The Statues of Liberty

I have had the luxury of traveling and reading the past few days. I read and watched the following in one glorious spurt:

I preferred the books and movies with animals & the magic of our thriving universe in them over the ones with just humans in this lot though.

  • Forgotten Beasts  – by Matt Sewell 
  • 100 animals to see before they die
  • Ice Walker – A Polar Bear’s Journey through Fragile Arctic – James Raffan
  • Birds, Beasts & Relatives – by Gerald Durrell
  • The One & Only Ivan – by Katherine Applegate
  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – By Taylor Jenkins Reid
  • Back from the Brink – Documentary at the Boston Science Museum
  • Moons: Worlds of Mystery – Documentary at the Boston Science Museum
  • Kung Fu Panda – 2 – Dreamworks Animated Movie

Granted that the 7 Hs of Evelyn H was a fast read. The narrative style pulled us along with just a hint of intrigue keeping us going till the very end. The story itself appeals because it is a story of someone trapped in the endless trap of fame and glory, and the constant insecurity of ratings and popularity. It is, though, a reminder of the things valued by plenty of humankind, and the reminder of love in a tumultuous world. The interest in another’s life, is a never-ending case of human interest, and the story does justice to that indeed. There are several well-written lines in there on human nature. I must say I have never been enamored by the Kardashian-type of celebrity life shows, so my review is somewhat lukewarm for this one.

The heart-lifting tale of The One & Only Ivan was up next – the gorilla who saves his little elephant friend Ruby, after making a promise to an older elephant friend, Stella. Based on a true story, this is the kind of story that tugs at heart strings. Katherine Applegate’s writing is a class apart. I have been a fan ever since I read The Tale of Despereaux. 

I wonder, sometimes with a tinge of envy I admit, about how animals, birds, and marine creatures live without the trappings of economics and finances, and social influences and so on. They navigate by the cosmos as much as we do – In Ice Walker, the author, James Raffan follows the life of a polar bear, Nanu, as she grows, hunts, mates, and raises her young in the polar ice caps. How surely she knows the changing seasons, and the direction in which to lead her cubs for food and sustenance, is beautifully written and portrayed. The bright stars that we peek at, is so much more for these creatures. How far we have come as humans, and how much more left to go? Nanu is killed by humans, and her surviving cub is forlorn. 

On the way to view the Statue of Liberty, we stopped and watched plenty of statues of liberty along the way. Boston Public Gardens hosts the marvelously made statue of Make Way for the Ducklings by Robert McCluskey. 

New York’s Central Park hosts many statues : Alice in Wonderland & Hans Christiaan Andersen with a swan are marvelous reminders of life and the marvelous influences of imagination. I wonder how many people worried about the economics and finances of the economies, their lives, and their jobs stopped to take deep breaths and believe in magic once again as they make their way past these statues of liberty.

It seems only fitting to finish this marvelous post on the different things that sustain human minds and lives with a Seussism or two.

And Always Remember

And will you succeed?

Yes! You will, indeed!

(98  and 3/4 percent guaranteed) 

KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS 

Oh the Places You’ll Go – Dr Seuss

Or this one?

Expand Your Horizon

The more that you read, 

The more things you will know,

The more that you learn,

The more places you’ll go

– I Can Read With My Eyes Shut – Dr Seuss

Is This Bohemian Chic?

We have been gallivanting across Boston and New York the past few days. 

I remember reading a children’s book a long time ago about the country mouse who came to visit his cousin who lived in the town. Not surprisingly, I commiserated with the little country mouse who was dazzled and sprazzled by the city. 

I felt the same way when I first visited Bombay, now known as Mumbai, as a little girl. From the hills of Nilgiris, where bus drivers stopped so we could safely straggle across while learning to ride the bicycle, and train drivers stopped for the mother running to the station, to Bombay, where no one, it seemed, stopped for anyone or anything else, was a long journey – 2 days and 2 nights by train to be precise. I clutched my father’s hand, the whole time in Bombay, and never let go, especially on the electric trains. Maybe, some of those calluses on his old hand, are from that trip. 

I have the same feeling in New York. The city sprawls in all directions. The people, the subway, the sights, the movements feel too fast for a country mouse. There is so much to do – the energy exhilarating and enervating at the same time. 

I said as much to the children, and they gave me pitying looks. “What you need is some Bohemian Chic!”, said the daughter diagnosing me with a severe expression on her face.

I had no idea what that meant, but told her we would do our best to find Bohemian Chic.

We had great fun running in one direction, only to find the little GPS dot turning slowly away from where we were supposed to go, and then charged back again. “Is this Bohemian Chic?” I asked.

One time, we stood looking diffident and muddled when a pair of flamboyantly dressed gentlemen stopped and asked us directions to get to some square. We told them we were new to the city too, and agreed that it was best to ask someone else. A good twenty minutes later, we had boarded the train in the wrong direction, gotten down at the next station and came back riding the train in the correct direction, and found the gentlemen boarding the train too. I swear they tipped their bohemian hats and winked!

I splashed into bed after 2 hectic days in New York City, and felt spent. I had no idea how much we had walked. We had spent so many hours and days in the city, soaking in sights and the sounds of traffic, that I yearned to see the moon rise over the hills, the ducks squawk and geese fly. I had no idea how much these things refreshed me. 

Subconsciously, I think, I had selected for my reading during this time of city-living, the book:

Birds, Beasts & Relatives by Gerald Durrell.

Birds, Beasts and Relatives (The Corfu Trilogy Book 2) by [Gerald Durrell]

A sequel to My Family & Other Animals, it is the second set of autobiographical tales by naturalist Gerald Durrell set in the beautiful sun-lit island of Corfu near Greece. After the hurried, panting days of New York, I bathed in the refreshing days of Corfu and the young author’s adventures ranging from rearing sea-horses and hedgehogs, to bear-dancing, and donkey-riding. It was all that was necessary. 

“Coming from the calm, slow, sunlit days of Corfu, our arrival in London, late in the evening, was a shattering experience. So many people were at the station that we did not know, all hurrying grey-faced and worried.”

Gerald Durrell – Birds, Beasts & Relatives

I remember feeling a similar kind of gratitude to Peter Matthiessen’s Snow Leopard on a similar long urban trip to the crowded cities of South Asia.

Today, we decided to walk around Brooklyn and not much more. The day was sweltering: the children wanted a bookstore-day, and we ducked into a couple of them with gratitude. After a cool few hours, we staggered out with books, and very pleased expressions on our faces. 

Do you have any books by Gerald Durrell? I asked the lady at the counter, and she looked it up, and said, “I have My Family & Other Animals!”. I have the book, have bought it several times to gift it to others, but I still felt a strange sense of calm at this. 

Is this Bohemian Chic? If so, I like it!

Moons : Worlds of Mystery

“Aah…..see…see the moon!” I said. The moon had risen alongside our flight wing on the way to Boston, and the son and I were enamored by it. We usually are. The daughter ensconced on a different row from us on the flight gave me a carefully controlled eye-roll. Love for her mother tussled against the desire to show that the crazy moon lady was her mother, and she went in for a I-may-know-her-vaguely-as-an-acquaintance stance. I beamed and smiled as only a mother could. Luckily, the mask hid the genuine full-moon nature of the smile for the time-being.

The moon has long fascinated all creatures I think. I take long walks by the river and lake in our hometown during the waxing moon season, and wonder about how the beautiful creatures of the land perceive it. The deer, coyotes, water-rats, pelicans, fish, manta-rays, octopi, geese, ravens and hawks. Do they notice and set their little rituals by it, or is it something human-beings rave over?

It wasn’t till the pandemic that I noticed the timing of the moon rising and setting. The waxing season giving us unexpectedly delightful glances of our lovely sole cosmic neighbor, while the waning cycle going for days without seeing our delightful companion. No wonder, songs have been written about, the magic of moon-drops milked by fantastical thinkers, and lovers for centuries gazing and strolling in the moonlight.

The next day, I was pointing to the pale gibbous moon that was visible between the towering buildings of Boston downtown. 

“Ma! Would you stop it with the moon? The moon comes everyday, and is the same!” Said the teenaged daughter, who despite (or may be because of) my nature-kookiness remains cautiously apathetic to it. Could have been Toni Morrison’s best pal the way she ignores the phenomenon. 

“How many ways can you describe the sky and the moon?” —Toni Morrison

The son, like me, though, raves and pulsates with the cosmos – the moon, stars and planets excite him to no end. The next day, the husband had a surprise in store for him. We had planned a day at the Boston Science Museum, but the crowning glory came with the planetarium show focusing on the Moons of the Solar System – Moons – Worlds of Mystery

The show was spectacular. Starting with our very own Moon, it goes on to explore the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, Mars and Pluto. How every planets close cosmic neighbors were formed to the exciting possibility that some of them could harbor life in its watery oceans, and icy surfaces, it was a show that appealed to his every being. If ever a being was made of stars, there he was! When the camera plunged into Enceladus and Titan, he quavered, and the seat shook.

The pair of us headed out after the show, subconsciously scanning the skies for the near full-moon over the Bostonian skies, while the daughter conceded the magic of the moon and its strange pull on us. If it was a tonic to us, then so be it.

Books:

  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon – By Kelly Barnhill
  • The Edge of the Sea – by Rachel Carson
  • Cosmos – shows by Neil DeGrasse Tyson & Carl Sagan

Am I Duck?

The lakes shimmered in the early evening light, the rivers glistened in the beautiful spirit of Kawaakari (River glistening in the setting rays of the sun, or the moonlight) and I was trying to get the children to come on a marvelous trail for a bike ride. But the children would have none of that. They wanted ice-cream and no physical exertion.

“Aww…come on kids! It’ll be fun – we can do that!” I said in my sing-song child-like voice.  

“Amma! Stop that! You are doing that thing again where you think you are imitating us as kids, but actually you sound like Donald Duck!”

“Well in this case, y’all are like Scrooges, so …eh!” I said. Clever repartees when they do come need to be crystallized in sea-salt, dipped in coats of honey, and preserved in the Museum of Family Quips (The blog) I received an eye-roll for this one, but still.

“Okay…since you kids are not indulging me I am off on my walk. Maybe I’ll talk to the ducks, they might be more receptive…” I mumbled.

Off I went, swinging my hands and marching purposefully towards the trail by the river. There is something in the evening air that makes the world around us come alive. The crows were flying home, bluebirds swooped and swallows tittered, cats prowled, and I saw a large water rat slink into the river bed. The river was more like a stream just then, but this scene was life was welcome.

After some time, when clouds were flitting here and there, wondering how to place themselves just-so for the sunset, I sat myself down on a rock, watching a flock of ducks 🦆 (what are the flocks of ducks called? A chime of wrens, pod of pelicans? It turns out they are called a raft or paddling of ducks). The scene was a calm one. I was taking in the peaceful scene, feeling a sense of hope and a prayer bubble up inside.

 If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or into the deep, deep, woods, and I’d look up into the sky–up–up–up–into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer. 

Anne of Green Gables

I closed my eyes to send a vague prayer of sorts into the Universe. A prayer of hope, joy, unity, elevation, and what-not. I opened my eyes slowly and the whole paddling of ducks rose together in one coordinated flight. The grace, beauty and their obvious comfort with one another made let out a yelp of joy and I clapped at the scene.

I live in a suburban area, and am not always alone. I hadn’t noticed the family ambling along in the distance. They were closer to me now, and they gave me puzzled looks. I looked sheepish, but the joy of the ducks taking flight must’ve lit up my face, and they gave me cautious looks. I looked harmless enough, and was obviously caught up in the rapture of nature. Their children smiled, and joined me in clapping and cheering for the ducks. 

The ducks did not quite see the joy they had sparked off when they flew as one. If we are all happy together, do we exude the same joy to fellow bings? I wish we do.

I headed back and narrated this to the family.

“This! This is exactly why I said I wouldn’t go! People assume that we are like her when she does stuff like this!” Said the teenager to her father.

“Well – I am duck. Duck! Not cuckoo! Get it? Get it?” 

The moans of feeble laughter was worth that, and I quacked happily upstairs.

To See The World

I remember the first excitement at seeing the bubble maps of population vs GDP for countries around the world, and how they changed across a span of a century. If one could have their mind blown, that chart was it. Then, a few years on, I saw the TED Talk by Hans Rosling in which he explained Large Families/Low GDP Vs Small Families/High GDP, and this time the wonder grew.

In the intervening years, the power of big data and visualization grew by leaps and bounds, and there never was a dearth of graphs, or data analysis. Causal analysis, correlations, search engine optimizations, ad targeting, and numerous other concepts entered the lingo of the normal person. As early as 2012, Target could predict when a woman was expecting a baby even before her family knew.

Daniel Kahneman & Amos Tversky changed our perceptions by introducing the world to a whole new world of Behavioral Economics.

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by [Michael Lewis]

So, when I picked up the book, How I Learned to Understand the World, I thought I would find about more interesting statistics about the world, but I was in for a pleasant surprise.

In the book, How I Learned to Understand the World, written by Hans Rosling and his daughter-in-law, Anna Rosling, it is Dr Hans Rosling’s journey that is written. The book isn’t written in the style of can’t-put-it-down. Instead of a compelling narrative that is keeping one’s interest, it is the genuine interest in the human being who was instrumental in changing the way we think of global health and economies. His journey to help humankind starts off with being a doctor in a impoverished nation, but moves on to much more than that. This is an inspiring sketch of what is possible when we think outside the box. That varied interests and knowledge-seeking is never wasted: they truly do come together in myriad ways.

The book starts as most biographies do, with a character sketch of the good doctor’s parents, grandparents, and his modest upbringing in Uppsala in Sweden.

He goes on to study medicine, and then travels to lesser developed countries hoping to do good work. His perception of developing countries such as India undergoes a transformation as he studies and travels there. It is here that he gets an appreciation for public health. The Indian Government at the time was battling one of the largest public health initiatives of the time ( possibly polio vaccinations – I forget). It is a humbling experience for him. He realizes, for instance, that medical facilities were not as backward as he assumed, medical knowledge was quite on par, or better, where it was available. The true problems were scale, population and outreach. 

After his return to Uppsala in Sweden, he goes on to begin work as a doctor in Impala. Where is Impala? Nacala? The joy of studying a map for these places is half the joy.

Here, in the coastal region of Nacala, he settles into his work as a doctor with his wife and children. Faced with less than ideal facilities, low budgets, and even less trained people to work with, he slowly learns the areas in which he can make a difference. He learns the importance of cultural awareness, and his humility for people’s knowledge and way of living, helps him reach the people he is attempting to serve. Without this realization he might never have been able to understand the devastating Konzo (‘Konzo’ means tied leg referring to the paralytic symptoms) disease that was paralyzing children in rural areas.

His work in Nacala, and his researches around the paralytic disease, konzo, led him to a life in research after his medical practicing days. The cassava plant is a staple diet in these areas. The cassava root is treated to a long, and arduous process of preparation before being made fit for human consumption. For example, the cassava is dried in direct sunlight for more than 8 weeks, to remove bitterness coming from a cyanide like substance that causes partial paralysis in human-beings (The long process is usually sufficient to remove the amounts of cyanide, but during times of drought, the plant produces more of this chemical content). Dr Rosling was the person to identify this link between the food process and the paralysis in his patients, and it was because he made the effort to understand the way of life in these areas. In times of food crises, the cassava plants are the only source of nutrition, and the results are devastating for those affected: their disability spiraling them further into poverty.

His ability to reach dictators, elected officials, and private industry for the sake of public health is remarkable.

His book, Factfulness, is the next one on my list to be read. In this one, he outlines the state of the world in terms of actual numbers. Is our world as bad as we think it is, or are we progressing better than we give ourselves credit for? I am waiting to read this one.

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by [Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Ola Rosling]

A Dip into another Dimension

The July 4th long week-end is always a special one. It comes panting along after the first half of the year has whizzed past in a blur of life. The northern hemisphere goes on as it always has with winter transforming into glorious spring that gradually melts into summer haze.

School finishes with a flurry for the children and their long, luxurious summer holidays are there to stay, while those of who belong to the sterner corporate world have no such long, idle, ideal, vacations to look forward to. But the infectious joy of doing nothing is catching, and by the time this long week-end rolls around in the summer, there is an itch for the magical that is too strong to ignore.

So, we gave in. Going in to the long week-end, I took a long resolute sigh to not work over the weekend, and what was more, I kept my word. I only worried about the deadlines, and the nagging problems  a few times. For instance, I firmly pushed away worries about work when I was trying to be an otter, when I was gazing marvelously at the anchovies swimming beautifully in the forests of kelp, and while taking a long deep sigh at the deer grazing by a pod of pelicans in a lake nearby. 

We started the week-end to a marvelous romp to the library in which I picked out books like a hungry child at the candy store. I sat that evening looking contented and happy after a long-ish bath and read one children’s book after another. I admired Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial, I sat up and had a couple of mind-blowing life’s lessons from Seussisms by Dr Seuss, while admiring the grit and tenacity of Helen Keller and her marvelous life with her teacher, Anne Sullivan. 

Helen Keller’s writings about absorbing the life around her was truly fascinating.

The next day, we set off to peek into another dimension altogether. It has been almost 2 years since we visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium thanks to the pandemic. But this week-end, in our resolve to make it magical, we went over there. You do have to get an appointment slot now, but once inside, all of the old magic stirs in your heart, and you feel lost without fins and scales.

I remember harking back to the book, Flatland by Edwin Abbott. Technically, watching the sea creatures in an aquarium setting does not constitute traveling to another dimension, but it feels like it. Every time. The tentacles of the octopus, the slow mesmerizing motion of the jellyfish, the all-encompassing tales of the ocean whisper and roar with every peek.

One instant, I remember looking at the manta-rays and the hammer-head sharks scattering the schools of fish as they lazed around their huge tank, and wondering where the turtles were, when a large one swept past me. Turtles aren’t particularly fast, but the wonder and excitement of seeing one swimming that close is enough to get your adventurous heart all a-swishing. 

Reading the assorted jumble of books this week-end, combined with the therapeutic effect of a peek into oceanic life, constitutes a dip into another dimension in my book, and I wish it with all my heart for all of you.

For as Helen Keller says:

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.

Helen Keller

Books:

Cerulean Chatter

“Ta-da-da! Let’s go!” I said dramatically closing the laptop and toppling the relaxed summer vacationers from their comfortable positions on the couch.

“Ouch! Must you really be this dramatic?”, said the son, who is fast learning to use the tone of a teenager in these matters.

I said with my hands firmly upon my hips , “YES! I have a long week-end approaching and I intend to enjoy it. Come on now!” 

A low moan like a donkey stuck with its foot in a can was heard, and I turned towards the distressing noise. It was the daughter. I was surprised at this. “I thought you have been pandering on about that Cerulean princess book all week! Don’t you want to go to the library?”

“I told you! It isn’t available in the library yet.”

I ran an amused look over her appearance. She looked like an indoor plant with no desire to be planted outdoors. The child’s loose clothing, lazy groans, and the fact that she had made lunch for the family seeing how busy I was that morning melted my heart, and I said, “Fine! Either you come to the library with us, or you read Persepolis. Your choice.”

She willingly picked the latter, and I wondered why I had not resorted to this technique before. I have been begging her to read the book for at least a year now, and have been met with vague shrugs and the you-don’t-know-teen-taste mantra. It was very perplexing. I knew she would enjoy the book. The comic strips had humor, striking visuals, and a highly engaging take on the history of Iran. I knew her women’s rights part of the brain would itch and she would want to find out more.

Persepolis – By Marjane Satrapi

So, off the son & I went. We were celebrating freedom and these long summer evenings seemed just the way to go about it. We grazed along the aisles, less leisurely than we’d have liked, but very glad to be there all the same. I found that book on the Cerulean skies or whatever it is the daughter was looking for, and was wondering how to show her my smugness at finding it in the library when a text chime interrupted us. 

I finished it finally!

“Sooo…..what did you think of it? Interesting that it took you less than an hour!”

Something tells me you look smug right now. It was very good.”

I grinned in spite of myself. If I looked smug – what of it? Life doesn’t often give us the chance to feel that way.

That evening on a walk, we talked of this and that before we meandered back to Persepolis

“Ever wondered why the book was called Persepolis?” said the husband. She shrugged, and we gave her the little secret: Iran was known as Persia. The Persian empire, a grand old civilization etc.

She stopped in her tracks, and said, “Oh! That makes so much sense now. I mean not just for this book, but a ton of other stuff just clicks now. I always wondered about references to Persian this and Persian that in songs and stuff.”

I pressed into action. 

“What is it with teenagers not accepting our life’s wisdom huh? If you had read Persepolis before, you could’ve been armed with this superior knowledge – just saying. You know? We were perfectly angelic children, who listened to everything our parents said!” I said.

She chuckled and said, “You do realize paati and thaatha (grandma and grandpa) are just a WhatsApp message away and are always willing to dish the dirt on you right?”

I laughed and changed tracks. “By the way. Please be ready to eat your hat once again. I found the Cerulean Princess book in the library.”

She turned and giggled. I saw the book you picked out. It isn’t the one I was looking for. The one you got is the fourth and last installment in a series. I cannot read that just because you saw Cerulean in the title!”

Huh! How many new fiction books in the teen section would have the word Cerulean in them?

The sky above was looking beautiful. The sun would set soon ushering in a whole plethora of colors. “Never mind then. The sky looks beautiful, and we can resume our chatter under the cerulean skies!”, I said and laughed.

Moving Tales : Home Truths

The past few months have been a blur. We moved into a new nest, shaking years of closet accumulation and shocking spiders into action. As I sat surveying empty spaces, I was left with a vague feeling of unease and harking back quite unnecessarily to the times of our distant forebears of hunter gatherer times. Imagine uprooting everything every few months to find greener pastures, food and water sources, not to mention the task of building and setting up homes each time.

The movers came in, and I remember thinking how 3 of them could move a whole house within the promised time, and do we really need such a large truck?! 

Trust providence to teach me humility.

* The three men did a marvelous job. Boxes that I thought were difficult to budge, they inserted a lever like object under them and lifted them up and down the stairs in no time at all. What was it that Aristotle said? Give me a large enough lever and I can move the world, or something to that effect?

I just looked it up, it wasn’t Aristotle but Archimedes apparently. It all adds up now – taking baths and measuring displacement, using levers to move the earth. 

Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.

Archimedes

Well, that seemed to be the motto for these 3 people. Had I passed them on the streets I certainly would not have estimated them capable of moving 100’s of pounds of books, clothes, utensils, furniture, knick-knacks etc this efficiently. The previous night, the husband and I had tried moving an old couch out of the way. By the time we were done, some bones seemed unhinged, we had fought prettily on how to align the direction of the offending item, placed the top of the couch on a toe while the husband’s grazed his fingers against the wall, and we had put on a free show for the neighbors who gathered outside to watch, and helpfully give us directions.

So, I prepared myself to be doing just that.You know? Standing around helpfully, and shouting out directions on how to move things efficiently. I felt I would do very well, on such things.  

The men arrived and I asked them if I can help with this and that. They looked at each other, shrugged as if to humor a child, and sent a silent plea to the English speaking member of their crew, who took charge admirably. He told me that they can manage, and if I could let them know which areas needed to be moved, and to specify the order of things, that would help. I beamed and showed him everything while the other two set to work. 

I must say, this strategy worked very well. For I had planned to tell them to start with the kitchen and work their way upwards. While I was showing the E.speaking man the kitchen, the men thumped upstairs, and came down bearing such a large consignment of boxes that I clutched the passing trolley for support. 

Well, a hint is a hint. I took mine, and took to watching the move with wonder rising.  I stood twiddling my thumbs feeling a child being given crayons to help pass the time. 

* Did we need such a large truck?

I remember playing one of those carnival games where you win a stuffed doll, or a box of marbles for estimating this and that. I once won a spongy duck at this, and that gave me a confidence not entirely rooted in ability. As it turned out, that truck was not just full, but I ended up making a baker’s dozen worth of trips in my minivan type of vehicle for days afterward to fetch the remaining things. This, in spite of the fact that we got rid of most of the old furniture. 

Now, our hunter gatherer forebears had neither trucks, nor fancy gear. Could you imagine moving every season? I shuddered at the thought, blessed the accumulated wisdom of mankind over the ages and blessed the generations that learned how to work the land, and converted our lifestyles. I did not so much bless the generation that figured out mass production, for it was clear I was reeling from the effects of that one. All in all, I think sapiens have come a long way.

I will always look on a lever with reverence from here on. That night when I soaked in a bath I smiled at the brilliance of the man who figured out how to calculate the displacement from such a simple act almost 2500 years ago. In the 10,000 years of homo-sapiens, how many simple acts, and flashes of brilliance are we benefiting from?

The Bougainvillea Charm

Walking or driving around in Northern California, my eyes are always drawn to the beautiful bright bougainvillea. I love the pretty pinks and purples and occasionally lighter orange ones. There is an energy to these plants. I suppose they can never stay still. How they like climbing nearby trees, peeping out of fences and overflowing prettily and spreading color with aplomb? Are they naughty and bright, or just restless and impulsive? Do they plot their next move, or organically leap? I find bougainvillea intertwined around trees, traveling over fences or sitting tidily as a bush much subjected to the gardening shears to be a sheer delight. Do the trees tolerate them, or love them?

Who can say? All I can feel is a great warmth towards the spurt of color. 

Imagine my surprise then when on an impulsive trip down to Santa Barbara, I found myself in the city of bougainvillea. The beautiful Spanish architecture and the great bounds and leaps of color of this beautiful plant were too much for me. I thrilled and trilled at the sheer beauty of this plant marvel.

The drive down there took much longer than anticipated or maybe we had just forgotten the art of travel after over a year of Covid restrictions. Record low-level rainfall combined with the area having a heat wave resulted in dry and brown hillsides. A haze clung to the countryside as the car made its way past the fields and plantations. The roads went on and on, traffic was a sore trial, and often there was nothing but brown. Patches of scorching heat with spots of cool and one sudden area of fog was all there was to remember on the way down.

And then, just like that the brown haze collapsed into a burst of the brightest colors. The bougainvillea , a welcome sight in the Bay Area, was ubiquitous in Santa Barbara. With Spanish architectural buildings, the Pacific Ocean on one side, and plenty of flowers and sunshine, the city stood there sparkling like a jewel in the neckline of the Californian pacific coast that day.

I gasped at the beauty and the elegance of it all. The Bougainvillea seemed to be everywhere and it seemed just right. I whisked the children off on walks every chance I got. One morning, I stood in front of a particularly fetching purple one that wove its way around a large tree.

“Oh these bougainvillea are so beautiful! Really. They are the love of my life! How marvelous Earth looks with these, no?” I asked rhetorically expecting no answer. 

“Oh! So not even Appa is the love of your life huh? What about us? Okay…I see how it is. Good to know, good to know!”

I threw my head back and laughed at his shining eyes. “Well of course he is. And so are you kids. Bougainvillea are the love of my plant life now – how about that?” 

He chuckled at having successfully pulled my leg and we went on – admiring vines growing here, and large wizened tree faces there. 

A few hours later when the bags stood by the door, and we were ready to leave and say good-bye to beautiful Bougainvillea county, the husband’s t-shirts alone lay higgledy-piggledy in an untidy pile and I said, “Really! I just cleaned up here – what is this huh?” And picked up the t-shirts. 

A voice piped up from somewhere and the little sassy pants said, “No wonder bougainvillea is the love of her life pops! You better clean up if you want a chance Appa!”

I laughed though I admit that I love the bougainvillea for its untidy spurts of color. The plant reminds you of the virtue of chaos in a world trying its best to be orderly.

Did you know the pinks, purples etc are not flowers but the bracts that surround the little flowers ensconced in them? I don’t suppose it matters a whit.  A dear friend gifted me a bougainvillea plant and I finally managed to get it planted. Now I just have to hope it will survive for the charm of bougainvillea to continue on.

The New Nest

The chirping of the birds in the morning is a welcome sound. I hadn’t really stopped to think about it much till the pandemic year came about. The sudden quieting of the traffic, the necessary stalling of our maddening rush all contributed to this I suppose.

I found myself taking my little cups of refreshing coffee and tea out into the backyard whenever I could so I could enjoy the sips while getting in a spot of fresh air, and a look at the trees. The birds chirping has been a nice gift. I suppose they always chirped.

As we re-evaluated our nest of many years, we found another charming gift. The birds chirp quite noisily in our new nest. These days, sub consciously, I look forward to taking my cup of tea or coffee out into the backyard and admiring the little welcome sights of life around me. The swooping blue jays, the amazingly quick humming birds, the butterflies, little swallows, black birds, and wrens all make for a marvelous orchestra of sorts.

Every time I open the doors in the morning, there is a fluttering sound. I was amused till I found that a dear little swallow has made its nest in our rafters by the front door. The poor creature seems agitated every time the door opens. I wish I could’ve told the little one to build the nest on the other side of the rafters so that she may have a little privacy and not be worried every time the door opened. But she did not check with me before painstakingly building her best nest for her little ones. Little birds don’t need property managers approving their spots before building their homes.

I feel a strange sense of kinship with this little bird. She must’ve been looking for a suitable spot for her little nest around the same time we were. And we both seem to have found the same spot to identify as home. If that isn’t special, what is?

Apart from the little bird, I have other new neighbors as well. For instance, every day a cat comes a-visiting and looks at me with seeking eyes. I did not quite understand the context – for she came every morning, evening and night. Sometimes, she approached me and stood a little distance away preening herself as if to say, “What’s taking you so long?” I was baffled – was I supposed to do something? Then, one day, I met my new human neighbors, and they enlightened me. Apparently, the previous owners had a cat that was this little beauty’s best friend. So, while we may have arranged for mortgages and property statements to be transferred, the cat was miffed. She needed her friend, and where was she?

The little dog in the mornings is another unexpected source of joy. He comes, and is so genuinely excited to greet us in the mornings, that it is a joy even though I am not much of a pet person. This little puppy was the first to welcome us into the community and thinks it is his job to get a belly rub and has me smiling at the memory all morning. 

Well, considering how much I love Gerald Durrell’s writing, I am sure he would approve of this domestic menagerie.

“I believe that all children should be surrounded by books and animals.” 
― Gerald Durrell

I wonder when the birds will hatch. Our nest is already noisy – it will be a joy to see the little nest in the rafters noisy too.