Magic of Zen

“Chitthi, you should read this book for sure. I am sure you will like it.”, said the niece, holding up some teen fiction. She has been reading what she calls Dystopian Fiction and some of her stories tend to mistake my blood for milk set out to curdle. I looked skeptical.
The daughter joined in the conversation with another book suggestion. “Adults won’t enjoy it, but I am sure you will Amma.” she said.
I donned an amused expression. That I should be pegged for having a child’s capacity made me feel truly honored.

Like Ursula K Le Guin, the famous fantasy author said, ‘The creative adult is the child who survived.’

“I mean of course you are an adult and stuff, but … well you know what we mean.” The girls rushed on almost immediately, “This is the good stuff – you will love it.”

The book recommendations discussion was happening before our trip to Mt Shasta, and I was deciding what should be taken along for reading.

After a little deliberation, I picked out Tales from Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin. A better book for the wilderness could not have been chosen if I had researched the thing for weeks. Earthsea is a mythical archipelago where wizardry is not uncommon. This book contained tales from Earthsea set in various points in time. The stories are set in beautiful islands amidst forests and meadows and was the perfect read at Shasta.

One fine early morning, on a hike in the forests of Shasta, I chose a spot in which to slowdown and take in the surroundings just like the characters do in the Grove. I sat myself on a rock, and looked out upon miles of trees and forest cover. Sitting there, I noticed how the leaves were shaped against the blue skies, the clear, sharp shapes rising up against the sky, looking majestic and beautiful. Why is it, that nothing man made can even hope to compete with the magnificence of a leaf, tree, forest or mountain? It was a biomimicry moment.

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With the forest around me and Mt Shasta in the background, Nature helped still and quiet my senses so much that I felt strange. The incessant chatter of inner turmoil quiet, the constant rippling of life’s waves smoothened, the distant and affectionate view of my own foibles on Earth. In only a few moments of this relative calming of the senses I could feel every observation keenly as though the distant telescopes were adjusted better to give a clairvoyant view into life.

To hear, one must be silent.
Ursula K. Le Guin

I resolved to take the children on a hike that very evening. The evening hike was just as splendid. It hugged a coastline on a lake, and the evening sun transformed a normal forest setting into a magical one. We trudged up the mountain path chattering happily and gaining altitude. A number of meandering trails and paths criss-crossed the ones we were taking as we hiked on.

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As we were hiking, I told my daughter about the moment of Zen that I felt during the morning hike, and she said she would try it too. I looked up surprised, but noticed that a while later, she sought out a rock and sat there just drinking in the scenery. I hope she felt the same sense of quiet.

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As we made our way back, the sun had started to set and colored the sky with patches of radiant pink, purple and orange. It was then that we realized that we may have lost our way. I remember going left from this mountain peak, but that trail up there also goes there, how about this one? Every one was sure we had come up by a completely different path. The daughter was unusually quiet and then she exclaimed thoroughly proud of herself, “This is it! I know now. This is it. This is the way to go!” and she was perfectly right.

Days later, when we were discussing the concept of magic, I went all Ursula Le Guin on her and said, “You know? That day, on the hike, you were so much in tune with nature that you were the one who found the way back. You know how appalling you are usually when it comes to directions, but that day because you loved the hike so much, the forest revealed its magic to you.” She rolled her eyes, but the joy in her eyes was unmistakable.

Le Guin writes of magic in a way that is manifest in our daily lives without us ever stopping thinking of them as magic. It is neither wand waving nor dramatic, but it is spectacular. It is in the unique talents we each have, and just like any other talent needs nurturing and nourishing to develop to its full potential.

The Author’s work has the influence of Tao-ist philosophies, that help us tap into the ageless wisdom of generations. The books talk of listening to the Earth as a means to understanding the greater forces at play, the ability to gauge what is to happen, but have the sagacity to neither judge nor criticize its actors unduly. In short, it is life cloaked in the glamorous garbs of magic.

Lao Tzu Tao – Ursula Le Guin

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Hill Billy Tales

We took a short trip to the beautiful place in the mountains where the Sierra Nevada mountains meet the Cascade range of mountains. It is also where the grasslands sport a sign that says ‘Welcome to Oregon’ as you keep driving north in California. Studded with lakes, rivers and waterfalls, amidst the towering glory of the tall trees, the place really welcomed us with marvelous, serendipitous finds, wholesome joys and gave us moments of Zen that I know we will look back on with contentment for years.

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We drove smartly past grasslands and hills rolling by and sailed into Oregon in style. Within a few miles, we saw the quintessential American landmark: Signs indicating how many miles to the nearest Visitor Center.

15 miles to the Visitor center.
10 miles to the Visitor center.
The count down was on. The highway signs were creaking with the beckoning of the visitor center. This is one of those times where you can see Marketing mess with your minds: What if we missed the sight of a lifetime because we ignored the signs to the V Center? We succumbed and went in to find a sleepy town that had two main streets and two cross streets connecting the main ones (Lest the folks of the town come at me: I exaggerate, but you get the pic).

Once in there, we tootled along for a walk by the river admiring the swallows and giving them the names in the fancy pamphlet. We spotted a narrow sign that stated ‘River access’, and off we went through the thickening vegetation. Brambles scratched, the sound of the fresh flowing water was soothing to the ear, and the teenage girls (daughter and niece) looked distinctly uncomfortable with the mosquitoes but gallantly kept from complaining. In a titter and a tat, we found ourselves amidst lingerie on a rock, a dog that was wondering whether to rouse itself and check out the strangers, and two people camping by the riverside.

“Oh…sorry to bother you. We did not know this comes to the campground – just admiring the river.”, we said largely for the benefit of the dog, who felt that he must earn his keep and came along to check us out.

An old man clumped out of the trees, and said in his gruff voice that it was alright, and that the river and the river bed did not belong to him, and anyone was welcome. His unshaven face gave him a mane-like countenance, his voice reeked of not being used often, and he looked like he had been living on the rough for sometime. I felt the children draw closer to me and gave him a nervous smile.
He went on to tell us about how he has been camping by the riverside for a while now. “ I am down from the South,” he said.
“Oh really! We are here from California too.”
He threw his mane back and laughed.
No Ma’am. Am from down south!” he said puffing his chest out with pride.
“Oh you mean southern states like Louisiana?”
Yes Ma’am – a true hill-billy I am. You meet a hill-billy before?

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This is where the conv. got a little strained. I mean, I had not met a true hill-billy before, or atleast I did not know the conditions for classifying someone as a hill-billy. I spent my childhood in the remote hills, and still startle at loud motor noises like metal being grated for a salad, does that make me a hill-billy? I gave him a silly, strained, forced laugh to which he looked at me keenly, and said “Why? What is wrong with me being a hill-billy.
“Uh..Nothing. Nothing at all. Do you like being a hill-billy?”
I do! Course I do! There are sum who can’n live off earth-like. Me? I can live off the earth – I can find meself some berries an’ hunt an’ fish like.
“That is very good.” I said.
I have to admit my admiration for the man rose. I have often wondered whether we have the ability to survive anymore. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that we are slowly devolving to a point of not knowing how to survive by our wits. We seem to rely on GPS for going to the corner grocery store, the corner grocery store seeing the trend, is telling us, “Please please don’t bother. Just press a button and we’ll send a drone along with milk and such. You just keep pressing ‘Yes’ on that remote when it asks you whether you want to continue watching.”

Conversation languished for sometime after this, and the daughter came to my rescue, by shoving the creature catalogue in his hands, and asked whether he had seen river otters before. He gave her a pleased smile and told her about all the different bird and animal-likes he had seen in the river, and said he had never seen an otter before. His classifications and naming differed somewhat from the pamphlet, and his ‘white birds’ and ‘grey lil ones’ and ‘those brown ones up top’ were definitely easier to look out for.

We were well on our way after bidding him and his dog good-bye. Living on the wits may have suited him, but for us, we needed a good sandwich before we could go on, seemed to be consensus of the group. The husband reached for the phone, and I smartly took it from him saying, ‘It is such a small town, I am sure we can just drive down and find a Subway sandwich place. If he can live without technology, why can’t we?”.
‘It will be much quicker with a phone!’, he groaned, but I heard none of that nonsense: it was drowned in that growl that emanated from the stomach.

Life’s greatest lessons are learned when tempers are short. Everyone argued that the sandwich place was the other way, and after 3 u-turns, 4 no-no-not-that-one false starts, a hungry gloom settled upon the car.

Sniffing out a sandwich place in a car with its A/C on in full blast and closed windows is an art you got to learn. The hill-billy might have done it with the dog’s help, but we had to admit defeat.

I confess that we finally pulled out the phone to locate the place in a 3 mile strip. But after that: Boy! We were bulldogs and nosed on straight for Crater Lake with the GPS on. After all, evolution also means knowing how and when to use the right tools, what?!

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