What do the Seasons look like?

Out on a walk today – I thought it would be a good way to start the cooling down from what turned out to be a heat wave of the likes that set new records in temperatures. 

While on the walk, I stood befuddled below some trees from which the leaves were falling. There was no cool breeze, and the sun-baked earth looked heavily in need of rains. But the leaves were gently starting to drift earthwards. The dissonance was loud, and the stillness louder. Falling leaves, changing colors, should all signify cooler temperatures, a move towards cozy indoor expectations et al. 

When that thought flitted into my mind, I smiled. For the clarity with which the thought came, belied the fact that for half my life, I had never known the beauty of Fall. Yet, once the brain knows, it does, and how unexpectedly this expectation of seasons took root in me was baffling.

I do not remember when I started observing the seasons – for they are not as stark in California as in the East Coast.

The next day on a bike ride, the son & I took a moment to recover. For the lakes we had seen brimming with water and teeming with fish and birds just a month ago, was now barren and dry. It has been one of the driest summers California has experienced, but even so, the shock of the dry lakes are hard to bear. What would the seasons be like on other planets?

While the rhythm of the seasons is hopefully predictable, I could not help looking for old pictures of the same ponds and lakes from a few weeks ago,

I stood there thinking of the deep comforting voice of Frank Sinatra

“Fly me to the Moon

I’d like to see Spring in Jupiter and Mars!”

Frank Sinatra

How marvelous it would be to get a glimpse into the different kinds of beauty in the universe? Are there other seasons in other planets? What is the music of each season?

The Comedic Snorkelers of Kauai

Previously, when we’ve dipped our senses into another world, it was while being firmly rooted in our own. Peeking into the aquariums and viewing areas so painstakingly built for us by the ecologists and marine scientists, I always sent a wave of gratitude to those who enabled these magical moments. 

Snorkeling for the first time in an ocean was mind boggling.

It was with excitement and trepidation that we stood there listening to the instructions from our guide. Contrary to most snorkelers in the region, we were not experienced swimmers. As we slipped our feet into the paddles, a gurgle of hilarity hiccuped its way up and the children & I exchanged glances and started laughing. We did look ridiculous.

Getting a peek into the world of the ocean has always been a dream. Reading essays such as the Enchanted World by Gerald Durrell made the desire stronger.

Any naturalist who is lucky enough to travel, at certain moments has experienced a feeling of overwhelming exultation at the beauty and complexity of life

But there is one experience, perhaps above all others, that a naturalist should try to have before he dies and that is the astonishing and humbling experience of exploring a tropical reef. You become a fish, hear and see and feel as much like one as a human being can; yet at the same time you are like a bird, hovering, swooping and gliding across the marine pastures and forests

Gerald Durrell – Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons

While it had been so easy to slip our flippers on and off on land, the moment we had gentle waves lapping against us, simple tasks became a comedic trial of incompetence. I was glad to see that experienced swimmers struggled just as much as we did with this task. I may have smirked, and if I did, who could blame me.

As we moved on looking into the waters and observing the fish, there were moments when the flippers propelled us forward, and moments when the lungs rebelled with the excessive sea water that we were drinking in with each breath.(It takes some time to find the right degree, adjust the valves etc).

Whether we were watching the fish, or they were watching us was a philosophical question for I felt the fish swim by in delight and make several loops and gags around us. Schools of them – probably curious, and laughing at our inefficiency with the waters.

The fish frolicked, the humans shuddered; the schools of fish glided and gurgled happily while we sputtered and choked; the fish changed direction seamlessly while we struggled. If we entertained our piscine friends, I am happy. 

Several minutes into our dip and frankly embarrassing foray into the ocean, our guide came gliding up like a fish himself and signaled us towards a large turtle (she-turtle he said), and we nodded. “It is illegal to touch a turtle these days, but you can see it from afar.”

We changed course (which is to say we all spat out some sea water, gulped some air and water, sputtered some more and set out in the approximate direction) flipping those comical looking flippers hard. And there, right in front of us was a large turtle with elegant fins swimming graciously in the waters. For those brief moments, we weren’t bumbling sea-water drinking sputterers lost in the ocean, but mesmerized and equally graceful spectators to one of the most elegant creatures on the planet.

This was magic. Days afterward, I can flash back in my mind to that clear image of the turtle with its large fins swimming on by us. A face structure that enables it to look like it is smiling and amused with life, the turtles smooth motion as it cut through the choppy waters of the Pacific Ocean was amazing.

How do bone structures, ligaments, tendons, and all the things that hold an organism together evolve by design to function thus? What marvelous creatures sentient beings are? Nerves, neurons, cells, tissue, blood, ligaments, flesh and bone- but all of this coming together to become thinking beings with intent.

I obviously have been looking for pictures of all that satisfies this marine curiosity ever since. My curiosity was rewarded by this book :

The Art of Instruction – Vintage Educational Charts from the 19th and 20th centuries

The pages indicate the anatomy of many marvelous creatures. 

The Anatomy of a Sea Turtle isn’t in this book, but the pictures of jellyfish, cuttlefish, herring fish, starfish, whales and numerous other fascinating creatures makes it a marvelous book to peruse.

Starfish anatomy

For the Sea-turtle anatomy: This is  a useful link

Smithsonian Sea-turtles

What an enormous wonder it is to be a sentient, logical, and functioning being in this complex world? For that one marvelous dip into the world of the sea creatures, I am grateful beyond words can describe.

🐓 🦆 🦢 Akua Manu 🐓 🦆🦢

Almost as soon as one lands win the quaint island of Kauai, the unmistakable feeling of rural bliss welcomes you with the rooster crowing. As one fellow traveler put it, the roosters of Hawaii are like squirrels everywhere else. They are everywhere, and probably contribute to the seeding and flowering of the habitats near them in myriad ways. 

They ducked and weaved through the airport traffic, just as surely as they waddled into the fragrant plumeria flowers flitting down from the trees above.

The roosters there sure have a comical element to them. Moana’s Hei-Hei could have been a real life characterization of any of these birds.

heart-moana.gif
Hei-Hei of Moana Fame

The children sat inside the car cackling and laughing as I ran out into the parking lot ahead of me to shoo the birds away as the languid car trundled into its spot in the parking lots. Sound effects included: baaackk—buck-buck-buck….shoo-shoo-duck-duck-goose, nene-nene-nene with an inspiring arm flailing and running after the birds. 

“Just one video of this ma! “ said the teenage daughter and niece to many enthusiastic nods from their little brother. I joined them in the laughter but refused to star in a video like this. One has one limits – even if it is to entertain our fellow human beings.

“I love birds too much and these birds seem to be so – I don’t know, bird-brained! Huh! Is that where the term comes from? Makes sense. These birds seem to think the roads belong to them and they sit there – pecking at whatever it is on the roads!” I said.

Just as engaging as the roosters are the red breasted cardinals, the nene (geese), cattle egrets, starlings, mockingbirds, plovers, sandpipers near the beaches , and the marvelously inspiring long-tailed tropicbirds. 

Standing atop the viewpoints of the Waimea Canyon in Hawaii, the long tailed tropic birds gained our attention and admiration. Gracefully traversing the yawning canyon below them in swift smooth flights, these birds seem to fly in and out of rainbows 🌈 . If that isn’t magical I don’t know what is. 

It is no wonder that Hawaiian folktales are so rich with their imagery of birds and ocean animals.  

Every morning, as the sunlight crept in through the clouds, and ushered in another surreal day in the magical islands, The Hawaiian state birds, Nene as the geese there are called, did  their bit and squawked their way into our consciousness as well. 

Some nights I would wander outside to stand under the stars when I’d notice groups of nene sleeping under the stars. ✨ Seeing them under the stars like that made me slightly envious I must admit.

Whether it was the beautiful darting and elusive ‘i’iwi (hummingbird -like creatures that are endangered) or the common roosters, starlings, egrets, cardinals, and nene, the birds (Manu) of Kauai have a divinity (a certain Akua) about them that make you want to soar in spirits with them. 

One morning I caught the daughter sounding very much like me and chastising her little brother who was watching Marvel on the television. “You come to Kauai and watch these super-hero fellows again – no! Nuh-uh! Out!”

“But there is nothing now – just eating breakfast and watching TV!” came the wounded reply from the budding naturalist. But his sister was firm and switched off the television.

The fellow came into the kitchen, and I shushed him, for out on the verandah was a small, and elegantly regal-looking red-breasted cardinal. We watched the bird in awe for several minutes before our spell was broken, and we sighed contentedly and went about the day.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_birds_of_Hawaii

If naturalists go to heaven (about which there is considerable ecclesiastical doubt), I hope that I will be furnished with a troop of kakapo to amuse me in the evening instead of television.

Gerald Durell

🌺 🌹 🌸 Leilani Pua 🌺 🌹 🌸

Almost as soon as one lands in the quaint island of Kauai, in the Hawaiian islands, the unmistakable feeling of rural bliss welcomes you with the rooster crowing and the colors of the flora.

Within hours of being in the island, the phone yearned for some plumeria pictures and before we knew it, there were hundreds of pictures of plumerias, hibiscus and so many plants whose name we knew not, but contributed to the vibrant colors of the Hawaiian islands.

Really! How marvelous flowers are.

“Who was that poet who said something about ‘infinity in a flower’, or ‘universe in a grain of sand’ or something? I think he hit it spot on.” I said burying my beak into a fragrant multi-colored frangipani blossom and sniffing rapturously. 

A flower elegantly floated down from the tree above into the grass below and I ran to catch it with open arms. I proposed to adorn my hair with the beautiful blossoms. The children wondered whether to clip this behavior or indulge it when I picked up a blossom from the verdant green grasses below and gave it to the children. The perfect symmetry of the flowers won their hearts instantly, and they gave into my whimsy, with a smart quip instead.

‘The grain of sand is probably parrotfish poop, but whatever!’ 

How does sand form?

As I looked into the photos of the particularly alluring flora of the fertile land, I fell in love with the flowers themselves as much with their names. I am not one for classifying and categorizing everything to within an inch of their existence. But even I couldn’t resist the poetic beauty of being classified as a Nymphaea Capensis (Egyptian water lotuses in brilliant colors) or Heliconia Bahai (false birds of paradise) 

On hikes through the rain-forest like surroundings, the canopy above invited one to look up, but every now and then some beautiful wild orchids would attract the attention. A slender piece of purple or pink vibrance holding its own in a lush forest of greens, just as surely as the Moa (roosters) held their own on tricky rocky beaches, rainforests and parking lots alike.

Painter’s Palette, Laceleaf, bamboo orchids, purple wild orchids (spathoglottis plicata), milkworts, pink and purple colored thistles, crepe ginger, red frangipani, lance leaved coreopsis, Cooktown orchids, shell gingers, Egyptian lotuses (nymphaea capensis or pygmy water lilies) , birds of paradise (heliconia bahai – the red ones or the false birds of paradise) 

Pua means flowers in Hawaiian 

Leilani denotes heavenly flowers

The most beautiful surprise was the clumps of touch-me-nots (Mimosa Pudica) everywhere. All those warm afternoons of playing with these marvelous plants in the countryside in the Nilgiris as children came flooding back.

The son, who spent a whole hike through a mahogany forest endearingly called The Enchanted Forest, playing with the touch-me-nots said with a contented look on his face. “I think touch-me-nots are my favorite plants!”

I agree with him. They have learnt to adapt and interpret the steady trickle of rain doesn’t need them to close up their leaves, but other external stimuli warrant that. How marvelous?

If ever one needs to be intensely aware of all the things that need to co-exist for a beautiful ecosystem, a well preserved island would do the trick. Being there amidst nature’s bounties only reminds me of Mary Oliver’s quote on attention being our only task.

“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”

Mary Oliver

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
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