Making Cherry Blossoms

The daughter’s gift for Christmas was an embroidery kit. It was a small one, but detailed enough to give me joy. The gift made for many cold nights with the heater at my feet, music or some television in the background, the Christmas tree lights twinkling and the embroidery kit at hand. 

There is a kind of meditative feel to needling the thread and pulling it just so, and smoothing it this way and that. The restive spirit in me, usually rising and ebbing like a tide, was strangely lulled into calm and focus. As the little piece came into being, so did my peace. 

Many an unsullied moment from childhood spent in the sunny embroidery room in our Arts & Crafts building at school sailed before my mind’s eye, and I was grateful for all the things that we go through life learning to do.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do  with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver

Watching my zen-like state, the daughter said she wanted to try crochet or knitting just for the fun of it, the son wanted to take up painting so he could draw for hours on end like his sister does. The resulting mess in his bedroom floor was appalling, and many a vocal chord strained at decibel levels only opera singers attempt, but the fun was real. 

If that isn’t a gift, I don’t know what is. I remember reading somewhere that the biggest gift we can give our children the ability to feel bored, and occupy themselves through it.

“I very much wished not to be noticed, and to be left alone, and I sort of succeeded. ” – Mary Oliver

Just in time, for the real cherry blossoms to bloom, my own little embroidery of the cherry blossoms and the blackbirds is done. While I stand looking at the real beautiful cherry blossoms, I know the embroidered ones are a poor imitation. But that does not take away the joy of cozy evenings. Hygge is real.

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I roam the rain-washed earth with fresh eyes, admiring, paying attention to the petals and the chrysalis. I stand watching the black birds, swallows and hummingbirds swooping and swirling swiftly by the cherry blossoms. The other day, a squirrel nibbled at the blossoms and shook the tree, sending a heavenly shower of petals down below. Blessings come in all forms, don’t they?

I bent down to pick up a cherry blossom flattened by the heavy rains last night, and marveled. There was no needle creating one petal at a time, no tugging, pulling, no mistakes. There was no satin stitch, stem stitch, or leaf stitch. There was just perfection. The soft petals of the blossom perfect against the dark brown branches off the tree, set against a marvelous blue sky flitting with white clouds, assuring me that this is Earth. The black birds against the sky perfect in their own way.

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I whipped out my phone for yet another photograph, for it seems to be that beauty such as this must be preserved. But the beauty is in the ephemeral isn’t it? We try to capture it in photographs, prose, embroidery and art, but they all, none of them, hold a candle to the real thing. The true joy is in paying attention.

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

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!

November Novelty

A Version of this post appeared in The India Currents Magazine – the article focuses on communication.

The quality of the evening was ethereal. The cold November evenings had begun to set in. I had turned the thermostat up a couple of notches, the white light effused a warm glow against the fall colored curtains. Halloween was still fresh in everyone’s memory, Diwali had snuggled in, and spread its share of warmth and joy even amidst some moments of disquiet with raging fire and wind whipped storms.

 

 

I surveyed the house and felt a surge of warmth course through me. Dear friends and family were visiting, and I was glowing with pleasure at the companionship of the evening. The house had been through the cleaning wheel: which is to say that the closets were groaning and stuffed to their very brims. I warned guests to open any closet with care warning them that a dozen things could tumble out. All the children – residents and visitors, nodded with sincerity, but I found them an hour later playing hide-and-seek, and amazingly finding place to hide in the very closets that I thought sent me a clear memo to not put anything else in there. Oh well!

The conversation was ebbing and flowing with the fine food and beverages among the young and old alike. Jesty topics were making their way towards hefty ones, and laughter was being sprinkled with wrinkled looks of concentration as differing viewpoints were proffered, and evaluated. The beautiful feeling of minds changing slightly from their earlier stances mingled with the exasperation of trying to string complex thoughts into words – one word at a time, were at work, and I marveled at humanity once again.

“The art of conversation is the art of hearing as well as of being heard.”
― William Hazlitt, Selected Essays, 1778-1830

Can we get better? Absolutely. But I sometimes feel we lose sight of marvelous gift we have of empathy and of trying to understand one another. Moments in which we bestow upon one another the inestimable gift of attentive listening with a view to understanding. I was reminded of the saying, that I read somewhere a while ago.

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity – Simone Weil

When we talk of meaningful moments, it is moments like these that we wish to savor. November is unusually so – whether it is because it is my birthday month or the time for Thanksgiving, and therefore a time for gratitude, or something else, I cannot say, but I find it is a good time of year to look back on the past year, reflect on the grains that made up the texture of the preceding months, and those months layered upon years, like a tree adding a ring to its makeup.

Sappy perhaps? But so is life. 

 

 

It is the time of year when I select books with happy endings, the time of year I make it a point to snuggle in with my books and children,  buckle down and write more for November is Novel Writing Month.

The air is nippier, the nights longer. It is also the time for crunch parties for in the area I live the trees are resplendent with the colors of Autumn. The gingko trees are turning gold (post coming up soon). There is no greater joy than seeing life scurry about in these changed surroundings. The promise of rain is in the air. Misty mornings make for a magical start. Even the waxing and waning of the moon brings with it a new joy for the nights longer and the evenings bring with it a different texture of joy. Kawaakari is sooner (Kawaakari – a beautiful Japanese word denoting the rays of the setting sun on a flowing river)

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It is a time to send thanks for all the small and big things in life. A time in short for us to enjoy Hygge. A wonderful word the Danish have, denoting the warmth emanating from inside even as the winters outside grow colder.

Here is to a wonderful season of the upcoming holidays, of nurturing light in a dark world.