November Gifts

When the colder regions of the United States start rejoicing in the beautiful colors of Fall in October, California is still reeling with hot summers’ last gasp. Wildfires, and heat waves sound alarms of summer fading out. We are almost there, we pant to each other, as the withered flowers cling to their stems, and dust settles adamantly on cars and rooftops. Parched rivers, dried up lakes and dusty trails with wildfire warnings are the norm. Then suddenly, as though, there is a secret message that Halloweens cannot be during a hot spree, the days become nippier in the evening.

Elsewhere in the colder regions of the United States, it is the Octobers that are splendid, but for us here in the Bay area in California, November is the month of brilliant fall colors. A splendid sight that I had not fully seen in my initial years – in the unseeing way in which I rushed from one spot to another, in the unending rush to and from my job. Post the autumnal equinox, the sunsets became a rarity as it would be dark by the time I left the office and got out of the train. But over the years, I have noticed the colors with more appreciation every passing year. 

This year,  as I set out on walks on clear November days, I feel the gratitude for a less rushed commute and I sometimes get the feeling that all of this wells up within me to burst forth into the myriad colors in the universe I see around me. As I stood last week, first under an oak tree, then a sycamore tree, and then a large maple tree, a gingko tree and a willow tree (it’s hard to stop once you start!), I felt a sense of liberation in the air. The leaves were maturing, and some of them were letting go of their own volition.  (A lesson the occupant of the highest office in the nation can learn from if only he took the time to stand under a tree.) 

I stood there for a few minutes without rushing about my walk, and quietly reluctantly, when I moved away, I reflected on the gifts:

🍁 The music 🎶 🎵 🎼 of the wind rustling through the trees, to the accompaniment of chirping birds, and tittering squirrels, is music enough, and a soft lesson of symphony.

🍁 Watching a yellow, orange and red world bathed in the November light with the leaves fluttering down at their own pace is an unhurried lesson in pace.

🍁 Every now and then, a blue jay flies down from its perch, a couple of little yellow thrushes swoop in joy, while the melodious blackbirds and the nimble hummingbird go about their day. I can rejoice in the glorious feeling of the heart soaring with the birds. A lesson of hope and joy.

🍁  I see the younger gingko trees in our neighborhood already brilliantly yellow, but gingko trees apparently wait and coordinate among themselves to shed their leaves in unison. The older gingko tree isn’t quite there yet. It is working its way through the green leaves and slowly turning to yellow. The splendid yellow young ones are waiting patiently. A lesson in gracious patience.

🍁 How could I forget the squirrels with their final nut collection drive? A lesson of work while stopping to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor.

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November is also the month of celebrations. Hot on the heels of Halloween when the adults find the child in themselves, comes Deepavali, the beautiful festival of lights indicating the victory of light over darkness, good over evil etc, and then just before pulling gracefully into the zone of gratitude and thanksgiving, I get to celebrate my birthday.

What isn’t to love about November? It is a time for hot tea, butter toasts, fall colors, the sounds of pattering rain, the warmth of a sweater, and all the wonderful things of Hygge.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Autumn 🍂 🍁 🍃 of Hope

T’was the week-end of gifts. I had no idea how much I yearned for the promise of hope, till I felt the nimble feeling in my heart again.

I stepped out into the autumn 🍂🍁🍃 day with the children after a bout of dancing in the kitchen. The day was beautiful. Overnight, the Earth seemed less harsher, with the summer heat replaced by a nippy feel in the air, and a blue, blue sky with wispy clouds lilting away their day. I bent every now and then picking up a autumnal bouquet of sorts. Yellow, maroon, red, greenish-yellow, yellowish brown, greenish-red, and everything in between. 

“Don’t you feel like dancing 💃  though?” I asked the daughter, and she said firmly. “No! Not out here.”

“Oh – its okay!” Said her little brother coming to my defense. “Everyone knows she is a bit of a nature kook, it should be alright!”, and I laughed. My reputation was intact with the children.

The gingko trees were waving their golden green flags in the air – proudly proclaiming the daily joy of living to those who would stop and take a moment to take it all in. I stood there thinking, that the day is a wonderful one indeed if we have within us the power to pause and wondersavor the simple act of Shoshin, and marvel at the sheer audacity of life. Every night reminds us of the cosmic wonder that is our life. It affords us a peek into the darkness in which we float, the bleakness of it all, if there were no light. Yet, there is light, and more importantly, there is life!

“Remember the gingko tree my dears?!” 

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“Yes! We do – we missed it last year, but if all the leaves don’t fall at one shot, you’re in for a rough time!” Said the daughter, her voice ripe with indulgence.

I stuck my nose down the yellow lilliums on the path, came up with a nose of powdered pollen, and promptly wanted to sneeze. 

The children gave me pitying looks and the daughter said, “Look at you! Like a little dog sniffing at flowers and raising that long beak of yours into the air!”

I had no idea dogs had beaks, but setting that aside, I said, “Behaving like a puppy?! What greater accolade could a mother get? I am a very happy puppy 🐶 indeed!”  As soon as we came home, read out to the family in one rapturous gasp a poem written by Mary Oliver in the book, Dog Songs:

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Luke

I had a dog
who loved flowers.
Briskly she went
through the fields,

yet paused
for the honeysuckle
or the rose,
her dark head

and her wet nose
touching
the face
of every one

with its petals
of silk
with its fragrance
rising

into the air
where the bees,
their bodies
heavy with pollen

hovered—
and easily
she adored
every blossom

not in the serious
careful way
that we choose
this blossom or that blossom—

the way we praise or don’t praise—
the way we love
or don’t love—
but the way

we long to be—
that happy
in the heaven of earth—
that wild, that loving.

Shortly afterward, I headed out on another walk. This time, because the day promised rain, and as the first droplets pattered down, I listened to the music of the heavens. How parched our dear Earth was, how bereft our souls without hope?

On the way back from another gorgeous walk, a rainbow 🌈 peeked out. Hesitantly at first, and then with pride, with conviction, the universe’s assurance of not just light, but light with wavelengths between 380 and 700 nanometers on the visible light spectrum.

That is Hope. Hope is Joy. Joy is Peace. Peace is Love.

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The Gingko Trees 🌳

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Book: Everything in its Place

By: Oliver Sacks

Essay: The Night of the Gingko