share the calm of the pelicans with us. He asked the son whether he’d seen them fishing together like ballerinas. The son flashed a smile at me – a fellow nature lover using the same words to describe the pelicans?

The man told us how to identify harriers, hawks and bald eagles, and we biked on looking for the regulars as well for the new species he had told us about.

Right enough, in just a few miles, we spotted a harrier taking rest on a rock before scouring the fields for prey. There is something joyous in being to able to identify a newly learnt about species even if the species has existed far longer than we may have.

Harrier resting

But the ones that truly mesmerized us were the avocets. The avocets are a joy to behold on a hot day. They fly to a reasonable height, take a second to stabilize and then swoop down into the water below for a quick dip and fly out again. The smoothness of the breaking of the surface tension between the mediums is so flawlessly done. Their sharp beaks assisting them and reminding me of the little tidbit I had read in the book, Biomimicry by Jane Benyus. 

TED Talks by Janine Benyus on Biomimicry

Apparently, sonic boom was a big problem for the fast trains in Japan. The sonic booms were felt as far as a few hundred meters away as the trains emerged from the tunnels, and obviously this was a genuine problem that risked the success of the entire operation.

One of the engineers on the team, on his vacation, sat by the waterside watching a kingfisher swoop into the water and swoop out again with a smoothness of movement that inspired the engineer. How come the little bird was able to transition between mediums as different as water and air so sleekly? That is when the design of the sharp beak stood out. Eons of evolution may have shaped the beak in that particular long shape for a reason. The engineer went on to shape the train’s beak, and solved the problem for the fastest train of the day. 

The more our world functions like the natural world, the more likely we are to endure on this home that is ours, but not ours alone.

Janine Benyus

As the son & I stood there on the bay watching the avocets dive in and out, I told him that the collective noun for these lovely birds is an orchestra, and he beamed, and approved of the name. Their trilling, swooping, and pirouetting were apt.

Watching the little avocets on a hot day was a lovely little reminder of the designs of nature and its many wondrous ways. Not every saunter into nature is bound to solve a problem wracking humankind, but they very well might. 

Dancing Hippos of Loango

The summer solstice was unusually hot this time of the year. 

I was just back from the pool. The children looked at me approvingly as I hummed through the early evening light making dosas for dinner. “Amma is like one of those partying surfing hippos of Loango isn’t it?” said the children, and I beamed.

“Those hippos are so cool – riding the coastline, swimming so well – I want to be able to swim like them. I mean, I sputter and bumble in the pool. Imagine if I could swim like the happy hippos of Loango?” I sang and danced a little hippo jig. 

The children exchanged glances and burst out laughing. “You know? Some moms would be offended if they are called the surfing hippos of Loango. “ 

“Well, I am honored.” said I truthfully. “Fascinating creatures hippos. Do y’all remember the hippo handbag I had? Drew admiring glances a few times that one.”

“Yeah – also pitiful ones ma. That one was falling apart – we know, actually the whole world knew, you liked the hippo handbag.” Said the older eye-roll and the younger eye roll in unison.

I laughed. “By the way, did you also know that Taweret – the greek goddess of childbirth was a hippo?” Said the mythology experts in the house, and I glanced up from my dosas with wonder and curiosity. 

Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taweret

Taweret , a goddess depicted as a pregnant hippopotamus standing upright.

Mankind has for ages gleaned its inspirations from the animal world. All the more reason for us to protect the diversity of life and the planet that nurtures them all. 

Ever since we saw the first episode on National Parks narrated by Barack Obama, we all fell in love with the surfing hippos of Loango, the flying sifakas of Madagascar, the camouflaging coolness of the sleepy sloths that have the potential to cure cancer and so much more.

Watching programs featuring the wild in the National Geographic or the National Parks series make me glad that I am alive in today’s day and age. The camera angles, the kind of cinematography, the explosion of knowledge and sharing, the entertainment options and standards, technology everything is instrumental in a wildlife show. Where previously, we had to rely on the mental imagery through words such as Gerald Durrell’s, now we have the ability to see the guanacos act of survival in the Patagonian landscapes right along side the sluggish sea lions on the Californian coast. If that isn’t lucky, I don’t what is.

I have tried capturing a butterfly with my phone several times, and I must confess this simple act is all it takes for me to gain a sense of awe with the captures of these wildlife photographers and documentary producers. 

The Oceans As Soul Refreshers

Explorers arriving at the nourishncherish home would have found the chronicler walking around with one book more often than others, Chasing Science at Sea – Racing Hurricanes, Stalking Sharks, and Living Undersea with Ocean Experts by Ellen Prager.

You see, I wanted to finish reading the book before World Environment Day World Oceans Day on June 5th. Then, I thought I will somehow make it to World Oceans Day on June 8th. Now both days have come and gone, many marvelous meals have been tucked into, many laughs shared with friends and family, many meetings sat through, many hikes and bikes to appreciate the world around us, but the book is still in my hand.

The book is engaging at a fundamental level – a subject and set of anecdotes so absorbing and amusing that despite all the demands on my time, I do not want to set it down unfinished. Every time I have gone to the edge of the land overlooking the waters, the lure of understanding the world is beyond me. How would it be if we had evolved under water instead of on land. How would our technologies have taken shape? Then, there is a gratitude that we are land dwellers and 3/4ths of the Earth is uninhabitable by us.

The pressure of living under the sea must be enormous and I wonder about how the various creatures of the sea manage. A friend of mine had taken a picture of a chips bag at high altitude. Imagine that bag 10,000 feet under the ocean. Apparently, every 33 feet the pressure increases by another atmosphere. With what ease these dolphins and whales navigate the pressure differences as they come up to gulp air and go back into the depths of the oceans?

One evening I stood watching the magnificent waxing gibbous moon over the bay waters one one side, and the setting sun on the opposite side. I remember reading that the creatures of the ocean have their own lunar cycles to follow. The little turtles that come ashore on full moon nights to lay their eggs, the fish orienting themselves by the direction of the stars, the birds using their innate gifts of navigation to traverse the Earth on there impressive migratory journeys – everything ebbed and flowed into the mind’s eye much as the gentle waves lapping nearby.

“To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist, is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.” –

Rachel Carson

There were pelicans bobbing elegantly in a uniform motion a distance away, seagulls, avocets and blackbirds flying energetically, while the herons stood stoic as ever apparently gazing at the moon and waiting for the fish in the waters below.

The edge of the sea

How must it be to live under the sea? How I wished to be a little mermaid just then to glimpse into the ocean worlds? Imagine my surprise when I sat with the Chasing Science at Sea book that evening to read about Aquarius – the under sea research station that allows marine biologists and oceanographers to research the oceans. They spend hours at these deep pressure stations after which they need to be carefully acclimatized to the surface atmosphere before returning to the surface. While inside Aquarius, they can stay for as long as their mission takes, but:

At the end of a mission, aquanauts undergo a 17-hour decompression that is conducted within Aquarius itself, while on the bottom. At the end of decompression, aquanauts exit Aquarius and scuba-dive back to the surface.

NASA site on Aquarius

The truth is that the oceans are still an enigma. Despite underwater diving equipment, the ability to scuba dive, submarines, and remote access vehicles, the oceans are vast, and full of an alluring mystery. 

A few years ago, I read a book on marine farming and was enthralled at the possibilities of seaweed farming and kelp forests, but not a little afraid as we start taming the seas. We have not shown ourselves to be good custodians of the lands and the atmosphere.

Kelp Forest – Monterey Bay Aquarium

As I determinedly read about the adventures or the scientists, a strange calm engulfed the soul. Water and water-related imagery often does this. I slipped into bed with beautiful thoughts of the oceans and how little we really think of them in our day-to-day problems. What amazing soul refreshers the waters are?

Maybe science needs to lighten up!

We were chatting of this and that. I don’t know how many people relish nothing-to-do days: we love them in the nourish-n-cherish household. The son & I were goofing around: chitting, chatting, and all that.

Chasing Science at Sea – By Ellen Prager

We were discussing Chasing Science at SeaRacing Hurricanes, Stalking Sharks, and Living Undersea with Ocean Experts  – the book I was reading. It is a lovely feeling to dip into the wonders of the ocean and experience the day to day life of a marine scientist (Something so different from American corporate life). How do you line up ocean vessels for your research expedition, how marvelous to experience bioluminescence on a full moon night in the middle of the ocean, and one instance where a flying fish hit a research scientist on the face as they leaned out to sea!

We both laughed.

“Maybe science needs to lighten up!” he said, and we went through the dialogue.

He was referring to the TV show we had watched the previous night: Corner Gas (Episode: Key to the Future) in which one of the characters is taken for a ride for being psychic.

From Corner Gas (Episode: Key to the Future):  

Wanda: Do you know what the odds are of Hank having a dream about my hair and a clock moving forward and then me having to move my hair appointment forward?
Brent: Ten to one?
Wanda: Unfathomable. Science hates it when things can’t be fathomed. The scientific mind demands to fathom things completely.
Brent: I understand, or fathom.
Wanda: There’s got to be a rational explanation for this.
Brent: Sure. It’s probably just a coincidence.
Wanda: Science hates a coincidence.
Brent: Maybe science should lighten up.

A few minutes later, that thoughtful crease flitted across his forehead and he asked me,  “So, Amma, tell me. What do you think is Impossible?”

I knew the fellow loved the quotes that his elementary school and after-school environments had drilled into him. How many times had I heard the children tell me: “Impossible is nothing but I aM Possible! Get it? Get it?”

“Hmm…let me think about it. You mean just impossible to do for humans?” 

He nodded

“Hmm…I think it would be hard to teleport to another star cluster system on the opposite side of the galaxy where life has thrived. Not just that, but survive and admire all the different forms in which life has evolved there, and then make it back here to describe the beauty and wonder of it all to our Earthlings.” 

“Well…it would be possible if you create a wormhole and find it back here I suppose.”

Then, he leaped off in answer and came back bounding in a moment later, “Huh! Funny you should say that.” I just read about that in this book by Jon Sciezka!” He held out the book, Frank Einstein and the Space-time Zipper by Jon Sciezka.

Frank Einstein and the Space time Zipper – By Jon Sciezka

“Huh! What a coincidence? You didn’t tell me about this before did you?” I asked the fellow. 

“Nope!”

You sure you hadn’t been saying something to me on a walk when I was half wrapped in searching for rabbits in the bushes, and egrets in the air?”

Still nope.

“Well Science sure hates a coincidence!”, said I and we guffawed.

I think I shall read this book to see how to get to experience a system of life so far removed from us as possible. The coincidence of it is worth exploring. What do you think?

A Special Post to Celebrate Syzygy

“You’d better make it a special post!”, said the son. He is the one who is ardently fanning me in on, and keeping tabs on whether I am writing enough these days. His natural state of calculating kicks in, and he says “So, if you write another post in the next 36 hours then…”, and I have to remind him that it is not like that. One does not have to follow a punishing rigorous schedule for a hobby. That I will write and when I do, it feels joyous and good. Not laborious and like finishing up an arduous task for the sake of doing so.

There must have been a natural syzygy (aligning of the stars) when I started my blog seventeen years ago. The time it takes for a wizard to come of age in the magical world. I must say, the blog has given me an excellent magical education. I may not have graduated from Hogwarts in this time, but I certainly have learnt a thing or two on the magic of persistence, the seer of light in a dark universe, or any number of things.

Herbology: My specimens may still not be thriving, but as a chronicler of the natural world, I think Professor Sprout would gladly have me in her graduating class.

“Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life. It has also convinced me that carefully writing everything down is the only real defense we have against forgetting something important that once was and is no more,” 

Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

Read: A Celebration of 🌎

The Joy of the Natural World

Astronomy: Professors Carl Sagan and his many many friends have been amazing companions in the starship of the night. Comets, moon cycles and changing constellations not withstanding, there have also been the amazing journeys through space on light ships designed and envisioned by Johannes Kepler.

Ancient Runes: Professor Vector has opened thine eyes to many wonders of the Mathematical world and how they help us find a structure to our days. A way to find the incontrovertible truth if you will.

Changing Mathematics from a computational discipline into a beautiful, abstract philosophy.

Pythagoras of Samos (580-500 BCE) who continued the philosophy of: 

Transfiguration: How else does a serious minded member of the software engineering firms of the world transform into a magic seeking writer who will arduously work out a sentence structure sometimes tens of times to get that laugh?

Potions: Professor Snape, Dr Oliver Sacks, Paul Nurse, Siddhartha Mukherjee, Ed Yong, and so many more professors have taken me under their wing and spent many enjoyable hours explaining the joy behind reactions.

Care of Magical Creatures: Hagrid, Gerald Durrell, Sy Montgomery and numerous other writers of the natural world have introduced and opened my experiences to the world of creatures around us. Snail tales, pelican and duck friends, and so many instances of the world around us.

Writing & reading have sustained and enthralled me every step of the way, and it has proved to me how remarkable life’s moments are – even in a seemingly unremarkable life such as mine.

Like Sy Montgomery says in her book, How to be a good creature: 

Thurber taught me this: “You never know even when life looks hopeless, what might happen next. It could be something wonderful is right around the corner.”

Sy Montgomery – How to be a good creature

It usually is in the form of a new book, or a new idea that magically transforms an ordinary day into an extraordinary one. The power of fleeting thoughts that can take flame, grow and sustain in a wholly positive way, weaving magical moments and learnings. What can be better than that?

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

George R R Martin in A Dance with Dragons

Here is to more years of fruitful occupation, magical meanderings and posts that entertain and hopefully enlighten. This is my 1000th post.

Thank you, my readers, for being with me on this magical journey. Of course, the blog owes its very existence To My Family & Other Animals – who are frequent and oft quoted celebrities on this blog.

Strengthening the Soul?

Reading A Blizzard of Polar Bears in the cold Chicago trip was probably poetic justice. For it made me appreciate that every creature is different. Obviously, the polar bears found anywhere south of Manitoba too hot, and we found anywhere north of California too cold. It was strengthening for the soul to think of the polar bears when it was too cold. 

A Blizzard of Polar Bears – By Alice Henderson

This strengthening-of-the-self theme seemed to grate on the daughter when she casually mentioned something in the middle of a snowing day walking up a steep hill. “Well, uphills and stiff winds against our progress are character building things.” I huffed. “If in life, we only rolled downhill, how would we appreciate the ease of that?”

She stopped midway and said, “I do wish you were a polar bear now you know?”

She had a point:  I don’t think polar bear mothers give character building speeches when they are freezing across a cold stream of air. But I had a set of speeches to get through, and was determined to get through them. I mean, how else can one cover syllabus? 

I must say the more I read about naturalists and biologists doing the work required to keep biodiversity alive on our beautiful planets, the more I am in awe of them. 

In the book, Wild Souls: Freedom and Flourishing in the Non-Human World, Emma Marris notes:

“These are species we cannot simply leave alone if we want them to persist. They are species that require intervention-at least for now. A 2010 analysis of the 1,136 species with recovery plans under the Endangered Species Act in the United States found that 84 percent require ongoing management.”

Wild Souls: Freedom and Flourishing in the Non-Human World, Emma Marris

Chicago streets, we were told, need watching. There are areas that are good, and areas that are notorious for mob activity. I must say, the movies play it up a bit, but even the cab drivers and hoteliers there acknowledged it. Keep out of these streets, those streets, south of those streets and north of these streets and you should be fine, said one helpful fellow. Oh, and try not to be out too late. You know? Just to be safe. 

So, as evening fell, we decided to go bookstore browsing instead. Once inside, the familiar tug of books waiting to be read was enough to warm up the innards (the doors keeping out the gasps of cold air was useful too). Our discussion turned towards pricing of books and fiction vs non-fiction, etc. While I can see the point that fiction generally requires less research than their non-fiction counterparts, I couldn’t help thinking that I had actually learnt as much about polar bear research from the fiction book, A Blizzard of Polar Bears – By Alice Walker as from the non-fiction book,  Ice Walker – A Polar Bear’s Journey Through the Fragile Arctic – James Raffan

To see the kind of measurements taken by polar bear researchers to determine the health of the population and the steps necessary to save them in a changing ice-cap is enlightening whether set in the context of a thriller novel or a non-fiction book following the path of the polar bears. For instance: nuggets such as these spotted the book liberally. 

“According to the database, the bear had been collared four years ago. Because that was the upper limit of how long a collar could last, Alex removed it. They had less invasive technology now. 3M had developed the Burr of Fur, a small GPS tracking device that adhered to a bear’s coat. She recorded the device Id’s numbers on the spreadsheet and then worked it into the bear’s hair.”

“First she ran a test for persistent organic pollutants containing chlorine, fluorine, and bromine. Then she examined the sampled of the presence of industrial compounds like PCBs. These could compromise a body’s ability to produce antibodies, making humans and wildlife more susceptible to infection.”

A Blizzard of Polar Bears

In general, we do learn from fiction and non-fiction in different ways. Our emotional quotient benefits from a good spot of fiction, and we turn out more empathetic than we were before. With non-fiction, we are able to read the research, compare the measures, and get a good spot of analytical outlook-ing. “They are both strengthening for the soul huh?” I said, and the daughter rolled her eyes. 

“You know what is really strengthening for the soul? Starbucks! Come on – let’s go!” Said she, and the compliant polar bear followed her cub as it nosed out the coffee den.

Polar Bears

The Leaping of Spring

We had been on a short trip up the mountains recently. On the way back, I realized yet again that I had taken far too many photographs that were of no use. So I sat sagely deleting them making space for more. In that moment of weakness, I told myself that I would not whip out my phone at the slightest thing, and take a photograph. That is how I landed up missing the picture of the blackbird racing a red hawk for a few meters. It is also why I have the image clearly etched in my head. 

I took a short morning walk to clear my head. It was cold, I had not slept well. As I trudged on, I was already listing the different things to get done during the workday, the things that needed tending in the home, and the things I wanted to do with the children and friends. All the mundane things that flit through a working woman’s mind on a weekday morning flitted, and I stopped to chastise myself. This was what Henry David Thoreau meant when he said he walked without leaving the village behind or something to that effect.  I was physically there, but not spiritually or mentally, and that would not do, I told myself sternly.

Taking a deep breath and feeling the cold rush of fresh air, I moved on. This time, I felt the difference. The clear, trilling sound of the swarms of blackbirds, that is missing in January or even February was clearly filling the air. I stopped to look around, and the soaring of the blackbirds with their little flashes of red beneath their wings, the tittering of the thrushes, and the quacking of the ducks in the distance were all enough to pin me to planet Earth even as my spirits soared from the ground. 

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

Henry David Thoreau
The influence of the Earth

A little distance away, a red hawk took flight, and a little blackbird flitted up against it. Trying to keep up, basking behind the great birds wing span and sheltering against the air currents. It was a marvelous sight to catch. The little one’s sense of adventure elicited a smile. After a few minutes of this folly, the little one veered away. Happy to go back to flitting joyously. 

It is amazing what a little spring time air can do for the soul. One can come back energized in soul, and tired physically, and that is just as it should be. 

The 🌏 Laughs in 🌸 🌺

Most trees are still bare. Winters are milder in California than elsewhere. Even so, the bare branches of the brilliantly hued trees just a few months ago is stark against the skyline. But then, there are early spring heralders that enthrall and enchant. When I am out walking these days, they are often punctuated with rapture – little stops to admire a cherry blossom tree in full bloom, a tulip bulb poking its head out, or snowdrops working its way through the cold hard months and blooming just in time for the spring equinox.

Snowdrops

Spring is the best time for a saunter. Californian Springs have the best combination of rainy days, cloudy days, sunny days, warm days, cold days, and windy days. Through it all, there is the breathtaking beauty of the flowering trees. It is hard to imagine an Earth without flowers given how much they brighten our days on Earth. But it wasn’t that long ago that Earth was rampant with life and lifeforms without flowers. Makes us stop and think doesn’t it? What else evolution would have up its sleeve if allowed to go at its own pace. How many creations beautiful, mesmerizing, unknown and somewhat hampered by the limits of our own imagination?

Sitting inside on a cold March day and watching the wind whipping the trees outside, and looking at the petals of the cherry blossom flit towards the earth below is fascinating. On sunny days, the birds pecking at the cherry blossom flowers and sending showers of little petals earthwards is showtime. 

I cannot help thinking of the distant lineage of the little birds. Did their dinosaur ancestors see flowers and interact with them? I thought beaks were a particular evolutionary step for nectar. But maybe not. I remember reading that flowering plants only appeared towards the tail-end of the dinosaur’s time on Earth, or maybe even later. I also remember walking along the Natural History Museum time line and thinking that the dinosaurs really missed the marvelous great flowering of planet Earth.

https://earthhow.com/earth-timeline-geological-history-events/

But then again, this recent article seems to think the dinosaurs may have seen flowers after all.

https://www.livescience.com/40088-flowers-existed-with-dinosaurs.html

Quote:

Newfound fossils hint that flowering plants arose 100 million years earlier than scientists previously thought, suggesting flowers may have existed when the first known dinosaurs roamed Earth, researchers say.

LiveScience Journal – article linked

Whether or not the dinosaurs saw the flowers, I am grateful we live in an era when we can experience flowers. All the musings of the cosmic accident of life seems glorious in the flowering trees around us. Meadows are bursting with wildflowers. On a little hike near the coastline one day, we saw hillsides filled with golden orange poppies, lupines, and flowers of yellow, white and pink weaving and waving amidst the fresh green of Earth. Set against most trees that are still bare from the winter the flowers are a sharp reminder of all the stark contrasts of life.

We don’t know about all the forms of life possible in our universe, and probably never will find the enormity and possibilities. Yet in that very paradox lies the power of musing.

Almond Blossoms to Cake

“Hmm….is that badam cake?”. (Badam is the Tamil name for Almond) The son’s nose whiffed and sniffed rapturously as he came home from school. I laughed at his reaction. The heavenly scents of ghee, almonds, milk, cardamom, and sugar have felled many a strong heart. No wonder celestial offerings have this combination of aromas the world over. I nodded and the little fellow ran inside. His grandmother handed him a warm piece of badam cake, and his eyes shone. His mouth watering, he gave her a hug, and knowing how his grandfather must’ve been the one who stirred the mixture for hours to get it to this consistency gave him a hug too.

Then he bit into it slowly: relishing, licking, savoring the cake in his hands, he danced a little jig. 

Relishing badam cakes is a family tradition I think. Across the length and breadth of the family tree, you will find people who melt in anticipation of badam cake. The nephews, nieces, son, daughter, their parents and grandparents all smack their lips when the very name is mentioned. The grandmothers treasure the almonds more than diamonds.

A couple of days later we went on a short drive. The drive through the green hills of California was enough to raise the spirits of everyone in the car. The view of the rolling hills of the Bay Area is best in late winter and early spring. All around us is resplendent green tugging at the heart strings of poets to take up that muse of the alluring verdure. But, there are bounties waiting the moment you reach the plains too: fields of almond trees in rows and rows spread over acres like one of those 3-d models that mesmerize you in their symmetry and movement. In early spring, the almond trees are in full bloom. Watching the brilliance of their white snowy blossoms even non-poets feel their heart strings tug.

It is no wonder that Van Gogh and thousands of artists on this beautiful planet looked to almond blossoms as inspirations in their work. It is stunning. Vincent Van Gogh wrote in a letter to his brother as he worked on his famous Almond Blossoms painting:

I am up to my ears in work for the trees are in blossom, and I want to paint a Provençal orchard of astonishing gaiety.

Van Gogh
Almond Blossoms by Vincent van Gogh – Image from Wikipedia – using Wikimedia Commons

Grown in France, Spain, Iran and California, almonds occupied prime real estate in the nourish-n-cherish childhood home. We had sturdy Godrej cupboards of yore for valuables. Other families stashed gold, silver, diamonds etc: ours had almonds and cashews.

Soaked, peeled with glee ( you could pop the almonds out of their skin after soaking, and several of them would escape and flee across the tables), ground, and then stirred with ghee, sugar and cardamom, this is a delicacy alright.

The son and I watched the trees in quiet symmetry zoom past our windows. Beautiful fields full of trees, quietly standing in the Californian soil doing all the hard work of blooming, sprouting and growing. How I wish we could learn from trees. How they go about the business of living and enabling living for creatures such as we: sans fanfare, yet with complete grace and majesty. A stoic patience underlying their vibrance; their steady creation the backbone of life on this planet. 

almond fields California

I thought of the happy faces of the nourish-n-cherish household when we see the badam cakes each time. That godly moment of sliding the cake into the mouth – all starting with the astounding wondrous work of the almond flowers in bloom outside the window. It makes us pause and appreciate all that is takes to satisfy the human palette, doesn’t it? 

The Journey Not The Destination

There is a saying in Tamil that the old pater evokes every time he hears me rave about my little brother. (Little meaning younger – he ceased to be a little fellow about quarter a century ago, though my friends still ask after ‘my little brother’ much to his amusement.) “Thambiyudaiyan padaikku anjaan” In short it means, one who is blessed with a brother, is blessed with the might of an army. I’ve always felt my brother was more like wings.

When he came, we were ready to take flight and soar. When he was home, home was a place one returned to from our little flights of adventure and fancy. His love of vehicles, not withstanding, he has always been the  one ready to take you out on a ride, whether on his bicycle as a boy, or on his scooter and bike as a young adult, or in his car as an adult. As I moved to the United States, I slowly lost touch with driving in India, and increasingly found myself restricted in movement on my trips to India. He truly became my wings. When he was there, I could take on anything / anywhere.

Road trips with the brother have acquired a legendary status over the years, because he, like the father, has acquired the knack of peppering the trip with snacks – the right delicacies at the right time.

This time, the trip was not a pleasure one. I had flown down to help the old parents. As my trip was nearing an end, the brother came home (having recovered from Covid himself in the past few weeks) as a surprise.

He said we’d go out one evening, and I felt the stirring of the spirits once again. The roaring of adventure in the ears. A few miles from our urban home, he spun his wheels in what he calls off-roading. I had only vaguely heard the term. His eyes rove for unbeaten paths, muddy side roads and often roads that no one prefers. The first time, he did this, I was not prepared, since he somewhat abruptly swung off the road and bumped off most unceremoniously into a muddy path by the roadside. I clutched whatever I could, and rattled off a prayer cum expletive that had the brother and nephew laughing. What was this? Before I knew it, he had the car in a ditch, and it did not look possible to get it out of there. As much confidence as I had in the spirit of adventure with the fellow, this time, it seemed, we were done for. 

The nephew, all of a decade old, said ‘Athai! ‘ using a tone meant to soothe and calm irrational patients. “Don’t worry – this car can do….” He went on to rattle some statistics on torques, elevation gains and things that sent my head reeling. I looked at the little fellow, and felt a gurgle of laughter slip through the panic: I heeded it and laughed.  This apple fell right next to the tree alright. This was exactly what his father as a little fellow did. I remember the old pater trooping home from bookstores in far flung corners of whichever city he had visited, and we all made a beeline to see what he picked up for us. The little brother’s eyes always lit up with the old Auto magazines he had picked up from used book stores for him. He would spend rainy afternoons reading about the cars, their makes, their engine powers, their capacity. The joke in the household was that we could set him up with a Cycle Mart or an Auto Mart, and his life would be fine.

The bucolic scenes that reveal themselves in these off-roading experiences are amazing. One time, we positioned our phones to click a number of goat kids bleating atop a knoll when this lady came out of  her hut. The smile she gave us afterwards was priceless. 

Clucking hens, and goat kids seem almost magical in the early evening.

Evening scenes of women making their way home with firewood on their heads, or goats and cows ambling back home against the rural landscape set the pace differently from the rushing automobiles, and folks honking homewards in urban scapes just a few miles away.

Off-roading in poramboke lands means you get to see arid stones and rocks, or patches thriving in vegetation, and not really knowing what you would see.

He stopped to watch the sunset, and there in the distance was a peacock.  

It was pure coincidence that we caught this peacock take flight into the sunset and that I managed to capture the picture. Mostly, by the time I fumble for the phone, and click, the birds have not only gone, in the art of fumbling, I miss both the photograph and the wonderful sight of the bird taking flight as well. This time, I caught both. Life shows you moments of joy and luck, every so often to remind us of the magic of serendipity.

“Serendipity will take you beyond the currents of what is familiar. Invite it. Watch for it. Allow it.” 

 Jeanne McElvaney

When we trooped back into the home, the parents asked us where we’d been, and we had no destination to name. Sometimes, it is just the journey.

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