Swimming With Dolphins

The daughter and I were lazing around one night a few months ago: she, reading me snippets from her Harry Potter book and gushing about Patronus charms, and self, reading out snippets from mine, The Cosmic Connection By Carl Sagan.

I was reading the fascinating piece on Elvar the Dolphin. The daughter’s favorite animal is a Dolphin. She has drawings of mermaids with Dolphins everywhere. The sea fascinates her in ways that amuse us. Dolphins, mermaids and narwhals enchant her mind, and her endeavor is to become one if possible.

So, obviously, I read the whole piece out to her.

wind-in-the-reef.jpgElvar had the brilliant scientist stumped after a brief interaction. Elvar-the-dolphin and Sagan-the-human, on being introduced, started playing a game initiated by Elvar wherein he swam to Sagan, and thumped his tail completely drenching Sagan. When after the fourth splashing, Sagan refused, the dolphin swam up to him and said ‘More’. Completely flustered with this turn of events, Carl Sagan ran to his fellow neuroscientist friend and said he might have heard the Dolphin say the word, ‘More’. To which the neuroscientist said that Elvar the Dolphin knew upto 50 words in English, and could use them in context.

It is of interest to note that while some dolphins are reported to have learned English — up to fifty words used in correct context — no human being has been reported to have learned dolphinese. – Carl Sagan

A marvelous essay that only serves to remind us about the virtues of humility. We can barely understand other languages that fellow humans speak, and are quick to erect barriers between ourselves, but here was a dolphin willing to pick up English in order to engage with human-beings.

“You know Amma? Dolphins are so lovely right?”

I nodded. I did love the little flubberty gibbets.

“I think I know what my patronus is – My patronus must be a dolphin. I love them amma. They are so magical and real too.”, she said her eyes gaining that dreamy quality that often accompanies magic.

So, imagine how we felt when on our recent vacation to Mexico, the husband had booked a ride with Dolphins.

We were first introduced to a pair of dolphins – a charming male and female, called Manta and Sole. We hugged, patted and kissed them. I have never in my life touched something that soft, warm, and plush pulsing with the robust health of life. I coo-ed with that tone of voice I use around babies, and the daughter tried her best to distance herself from me in embarrassment, unlike the dolphins, who seemed to enjoy the attention.

‘Would you like to ride with them?’, asked the instructor, and I got to tell you that I was apprehensive. I mean – weigh the facts. Dolphins can swim at the stupendous rate of 20 miles per hour. I swim, if you can call it that, at the rate of 2 strokes a minute, stopping to gulp water in between, spluttering a bit, gasping, coughing and rasping, then regaining my breath before taking another deep gulp to sustain myself for 2 strokes.

Would a Dolphin for the first time experience condescension? I had to find out.

It took me what felt like 20 minutes to swim a couple of hundred meters out to where the dolphins could meet me. I huffed and puffed, and flawlessly executed the gulped-water, sputter and choke routine before I felt able to say I was ready. The moment I nodded, she gave them the signal.

In under a second, I felt the dolphins streak toward me under water, and they were there wiggling their fins under my arm and assuring me in their playful way that all was well. Their faces looked like they were smiling which I suppose is a gift they are born with. Their demeanor indicated none of that condescension or judgment that I was dreading, but simply an amused curiosity.

In another second or two, they had deposited me on the shallow end. The pictures reveal an ecstatic look on our faces as we were carried gently ashore by the dear creatures. My heart was bursting with joy. Maybe my patronus changed to a Dolphin too.

dolphin_swim

If we truly were smarter than Dolphins, we would be totally giving you the works in Dolphinese. What I can do is to dance like they did for us.

I only hope their interaction with us was a happy one too. Boink – Thank-You in Dolphinese.

Another World

We are back from what can only be termed an exotic vacation by the seaside, and the old brain nudged me to look for something written on marine life a while ago, and I did. I had written this post a few months ago, and forgot to publish it.

puertov

So, here is the old post while I marshal my thoughts from the vacation.

One evening over dinner, the husband asked in what he thought was a nonchalant tone whether we should go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium that week-end.

“Hmm…Did they send you the renewal plea for the annual pass?” I asked shrewdly.

He laughed and said that they had indeed.

We are as gullible as galloping oysters in fish sauce when it comes to the annual pass gab. We look and analyze the thing from all angles and figure that if we go just once more in the next year, it all makes sense and buy the annual passes. The year ahead seems to be sprawling with empty week-ends. Week-after-week, month-after-month: having nothing to do, we say why not set aside one week-end a month for the Science museum, one for the zoo, one for the natural history museum and another for ecological preservation?

Then, of course life unfolds, which in the nourish-n-cherish household has been established to be somewhat erratic, and hectic, and we are left wondering whether the weekdays with all its attendant worries is calmer than week-ends with all its hectic activity. Before we know it, the renewal plea arrives and we try our best to scramble in another visit before the annual pass expires.

“If we go straight to the Diwali party from the museum, we can work in that week-end.”, we say and scramble in a trip to the Aquarium.

Anyway, what I meant is that we went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium a few months ago. The salty, tangy, eucalyptus-scented air ruffles your hair as you make your way towards the museum. The cawing of the seagulls and the faint smells of seals and seaweed greet you long before the wonders inside.

Observing marine life is as mesmerizing as it is mystical. Standing there in front of the large glass tanks and looking at sharks, turtles, fish of every color and variety, is magical.

There is one section where we can see jellyfish boink around. Jellyfish that are colored brilliantly, transparent jellyfish, and jellyfish that contain bioluminescent bacteria. As I was standing there marveling at the brilliance of nature, I noticed that there were patterns in the glowing bacteria. Some had patterns that if one squinted one’s eyes resembled constellations in the night sky. I don’t know whether the patterns in the jellyfish are unique to each one much like the Zebra’s stripes are, but it would definitely not surprise me if that were the case. Nature’s patterns are as varied as they are diverse.

We came home that night, reluctantly pulling ourselves away from the enthralling environs of teeming marine life, and sat around for a hastily thrown together dinner. The conversation drifted towards marine life, a topic that is dear to the daughter’s heart. The love started young as we know to our chagrin – we might have watched Finding Nemo five hundred times when she was growing up. Every little fish and piece of coral was much loved in the home. The conversation flitted dangerously close to the ‘I wish I could live in the sea’ theme. The husband watched us for a moment and said in a strangely ruminative tone: “It is a scary world out there isn’t it? A-fish-eats-fish world.”

I was reminded of a quote that floats up in my mind every so often when I am observing the world around us. A quote that is prominently placed in the Monterey Bay Aquarium too:

The sea is as near as we come to another world: Anne Stevenson

Yes, it is a fish-eats-fish world, but it is also the world of beauty, survival, co-existence, and a symbiosis of life.

Essential or Eternal Communication?

I recently read a book called The Hidden Life of Trees written by a forester, Peter Wohlleben.

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 8.59.19 AM

Trees have always fascinated me. I have tried becoming one with little success.

Their calm, stoic essence of being is reassuring. Trees are social beings, and they are capable of immense internal processes that not only sustain their lives, but also those of others around them.

Reading the book is like dipping into a life that we as a race can barely contemplate for as the author reminds us in the book, trees live life in the slow lane, and that is what made the reading experience refreshing. It is largely based on observations and of the forester’s study on the forests he helps to manage. Throughout the book, he cites relevant research studies that have been carried by botanists.

Trees are social beings and know that they can thrive if they look out for one another. Many interesting anecdotes dot the book such as the one with the giraffes chomping down the leaves of the acacia trees in the Savannah.

The giraffes there were feeding on umbrella thorn acacias, and the trees didn’t like this one bit. It took the acacias mere minutes to start pumping toxic substances into their leaves to rid themselves of the large herbivores.

The acacia trees that were being eaten gave off a warning gas (specifically, ethylene) that signaled to neighboring trees of the same species that a crisis was at hand. Right away, all the forewarned trees also pumped toxins into their leaves to prepare themselves. The giraffes were wise to this game and therefore moved farther away to a part of the savannah where they could find trees that were oblivious to what was going on. Or else they moved upwind.

How beautifully nature equipped the trees and giraffes for survival.

After reading about how effectively and essentially Trees communicate, I could not help comparing and contrasting our lives with those of our stoic friends. This frenzied communication lifestyle we have adapted as our own, often leads to amusing outcomes, but sometimes to questionable ones.

One morning, I set out to enjoy a leisurely week-end breakfast with the children. When the menu card says ‘Noodles’, the beaming sous chef in the home is more active than is called for. I doubt restaurant kitchens have sous chefs standing on chairs next to the chef gabbling instructions for all to hear, but our kitchen does.

AF1QipPGhzxZ4rpk1xkI0U0emQ8aWQ9bWbIm6mGj3v3r=I.jpg

Minutes later, we clattered down with our bowls of steaming instant noodles – there is something deeply satisfying about slurping the long noodle strings noisily, and reveling in the liberating feeling of not being governed by the ticking minutes of the clock for a change.

I was doing my best to ignore the incessant modes of communication that is our bane today, but I was still interrupted with the International Phone Call.  On the call, I was given the shocking news that Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp had been vying to give me, and told to check it all immediately. Apparently, the noodles I was eating that very day had 17% lead content. 17% lead. Funny because I did not feel like I had a metal tube lodged in my intestines after eating it, nor did I feel like an old ceiling waiting to be torn down. What it meant to say of course is that there were supposedly 17 parts per million of lead in the offending food item, a claim that in itself proved to be baseless later on.

lead

Quote from link: http://nextdraft.com/archives/n20170310/leaky-gut-reaction/

The wrongness of the initial stories is the result of a perfect storm of three factors: Technical subject matter, a master of disinformation, and always on race to publish stories quickly. It’s yet another reminder of the Internet’s five least common words: Let me think about that.

Should we learn the art of essential communication, and develop the ability to chaff it from the demands of eternal communication? Maybe learn a lesson or two from our stoic friends.

For a quick read: https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/09/26/the-hidden-life-of-trees-peter-wohlleben/

Stop and Look at the Snails

After enduring a particularly long spell of drought, we are relishing the rains lashing down on us this year. The clean, fresh air after the rain is one we relish. As the toddler son and I make our way to school every morning, our heart lifts at the marvelous rainbows, the cherry blossoms starting to bloom and the beautiful snails out on the roads.

img_5103

Sometimes, we come up with silly names for the little creatures we find on our path. Turbo the Snail is always a welcome sight. Earthy Worm invokes the same curiosity if not adoration. Toby Turtle is remembered with affection, and we wonder aloud how we can find ways to hobnob more freely with turtles.

Watching the snails leave a shiny trail behind them one rainy day, we squatted there wondering whether that trail left behind by snails is poisonous. That innocent minute squatting on the sidewalk looking at snails criss-cross our path raised so many questions. It looked to us like a snail could not get very far if it had to flee a predator.

Where do they live when it is not raining and can’t move?
What if we had slippery slopes for snails? said the toddler always keen to help.
Do only snails walk the slippery slope? (completely lost on the toddler of course) and so on.

pets

 

“Amma, we will be late! Hurry up.” said the conscientious fellow and we galloped past the snails wondering how much there was to do in the world, and how little we manage to do.

The thought that there is so much more to be done can sneak up at you in the most unexpected moments. Like the time I was reading a love story written by Alexander McCall Smith in the book Chance Developments. The story imagined the life of a young man in Scotland using a vintage photograph of a young man helping to change a car tire in the presence of a beautiful young lady in a cream colored coat.

 

In the book, the young man is taking a stroll around a loch and is fascinated by some plants that many ignored because they were believed to be poisonous, but he nibbles at them lovingly almost, since his father had tried and demonstrated to him that these particular plants were not poisonous at all. He had studied the properties of the plant, and traced the origins of the myth to a Celtic folktale, and though most tales started off with a kernel of truth, this one probably did not.

How is a story as innocuous as that supposed to make one feel like there is so much to be done? Because they are so many ways in which we can remain curious, to question the this-is-how-it-is-done-s of the world. The fact that we can bust one myth just by questioning it is good. And it proves that we pave the path for one more myth to be broken and then one more.

It has been a few years since I read ’Surely, You’re Joking Mr Feynman – Adventures of a Curious Character’ By Richard Feynman. I remember one passage in which the celebrated scientist talks of watching ants as they made their way around his backyard. Marveling at how they navigated obstacles placed in their path, and admiring the innate steadfastness of the species.

Screen Shot 2017-02-16 at 10.28.43 AM.png

The quest for knowledge can be a curious, interesting journey, if only we take the time to stop and look at the snails.

Richard Feynman on the Meaning of Life – Brain Pickings

Would You Rather?

On a recent trip, we were caught up in a snow storm. Fresh from the battering of the storms, as we drove through the pouring rain in the gathering darkness, I sat looking out the window when the husband turned and looked at me.  Have I told you about the husband giving me work to do? I must have. It is a common enough gripe in the car. If you peer into the car as we tootle along somewhere, you will see the daughter lolling around in the back seat with a pillow, several books, a quilt in the winter etc – (Queens in their palanquins could not have lolled in such comfort), the son looking out the window unnecessarily excited by those trucks carrying precariously perched cars, and self trying to soak in the passing scenery if the husband is driving.

The husband, far from contenting himself to driving, feels the need ‘occupy’ our time. We have tried telling him that we don’t need to be entertained, and that we are quite happy left to our own muses during the car-ride, but that does not seem to deter him.  You see, I do not enjoy checking the route to see whether the road ahead shows a red stretch on the Google maps app. If there is heavy traffic, it will be red being my sagacious view of the thing. What can one do about it? But the husband demurs. He wants me to check if there is red ahead, what alternate routes we could take if there is a red ahead, for how long does the red stretch – is it like a quick spot of kumkum worn to appease a priest or the devout kind that streaks the entire span of the forehead parting like in Tamil serials? Is there also a touch of the turmeric before and after the red? (Baboons in Tamil Serials)

haldi_kumkum

The skies had turned into an inky blue and the dark grey clouds hung heavily over us as the rain pelted down at us. The traffic ahead slowed down a little bit and the brake lights glowed red against the dark skies. The husband looked at me, I avoided his gaze and said with aplomb. How about we all play the Would-You-Rather game? We had just learned of the game from our friends and this seemed as good a time as any to try.

Would-You-Rather check the traffic or play a game?

Would-You-Rather is a sterling game in which one asks questions such as :

Would-You-Rather be (Rich & Unknown) or (Poor & Famous)?

Would-You-Rather be Hunted or be a Hunter?

Would-You-Rather be a Teacup or the Tea?

When played with the right set of questions, it can be quite a stimulating game, since it really makes one think.  Some of the questions were creative and some humdrum, but it was interesting to see the range of questions.

The daughter’s were creative and sometimes invoked magic.

Would-You-Rather  be a famous scientist who invented the most powerful thing that can destroy life, or be an unknown scientist who increased food production?

Just when you beamed at her and felt like it was a good-question, she’d say:

Would-You-Rather  be on a hill with unicorns or in a city with pixies?

Since we had been crawling through snow and getting through mountain passes, the bulk of the little son’s questions had cars, snow, super-heroes (super-heroes are always there!)

Would-You-Rather  be a car or a snowflake?

Would-You-Rather  be Spiderman or Lightning McQueen?

Would-You-Rather be a car in the snow or a car in the rain?

Parents true to form can never really pass up any opportunity, and so ours had science, history, economics or magic:

Would-You-Rather  be a windmill or a solar panel?

Would-You-Rather  be Tinker Bell or Fawn (Engineer or Zoologist basically)

Would-You-Rather  be a Woman in Today’s Age or a Man in the Golden Age of the Gupta period?

would-you-rather

Most questions segued (segwayed) into interesting discussions and we were rather enjoying ourselves. Maybe I looked too relaxed in the passenger seat, for the husband’s angel tapped him on the shoulder and reminded him of his stern duty to give me work. He glanced at me in that swift appraising fashion that I know spells trouble for me. ‘Look up some questions on the internet to see what they’ve got.’  he said, and I moaned.

“What is wrong with the set of questions we have now eh?’ I asked heatedly. ‘Here we are having a perfectly good time and you want me to see what the great folks on the internet with their bulbous brains have for the game.’

‘Just check – maybe there are some really good ones in there.’

So, I checked and this is what I got.

fullsizerender

Would you rather snort into toilet-paper or tissues – my foot! That should teach us that the internet is only as good as our weakest link.

The Would-You-Rather is a jolly good game to play in the New Year as we are being pressured into taking New Year resolutions.

Would-You-Rather try to fix some aspect of your personality that is bothering you, or learn something new?

Would-You-Rather resolve to exercise more or improve your well-being

Would-You-Rather Dance or Run?

Would-You-Rather learn to entertain yourself or be entertained?

What Would You Rather Do or Not Do?

Scoff at Coffee Or Chess With a Super-Hero?

This winter has been a time of amazing road trips:

Dodo, Dragon, Dinosaur Dis-apparitions
In Boysenberry Jelly & Mistletoe Jam
The Wind, The Snow & The Rain – Part 1
Weaving The Sequins Of Time
The Curious Curvy Trees
The Salons of Bodie

With all the excitement of the trips and the experiences therein, there is also the time in the car. Audio books and songs compete for time with games in the car. Playing games with children is an experience unto itself. Peacekeeping forces are deployed every now and then, council meetings to determine rules and regulations, are required. Who said the family isn’t a mini-government unto itself? In spite of all this, hiccups arise in the most unexpected quarters.

I remember the time we were playing hangman. I was wondering what the words were and how I was getting them all wrong before I realized that for playing hangman properly one needs to know the spelling of the words, and foneticaly speaking, that is a very different game for kindergarteners.

‘Let me give you a hint’, the toddler son said one day as I was waiting for a cup of coffee en-route to somewhere. He was trying his best to mask his frustration, since my A, E, S and I, had all gone to nearly hang the man. He then coughed and sputtered and then beamed up at me expectantly. Could that be C-O-U-G-H?

‘O?’

‘Yes! Very good amma,’ he said and added O at the second place. I was frazzled. He had 4 dashes laid out. What could mean ‘Cough’, but be spelt with 4 letters?

C? I got another very-good, and after that nothing. The G finally got the man’s throat and he gasped and croaked. After another few trying minutes, in which the brain felt fairly rattled, the fellow wrote C-O-F-F.  Cough, see? He beamed rather freely at this, and the doting tween sister of his scoffed and ruffled his hair.

‘Scoff all you want, but cough up the dough for my coffee. ‘, I said to my unappreciative audience as I went to get my fortifying cup of coffee.

‘Would You Rather Coff Or Have Coffee? Get it?’,  said the daughter and I rolled my eyes.

I was reminded yet again of a charming book written by Miss Read. The book, Farewell to Fairacre,  written by Dora Saint,  is based in the imaginary village of Fairacre in the English countryside. The protagonist and narrator, Miss Read, taught at the village school, and said of her children.

‘More worldly children require computers and video games to occupy themselves, but the children of Fairacre are quite happily engaged with paper and pencils’

playing_games

I am glad we are able to derive our pleasures in simple ways still.

Then of course, if ever anyone wants to see how Rajinikanth plays Chess, you can come by and watch the toddler play chess with his imaginary friend when bored. If one has watched the old Tamil movies, one knows how villains attack Cinema heroes. The villains would stand around the hero. Cornered. See? Then, they’d go on to scowl, growl, grimace and crack their knuckles on the sidelines, touching their bald heads, caressing their unshaven beards and glaring like tigers given melons for lunch.

The hero stands there sizing them up and then one fellow comes and aah! He gets beaten up in a giffy. You’d think that would knock some sense into the remaining goonda pakodas, but it doesn’t. They all roar and then send another huge guy into the rink. Thulped. Another grimace and still no learning here. All fourteen idiots would go one at a time and get beaten up.

All known laws of Physics are also massacred in the process. Thermodynamics, laws of motion are all left begging for reprieve along with the band the villains.

Apply the same principle to the Chess board and you have the game: Every pawn comes one at a time and gets beaten up by the toddler’s side of the chess set. His shining knight battles on destroying his opponent’s pawns and his brave army thinks nothing of thumping Queens and locking bishops in with his own pawns.

Would You Rather be a Villain in a Tamil movie set or a pawn in Rajinikanth’s Chess? Get it?

Which brings us to the stimulating Would-You-Rather game (Part 2)

In Boysenberry Jelly & Mistletoe Jam

On the drive back from the Inyo Canyons, in one day, we found ourselves dealing with gusty winds, a snow storm and a rain storm before the day was out. The Wind, The Snow & The Rain – Part 2.

We were now stuck in a snow storm. The highway men had come and swapped the rustic freeway sign to ‘Snow Chains Required’ and left. We had snow chains and I supposed they worked.

By the time we had pulled out the snow chains, we were covered with snow. Our brains were exhorting the toes to wiggle but there was no inclination from the toes to w. Miss-tle-toe for you. The nose was thirty degrees below freezing point. Rudolph the red nosed reindeer anyone? Ours had turned a lovely boysenberry color and had a reindeer been about would gladly have chomped off our noses. We peered into the snow chain package. The husband beamed like a snowman with a crooked twig for a smile and said he had opened the case prior to leaving in a rare state of prescience. I gave him the my-hero look and fumbled for the instruction manual. There it was: in 8 easy steps, it laid out how to install snow chains.

Take clip, Clasp to the tire,  Move to opposite side of tire,  Do something on the side of the tire facing the inside of the car, Take clip and clasp to the tire,  Rotate the chain under the tire and, Clasp,  Click

It looked easy enough to do on a sunny day with our garage door open, some music in the background and no car on top. But the instructions seemed to have completely missed the car on top of the tires in the pictures. One look at the tires, the snow, our freezing hands, and the car on top of it was enough. There are times when we look competent, and times when we don’t. This was one of those times when we were not. Looking c I mean.

reindeer_snowchains

It is at moments like this that the husband really comes into his own. While I was fumbling with the instructions, he was gone. One second, I was oh-see-this-ing to him and the next moment, I was oh-see-this-ing to a sympathetic looking fir tree. He bolted like a hare into the tavern conveniently located on the opposite side of the road, and came back with an eminently more competent looking chap from the pub. The cherubic fellow rubbed his hands together and said he could help. ‘I have done snow tires before, but you really should try it out once you know. ‘ he said plainly putting a decent face to his thoughts.

In less than ten minutes, the chap had installed the snow chains. I clasped his hands with gratitude looking like a dying duck who had just been given a new lease of life. I quacked on to thank him effusively and went so far as to call him a brother in need. The daughter, keen as always, asked me why I said that since she was not sure her Anand Maama would be any help with installing snow chains even if he had been in the car. A fair point.

There is something grandiose about snow chains. I suppose emperors frequently feel this way once they wear their crowns. They get a swagger, a dangerous over-confidence. The snow chains were the crowns to the tires, and off we went all smiles, confidence and swagger.

Post snow chains, in about 43 seconds, we found the car doing the reindeer-magic-mushroom sequence again with renewed vigor and whim. The car was not just mobile but intent on being perpendicular to the road and spinning a good 180 degrees.

Nature had not even shown her fury, and there we were spinning on highways, making boysenberry jelly with our noses, playing mistletoe with our toes,  and wondering whether we would be able to get out – snow tires or not, before nightfall. In what is a miracle,after about an hour in which a child tumbling could have overtaken us, we emerged into the rain and not an ounce of snow. It was as if they were different worlds.

As we were fumbling on the roadside in the rain to take the snow chains off, a brilliant red fire truck pulled up behind us, and the firemen helped us out smiling and chatting amiably all the while. We did the dying-duck-thank-sequence, and off we went on our way driving in the pouring rain.

In one day, we had whipped past gusty, gale-like winds, glided helplessly in a snow storm and thundered through a heavy rain storm.  The bright blue skies had turned grey and murky to ink blue and thunderous all in the span of a few hours.

We tottered into the house for a hastily made rasam and rice, and sighed like octogenarians with our feet in front of the heater that there was no place like home.