Life’s Determinants

“It’s Summer! It’s Summer!” Olaf and Anna were singing and prancing downstairs. I mock-scowled at the duo having summer fun while I dialed into my meetings dutifully. But I was happy to see them finally get some down time after school and grateful that some of their summer euphoria could rub off on me.

I peered outside wearing my owlish glasses and was treated to a beautiful painted lady spreading joy. Flitting here and flitting there.

Painted Lady

A mild breeze rippled through the tree, and I decided enough was enough. A walk would be what the doctor ordered. So, I hollered to the Olaf in the house to come with me on a little stroll. I reached for my sunglasses and instantly, the sun dappled streets of our little suburb took on a magical hue.

Off we went: me trying to look at flitting butterflies and rippling trees; Olaf – fighting imaginary wars and swishing every now and then. 

After a while, I asked him whether he had stopped to think of the stripes on the striped lady butterfly and he gave me a quizzical look – “What? I am fighting some intergalactic wars Amma! Don’t have time to look at butterflies!”

Every now and then, he stopped to explain the action sequence in his head (you know to make me feel included!) So my walk was now accompanied by the strangest commentary:

“I am now imagining the fight but how the electrons would be affected in the atoms inside the fight. The energy transfer and everything else.” and so on.

He went back to his musings and I to mine. If his musings were at the atomic level, mine were at the cellular scale of life. I remember reading about Alan Turing’s work on the mathematical models used to determine patterns in living creatures such as spots on leopards, stripes on butterflies and the like in the book, What is Life – by Paul Nurse

So, that is what we spoke about as we swished our way back home. I asked him if he knew Alan Turing. He mentioned a video in which he had been mentioned. So, there were talking of Alan Turing and his inspired work in the fields of Math and Computing.

Life as Information – What is Life – By Paul Nurse

“This was a set of problems that Alan Turing – he of Enigma code-cracking fame and one of the founders of modern computing- turned to during the early 1950s. He came up with an alternative, and imaginative, suggestion for how embryos generate spatial information from within.  He devised a set of mathematical equations that predicted the behavior of chemical substances interacting with each other, and so undergoing specific chemical reactions as they diffuse through a structure. Unexpectedly, his equations, which he called reaction-diffusion models, could arrange chemical substances into elaborate and often rather beautiful spatial patterns,.By tweaking the parameters of his equations, the two substances could organize themselves into evenly spaced spots, stripes or blotches, for example. …Turing died before his theoretical ideas could be tested in real embryos, but developmental biologists now believe that this could be the mechanism that puts spots on cheetahs backs and stripes on many fish; distributes the hair follicles on your head; and even divides each of the developing human baby hands into 5 distinct fingers.”

What is Life, By Paul Nurse

By the time we flitted back into the house, we had a proper awe of stripes and patterns that hitherto would have been less than wondrous but beautiful all the same.

I was reminded of Richard Feynman’s Ode to the Flower, and the renewed wonder in knowing the intricacies of nature. Every dot and stripe will now be a source of wonder and awe at the brain that sought to model and predict it.

Ode to a Flower – By Richard Feynman. This brain pickings article links to the beautiful animated video made by Fraser Davidson based on his ode to a flower.

A Whale of a Time

“Just read some book that is interesting, but not too interesting. Shouldn’t make me laugh too much, or make me say.”Oooh! That is interesting right?”, but make me sleepy in 10 minutes.”, said the son.

I said I would try. 

The strange specific request was because it was well past bedtime. The lights were off, but the young fellow was having trouble falling asleep. I could hear him chuckling at the conversation in his sister’s room, and getting up every few minutes to dart across and contribute. The rambunctious older sister and father were given a sober talking to so bedtime rituals could commence and I looked at the stash of books by the bedside trying to find one that would fill this vaguely specific request. The written world did not disappoint, and pretty soon, I had in my hands several books that could help.

However, the book on Whales seem to fit the description perfectly. It was interesting enough, the illustrations beautiful and the content remarkable yet not thrilling enough to keep one awake at night. It was like listening to Whale Song.

There is something remarkably therapeutic about the color blue.

Whales – by Kelsey Oseid

Seeing the pages in various hues of blue, with the lovely pictures of the most beautiful and interesting creatures on Earth made for a magical few minutes. It is no wonder that the daughter loves doodling with blues, and drew numerous pictures of whales.

The daughter’s drawing of Whales

The light blue on the pages lulled one to sleep and before long, the fellow drifted, and I tiptoed out with the book. 

Reading about whales on a weekday night is strangely relaxing. I kept going. Spreadsheets, documents, planning, working, cleaning – everything seemed irrelevant in the face of these creatures. The feeding, bubbling and the many aspects of the whales is beautifully shown. The illustrations in the book make it a relaxing artistic phenomenon – I have spent many nights since looking at the pictures in the book. 

Sample page to show the beauty of the illustrations in the Whales book by Kelsey Oseid

Whales also gently reminded me of my recent folly: It has been sometime since I went on a children’s book reading spree. So, I went about rectifying this immediately. It is no wonder the old spirit has been feeling jaded lately. Nothing like a dose of magic, art, laughter and childlike stories to rejuvenate the spirit. Sometimes, when we make a Whale of a Mistake like that, all it takes is a trip to the library to invite the guardian of the spirit to visit again.

I look forward to reading this lot, and having a whale of a time.

Children’s Books

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.

The Art of Judging Art

The husband showed me an episode on White Collar – a drama series based on an FBI agent who takes the help of a conman he arrested to solve art crimes. A fascinating series, it soon caught the fancy of the household primarily because it is one of the few shows that we can watch with the young son in tow.  Of course, modern television has taken gripping drama to an art, and we found ourselves enjoying the show together. 

In one episode, the protagonist goes to great depths to explain how he found a particular piece of art was counterfeited. The light of the shadows in the painting, he says, were at an angle that could only have been possible if the museum lighting were shining at that angle, not something that Rembrandt or Van Gogh or Picasso (I forget which artist) would have had to contend with in his work of art. 

I remember being awestruck at this. Of course, art aficionados would not find it marvel-worthy, but I did. My simple mind appreciates the beauty of a good work of art, and it stops there. The critical eye, the keen observations, they all seem a work of wonder to me. 

It was, after we had watched this episode that we bundled up and drove through the lush hills shining in the sun-dappled valleys and plains of California for a short trip to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The Getty Museum turned out to be a wonderful outing for Covid times. It was not crowded, and the artwork was good without being overwhelming.

As I stood in the Van Gogh section, I could not help wondering how that many works of Van Gogh were in Getty’s Museum when we had seen numerous others in galleries across Italy. Apparently, in his last year of life, confined to an asylum for mental illness, Van Gogh created around 600 masterpieces.

I snapped a picture of the Irises, and made my way down to the gift shop afterwards. It was there that the awe of what we have done dawned on me, There were mass produced pieces of merchandise with the exact nuance of the irises on purses, scarves, tote bags, books and magnets.

What is the true worth of a masterpiece? I am sure there are hundreds of paintings, true masterpieces, that do not go on to have this enduring sense of appeal and capture the imagination of generations. 

I tried fumbling some of these sentiments to the children, and the children piped up in style, “If Neal Caffrey tries to steal it, it is worth it. If not, forget it!”

Regardless, the urge to paint is encouraged by Van Gogh himself (according to the Internet)

“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

– Vincent Van Gogh

In the Infinities of the Desert

Driving on deserted roads through the desert can be quite unnerving if you haven’t the right company. I remember thinking of those brave folks who ran marathons across the Sahara desert with nothing but a compass for company, and I must say I felt all the more grateful for the companionship that I did have in the bleak desert just then (Girls trips have a joy of their own!). There are times when one feels alright alone with a compass and the stars for company, but that day it felt just right to have your friends about you – squealing and laughing at the jokes and the non-jokes with equal joy.

We had been to Joshua Tree National Park during the day. The park literature spoke highly of Cholla Cactus Gardens, and I must say I was yearning to see them too. After the tall tree-like cacti of Sedona, Arizona, I was curious to see their west-side cousins. Would they be dwarfish like their tree brethren? The Joshua trees were nothing like trees, but were trees alright. What would the cacti be like?

The cacti, it turns out, were beautiful. They sort of creep up on you when you least expect it. There are miles and miles of desert, punctuated with outsized boulders on all sides. The boulders! Really – some of them were the size of buildings just sitting out there with the wind whooshing past them, and the sun beating down on them.

The Boulders!

Desolate, barren, comical. I suppose they would make marvelous spots to star-gaze in. (It is a desperate thing to yearn for the night skies on a bright, windy day, but the signs for star gazing were there everywhere. It sounded marvelous,. I have seen pictures of star trails in the Joshua Tree National Park area, and could only imagine the thousands of stars visible in the night sky from there. ) 

Skull Rock

The cactus gardens grew there in the middle of the desert, elegantly shimmering in the rays of the sun. Round a bend, when you’re least expecting it, the cactus gardens open up (not the same beautiful as William’s Wordsworth daffodils of course, but a different kind of beauty altogether). A beautiful array of life – glinting in the desert sun, reminding you of the resilience of life on this planet. There were beautiful in their own way. They reminded me of coral reefs – only in the desert and bathed in brown hues. 

We approached a happy couple coming our way to take a picture of us. They glowed in the setting sun, and beamed. They had apparently gotten engaged to each other a few minutes ago, and were bursting with happiness to share this with us: fellow human beings, who were there at the time. We wished them both happiness together. It was a beautiful feeling of strangers sharing their happiness and good wishes. We may never meet again, but that moment of their happiness was ours to remember. 

The cactus bore testimony to human paths forging a life together, the boulders : indifferent, but providing the backdrop for a proposal and an engagement, the Joshua trees branches of every shape delivering a message of love. 

In the infinities of the desert, there was a small pause: punctuations of happiness, and joy. 

Where the Wild Girls Are

Every once in while we get to step in to a world different than our own, and the only thing that reminds you of your earthly existence are your earthly companions. Would space travel be the same way? Would an exotic alien world be made habitable with our companions? I know not, maybe our future generations will find out.

Traveling to a place Where the Wild Things Are or to one of Dr Seuss’ landscapes is a unique opportunity. I have to admit I had not read the National Park Service’s description of the Joshua Trees on their site. They called it Dr Seuss’s trees. I felt the same. Dr Seuss lived not far from Joshua Tree National Park after all, and I am sure he took inspiration from these curious curvy alphabetic trees for his many books. (The one on alphabets, On Beyond Zebra. The Wum, Humpfm, Thnad that seem to go past the twenty six that we do know; or the trees that Horton the Elephant sits on while hatching his egg for instance.) 

The Joshua trees have a life lesson or two to impart. 

Each tree seems determined to leave an imprint on the planet. Like the illustrious bristlecone trees up further north, the Joshua trees seem to chart a unique path for themselves. Each tree resorted to a rule of no rules. I saw no two trees branch out similarly. Some took to elegant and simple forms, while others reveled in the complicated heiroglyphics to decode the essence of living.

They seem to have taken Mary Oliver’s poem to heart – every one of them.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver, The Summer Day

How does one become a tree? Like this 

Or like this?

I know not. All I know is that life holds precious moments for those who attempt to become one, and the resulting camaraderie and joy of dancing and chatting in the deserts with one’s dear companions takes on a refreshing feeling that one can savor and smile at when Google Photos reminds you days afterward. 

Where the Wild Girls Are

If life is meant to be lived, live them like Joshua trees or Bristlecone trees  – hardy, beautiful, resilient, joyful and in the quiet companionship of your fellow souls journeying with you through this exotic world. 

Pirates Vs Ninjas

I suppose I can laugh about it now. Though the crick in the neck disagrees just a teensy teensy bit.

The whole unfortunate episode reminded me yet again of how marvelous children are. Allow me to mist my eyes up a bit and remember.

“What are you doing?” I said to no one in particular though there seemed to be a herd of elephants in the room above me stampeding through the forests and jumping into the river.

Just imaginating!” Came the familiar reply, and despite the elephants-in-room feeling, I smiled. In our home, the act of pure imagination has been given a verb-form all on its own. Imaginating, we call it, and go about our business of imagination without batting an eyelid. 

A few hours later, I asked him, “Won’t you hurt yourself? Jumping and tumbling about like that – from the bed, to the table and back again through the chairs?”

He smiled and said simply, “No amma! I won’t hurt myself. Besides, it is the only way when you are trying not to put your feet on the floor.” He rolled his eyes. Must adults be this thick?!

I felt a big cloud of fog roll into the brain. “But, why must you not put your feet on the floor, my dear?”

A sheepish grin met my innocent query, and he said he was pretending to be a ninja fighting pirates, and ninjas do not walk on floors like normal people. Pirates, I was told, had no problems jumping vigorously into battle, and the elephants-thundering-sensation must have been the pirates piece of the imagination, not the ninjas.

I praised the universe for an imagination, and went on to soothe my head, while he blithely tumbled and crouched and leapt from one vantage point to another in the battle.

Let the sofa be mountains, the carpet be sea,

There I’ll establish a city for me:

A kirk and a mill and a palace beside,

And a harbour as well where my vessels may ride.

This one is sailing and that one is moored:

Hark to the song of the sailors aboard!

And see, on the steps of my palace, the kings

Coming and going with presents and things!

Robert Louis Stevenson – Child’s Garden of Verse
A Child’s Garden of Verse – Robert Louis Stevenson

The next morning, the sun peeked out from behind the autumnal clouds, wondering whether or not to shine, when it happened. I miscalculated the depth and the breadth of the bed, and tumbled out. I suppose it would have been one of those funny videos when watched in slow motion, but all I remember is a pretty tumble, and a sort of dull crick in the neck before I rolled again and came to be a pile on the floor. 

The sun is a star. We see thousands of stars at night. But do you see thousands of them by day when the sun has decided to show itself too? I wasn’t sure, but that was what I saw. Within moments, I had the loving son rushing downstairs for a glass of water and packet of frozen peas, while the husband tried to help me up, and assess the bone-situation given my propensity of breaking them

For concerned readers, I am fine. Nothing happened except that I am still sore. Three days later, I asked the son wistfully how he managed his imaginating. My neck still felt sore and my head hurt when I tilted it just so. The house needed cleaning and the food needed cooking, and the neck needed resting. What was to be done?

He looked sorry for me, and shrugged. “Maybe you can imaginate that you will win your castle in battle?”

“That sounds like a good plan. My castle only needs cleaning before the army arrives. I can dance and make merry in preparation for the royal ball?!” I said, and we smiled.

I was a royal queen who was also a fantastic dancer as I cooked and cleaned. Robert Louis Stevenson would have been proud.

Just a Little?

—————

I’ve written before about how one of the best gifts of growing up in a different world from the one I inhabit as an adult is the marvelous gifts of literature that keeps on giving. For instance, this week, I am contending with my love for Anne of Green Gables and its TV show, Anne with an E, juggling the arrival of our in-laws from India, Greek myths that ebbs and flows like the tides with the children and their interests, a full Navarathri season, a pile of books begging to be read, a craving for some quiet, and a few entirely new Dr Seuss books.

All of these things seemed to reiterate the one thing that Virginia Woolf said,

“As a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.”

Virginia Woolf

The children thought it might be a good idea for me to watch Anne with an E. Seeing that I am not much of a Television person, a profile was created for me on Netflix. Every one else’s profile was given their own names. Mine was touchingly called ‘Amma’, and it had one entry in the ‘Continue Watching’: Anne with an E.

This tickled the son every time, and he showed it off to his friends, who all shared a chuckle with him.  The series is beautifully rewritten by Moira Walley Becket, and is based on the original book series by Lucy Maud Montgomery. The series boldly irons out some aspects that could have been better in the books. A number of side stories and characters have also been added (some I liked, some I didn’t).

Ever since my first acquaintance with Anne of Green Gables, I have a yearning for the Canadian countryside. I would love to visit Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island one day ‘with kindred spirits’ to take in the October beauty. 

I am so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers

– Anne of Green Gables – Lucy Maud Montgomery

I must admit Anne with an E rekindled the love for the series, and I started reading the series again. Accordingly I went to library to look up Anne of Windy Poplars, and found the rest of the series on the shelves, but the one I was looking for. I asked one of the librarians putting some books away nearby and went to ask her if she knew whether there was another copy somewhere else. Her eyes seem to light up when I asked after the Anne of Green Gables series, and I smiled inside my mask. She acknowledged that the Windy Poplars one was not there, and I thanked her, and went my way. 

I meandered around the library and when finally I washed up at the checkout desk, she came up breathlessly, and handed me a well-loved copy of Anne of Windy Poplars. “I knew there was another copy for you somewhere!” 

I thanked her profusely. I cannot tell you the joy I had in curling up with Anne that night, reveling in the quiet way in which the old rivalries between Anne and Gilbert blossomed into a companionable friendship, and then into love.

I said so to the daughter late that night when she found me reading well past midnight. Her eyes crinkled with laughter, and she said,”Amma! Look at you. Aren’t you just a little bit embarrassed to be fan-girling like this?”

“Well…since you ask, Just A Little Bit!” I said, but found myself laughing. “I can’t help it, I seem to like it, and well, makes me think of Appa & me a long time ago.”

“All right – TMI!” she said. (TMI for oldies as I was lovingly enlightened means Too Much Information)

But she nodded approvingly before adding, “I like that you are reading and watching Anne of Green Gables ma! Gilbert Blythe indeed!” Her back registered indulgence as she turned and left me to my reading. I chuckled, and became a little girl enjoying the twist of the trees, and the way the moonlight danced on the waters, till the mystical realms of dreams claimed me.

Kimêtawânaw – we all play

The daughter was giving me Tea. 

‘Tea’ I was enlightened earlier, is not the beverage that I love, but interesting events of note in her life. The child told me about her new teachers, the classes, the people around her – the ones who were mean, and the ones who weren’t, something about Discord, and something else about friends with their heart strung in different directions. 

“How long since school reopened?” I asked bemused at this barrage of interesting information. 

She gave me a sheepish smile, “Well… Mother. Would you like to hear this or not?”

I nodded and she rattled on about the joys of companionship. 

The son patiently listened to all of her tales with an intent and bemused expression on his face.

“What about you my dear? How have your days been going?” I said turning to him.

Thankfully, elementary school children are still spacemen and super-heroes. The throes of the heart have not yet occupied their minds. In his stentorian voice, he regaled us with a tale of a newly invented game that others had been willing to play along with. Time-tastic Adventures. 

Apparently, the den was tasked with picking a date in the past or the future, and then, they all play and enact games during this period. Medieval times, times in the future, making their way to the stars, or the fields for strawberry picking, it was all done together.

“Such an interesting game! Did you come up with it?” I asked

He looked shy and proud at the same time. “Yes! Did you guess because it was all about time?”

I nodded. His fascination with Time and playing outside is well known.

What about you ma! What’s your highlight for today? 

I told them about the antics of a particularly adventurous little squirrel that hot summer’s day when I had gone out on an errand. All the world preferred to shelter in the trees, or stay indoors, but this one was practicing for a hurdle race. He or she ran gaining speed, and elegantly leaped over the mounds on the fence. Not once, not twice but at least for 100 meters. The Olympic committee was probably cooling off in the summer heat, but I was there – I pulled the car over and watched the little creature leap joyously.

That evening, I opened this beautiful book, We all play = kimêtawânaw By Julie Flett 

Kimêtawânaw – we all play – by Julie Flett

In simple language and beautiful pastel colored pages, the joy of play and companionship is etched.

I smiled my way through the book, and as I closed my eyes to sleep, I thought of the little squirrel jumping over the hurdles in the heat.

The little squirrel somehow embodied the spirit of choosing joy in the pursuit of happiness on that hot day. 

Often times when out on a walk I would stop to enjoy the different creatures playing outside. The ducks splashing together, the squirrels chasing each other up and down trees and running across one’s path, the co-ordinated flying of the geese, and the deer bursting into what looks like spontaneous sprints. The urge to skip and pirouette in the sunset often overwhelms me. When I think there aren’t too many people about, I give in – feeling thrilled and somewhat sheepish at the same time, for adulthood frowns on these displays of spontaneity. But, like the children say, “People know you are the official kook of the house, so you’re okay ma!”

Well, kimêtawânaw – we all play!

The Boat of Life

Driving through the Pacific North Western coast can be lovely. Even though the vast areas around us shimmered in the heat, we were upbeat inside the car- the Umpqua river was keeping us company on the drive. Umpqua river – What a river! What a name! It was beautiful as the roads snaked and curved and we never once knew on which side the river would emerge. 

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Looking at people trying to get their canoe afloat on the river that afternoon reminded me of Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome again, and I resolved to read it again soon. With Covid rampant everywhere, the world around us seemed more muted, but the river seemed to assure with its little gurgles, eddies, swirls, and bubbles that life will go on. This too shall pass and any number of things we tell ourselves when in need of lifting our spirits. 

The truth is that Californian summers in the Bay Area can mean slim pickings with vibrant rivers. The Oregon coast was different – the Umpqua river was full, mature with the strength of the waters from the melting snows of the Cascades and we were driving right alongside its path as it made its way into the Pacific Ocean. 

As the road rose over the ridge carrying us over the valley of the Umpqua, the mists gradually rolled in signaling one thing –  we were nearing the oceanfront!  The trees were towering over us, and my spirits rose on that mist-filled afternoon.

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“The hills are alive with the sound of music! “

I bleated along as we drove through the hills, and the children exchanged a look that confirmed their worst suspicions. Their Mother Nature was with them. And with this Mother Nature in attendance, there would be no dawdling and letting things be. This would mean hiking and looking at things, and singing along. Sure enough, I ended my bleat on a howling note with great pride and turned around to see the cubs splitting with laughter. I coaxed and under the threat of more of my own singing, they relented.

Pretty soon, there we were, playing a weird version of Antakshari – we took a word or theme of the last few words we sang and started off the next one. Sometimes, the sentiment was enough. We were off trying to coax musical notes from made-up lyrics, singing with mesmerizingly accurate actions to our imaginary orchestra, and completely off-tune. 

“The wind never bothered me anyway….Let it go! Let it go! “  I said drawing in a wisp of the wind by lowering the window,

The daughter piped up from behind:

“The cold never bothered me anyway…”

“What?”

“It’s not the ‘wind’, it’s the ‘cold’.” Said the daughter and I said, “Yes dear – that’s what I meant. “

“MA! You can’t just change up words when you are singing them and say that is what I meant! ”

The husband and daughter are wizards at memorizing the lyrics. Yours truly, on the other note, is only magical when it comes to making up nonsense to fill in the tunes. 

“Yes you can! I sang nonsense to you kids all the time when you were babies!” I said

“Yep! Yay! And see how well that worked out!” said the daughter – sarcasm dripping from her voice, and we all burst into laughter. Say what you might, it seemed a perfect philosophy for a lovely life given all our little imperfections.

“Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing. ”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

I feel like I must say something witty about boats of life, and how it is the very thing that could turn into your life-boat, etc, but the lyrics elude me at the moment. Stay tuned – for you never know when inspiration will strike.

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