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.

Moving Tales – Home-Home to Home

The past few months have been extraordinary. We have been reevaluating our nest. The home in which the son was born, the one in which the daughter grew up, the trees and squirrels that had become a constant feature of my life, was all going to change, and we did not know how to deal with it.

This home was the start and end of every journey, short or long. Every time we turned into the community from the road, we sang a silly song that we used to sing in our school days. The father sang it once when we entered the old home, and it felt just right. 

The son puckered his face up and said miserably. “The new house may be home, but this one will always be home-home for me.” I agreed with the fellow, and we sat down discussing all the things that we had enjoyed in our home-home. The californian blue jays that mistook our stained glass paper on our high windows for flowers and knocked on them every year, the squirrels who did not set store by such things as property ownership and such, (Those trees were theirs no matter what the banks and property tax managers say) , the courtyard that was always lively with friends and neighbors who had become extended family over the years, the children who had grown into lovely young adults in the decade and a half that we lived there, our neighbor’s envy when they found we always parked both our cars inside the garage and not on the street outside due to limited parking spots, the mailmen. Most importantly, the sense of belonging that only a true home could make you feel.

Change is never easy, but a change after 14 years? I shuddered every time I peeked into a closet. I have no problems believing the universe is expanding all the time. Our home, which was positively huge when we first moved in, was a little cluttered with books, and papers, true, but over time had expanded in its capacity as well. Every closet seemed to have an infinite extensibility charm placed on them. 

How else could one drawer measuring about 6 X 12 X 6 inch hold the following?

  • Glitter Pens – 62 – just for fun, I tested them out, and grew bored about the 19th pen as they were all dry. That’s how writers live – life on the edge you know?
  • Notepads – dozens of them half-filled.They had an assortment of stories, outlines, sketches, doodlings by the daughter, half hearted poems, world-building fun, grocery lists, to-do lists and notes from meetings. 
  • Half broken crayons – was there really a crayon war in the world of closets? I smiled in spite of the overwhelming urge to continue cleaning. Those who have not yet read the charming children’s book, The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers – please do. A sunset always has a certain whimsy attached to it afterward. #TheDayTheCrayonsQuit 
  • Bills dating from 2007
  • Push pins that poked when you ran your hand over the contents
  • Spectacles – the father-in-law’s, mine, the father’s, the daughter’s and a couple of ski glasses that wouldn’t fit a puppy. Maybe from that ski trip 7 years ago when the son was a toddler?
  • Hairpins, rubber bands, bracelets, bindis, ‘mood’ rings (these were a craze when the daughter was in her unicorn, mermaid phase. Apparently, they changed colours detecting your moods. It was now black and refused to change colors. I wonder what mood that reflected) 
  • A fine sprinkling of dust, mixed with sparkles( they did look magical shimmering there tantalizingly at the bottom of the drawer as if to say – there is a portal in here somewhere)

I sat wondering how we had muddled along for this long. Everytime someone in the family wanted something and hollered for it, I would be able to pick things out and just hand it to them. I marveled at the brain anew. How had I managed to find my way through this chaos? I had no idea, but the old brain nudged me to move on. I had dozens of drawers to go before I slept. This was no time to be musing on the inner workings of brains and neurons and neurotransmitters, and all the complex mechanisms that we are set up with, sitting up and using all these biomarvels to figure out closet contents.

There is a poem in here somewhere waiting to be fleshed out. Each drawer a galaxy? An expanding universe in a multiverse. 

I wizened up around the third drawer. I simply opened a drawer, picked out what I needed, and emptied the rest of the contents into trash bags. If something valuable was gone, well…we’ll know soon enough.

The Moon Periodically Enchants Us

It was only fitting that the full lunar eclipse of Wednesday was best visible from the little cosmologist’s room window.

I walked into the son’s room to wish him good night. There he was, lying down on his tummy in his pajamas, his face cupped in both his hands staring at the periodic table poster and glancing at the moonlight shining outside. 

He looked up at me, and said, “Isn’t it amazing how many elements there are? I think I can sing the periodic table song till the second row.” And then, of course, he proceeded to sing it. We talked about the elements and how they found each one. 

The periodic table game is an enchanting one. Which letters don’t have an element? Are there many more elements in the universe that we didn’t yet know about. I mean they found Lawrencium etc pretty recently didn’t they? 

Reminded me of the book, Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks in which he talks of his obsession with the periodic table. 

“The periodic table was incredibly beautiful, the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I could never adequately analyze what I meant here by beauty – simplicity? coherence? rhythm? inevitability? Or perhaps it was the symmetry, the comprehensiveness of every element firmly locked into its place, with no gaps, no exceptions, everything implying everything else.” 

Oliver Sacks, Uncle Tungsten, Memories of a Chemical Boyhood
Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by [Oliver  Sacks]

We sat there wondering whether our beautiful moon itself has other elements, or essentially those of the Earth. Fascinating questions to engage the mind on a beautiful full moon night. 

I knew he would be equally thrilled about an adventure in space that was to take place early the next morning, and told him about it. A full lunar eclipse my boy! Can you imagine that?

“…We ourselves were made of the very same elements as composed the sun and stars, that some of my atoms might once have been in a distant star. But it frightened me too, made me feel that my atoms were only on loan and might fly apart at any time, fly away like the fine talcum powder I saw in the bathroom.” 

Oliver Sacks, Uncle Tungsten

Almost immediately, he said, “Okay Google! Set an alarm for 4 a.m.”

The next morning, I snoozed my alarm titled ‘Moon Magic’ at 4 a.m., and was wondering whether to pull myself out of bed, when I heard the son bustling about. He tugged us all downstairs and we stood there in the courtyard in front of our home gazing at the beautiful red moon – a giant golden orb that huge low in the sky had morphed into a silver ball of luminescence and was now a red rock suspended in mid-air. If this wasn’t magic, I don’t know what is.

The husband went into the home after a few moments – we were slightly cold, but stood mesmerized by the slow show being put up for us by the cosmos. The husband called in a few seconds, and said to the son, “By the way, the best view is from your room!” We raced up to his room, and gazed outside the window. True enough. It was the best view. Snuggled up in his warm comforter, sipping hot cocoa, I left the fellow to gaze and dream on as the silvery moon emerged from earth’s shadow. 

The eternal magic of light combining with the structural elements of the earth and moon make for a magical night indeed. 

Umm – A Belly Rub?!

The most touching gift I received for Mother’s Day this year was the pair of them thrusting their favorite books into my hands with shining, expectant eyes. The son’s book was Shiloh – by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.

“Read this one – we loved the book in our class. I really think you will like this one, even though we don’t have a dog.” said the son.

The book is a poignant read about a dog being possibly abused by its owner, and finding a safe haven with the little boy. The book beautifully addresses the shades of grey in personality, the degrees of right and wrong, poverty, property, and so much more.

I loved the book, and thought about how un-intrusively the dog seemed to be accepted into the family.

I’d seen it first-hand. A friend of mine had no time for dogs. Yet, when a dog entered her life, I saw a volte-face in her attitude. There was no doubting the symptoms. She had became a dog-lover. She recognized breeds, she spoke of how some dogs shed more hair than others – but most of all, the love in her voice was unmistakable, and I teased her for it. 

Anyway, the week-end reads were done and it was time for the week to begin. The children were all woken up for their school, and in their respective screens when I popped in to say hello before my day began. 

“Uhhhnnn! Go Away! Too early!” 

“Shh! Amma. I am in a class, and our teacher is yelling at us for not doing our work on time. “

“Can you give me a second please?” Continues sounding important and says, “Am in a meeting – can I talk to you later?”

No points for guessing who said what in the statements above. 

“Sheesh! You can’t be in bed for class! Sit up child and change into some nice clothes before class please!”

“I just want to check if you put cream. Fine!”

“Sure!”

Everyone was busy staring into their respective screens – a tiny rectangular tile in a meeting screen registering your presence. We do live in strange times and life isn’t always comprehensible. I muddled on along these lines, and stepped out into the street, to find our neighbor’s dog out for a stroll. Now, I don’t know how you feel when someone looks at you like you are the best thing that has ever happened to them. That’s how this little pup makes you feel.

The light in his eyes reflect, “How honored I am to know this person! If only they could give me a belly rub. Oh heavens above, please let me get a belly rub, and my life’s purpose shall be done!”

I turned around to see if there was someone else this poor pup was looking for, but no. It was me alright. Here was this marvelous soul, out for a belly rub with a neighbor, and all I did was – well, nothing really. I imagined meeting new people like this – nobody lies down on the porch looking for a belly rub – thank goodness, but here was this little pup thinking this is how life’s introductions have to be made.

So, I gave the little thing a belly rub and felt a lovely laugh build up in my being and let it out. Both of us laughed on that beautiful morning with the blue, blue skies above and a few clouds on the horizon, and all seemed right with the world. 

“If Jesus ever comes back to earth again, I’m thinking, he’ll come as a dog, because there isn’t anything as humble or patient or loving or loyal as the dog I have in my arms right now.” 

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Shiloh

I remember seeing a sign somewhere “Be the person your dog thinks you to be!”  And it seemed just right.

I Think You’ll Like This Ma!

Mother’s Day was upon us and before we knew it, the children were wishing me a marvelous day. We sat there, refusing to get up from bed, and just enjoying the mother’s day stories of past years. 

“Remember the year you made me that crown?! “

The now-teenaged daughter shuddered, and said, “It was horrible – why did you wear it and take a photo too?! I would not have done that.”

I gave her a smile and thought to myself how satisfying it would be to see her eat those words willingly and happily when her time comes. 

The most touching gift I received this year was the pair of them thrusting their favorite books into my hands with shining, expectant eyes. 

“Read this one – we loved the book in our class. I really think you will like this one, even though we don’t have a dog.” said the son.

The daughter’s request was firmer. “No…no…don’t touch it like that. See – this spine? It must not be creased. A few rules with this book. I don’t want you falling asleep with the book in your hands. That causes the book to become lopsided.”

“Just give me the book! I know how to take care of books. I love them.” I said, and the son and I exchanged amused glances. He is often at the receiving end of this lecture from his sister and seemed happy to see his mother’s version was just as firm.

“Yeah yeah. But some books just have to be cared for you know? Your love can sometimes cause creases.”

She looked at me skeptically, then went to her bookshelf and picked out a book as an example. “See this one? I had to give this little guy here a lecture because I caught him bending it.”

“Love lines and laugh lines are the essence of life. Books like to have them.” I said weakly.

Really! This child.

I pulled out a favorite poem from A Sky Full of Bucket Lists by Shobhana Kumar and read out Spaces. Her haibun  in between the prose was just right. It was the prose I chose to help me this time.

She shows the children how to inhale the pleasure of unsullied pages. Savour subtleties from a dog-eared favorite.

“What do you think?”

“I love the poem Amma, but just…please? Unsullied pages, see?”

I nodded and did my finest teenage imitation. “Fine!”, and muttered how I preferred ‘subtleties from a dog-eared favorite’.

“Love you MA!”

So, it was arranged that I could fall asleep reading Shiloh, but must sit upright without coffee or tea nearby, or a tendency to fall asleep with Perks of being a wallflower in my hand.

To misquote P G Wodehouse, the surest way to find love is to have a shared taste in Literature. 

I must say both the books filled my heart with their poignancy. 

Happy Mother’s Day!

The Young Wizard

The son finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in a marathon reading of 5 school days. I found him reading in dim corners, under the quilt after lights-out, by the moonlight streaming into his window at night, and with the class streaming on over zoom – it seemed I bumped into the fellow looking happy and reading wherever I went for a few days. Then, just like that, he was done with the book, and the series itself. 

The house has been abuzz with magic ever since. The wand from Ollivander’s gift shop has been found, batteries replaced, and the lumos spell is very helpful while looking for one’s shoes in the closet with no lights. 

As anyone who has gone through the arc with the young wizards will attest, there isn’t enough magic to go around after an event like that. The epilogue is described variously described as ‘a let-down’, ‘sappy’, ‘unnecessary’ and all of that. But in my mind, it was required closure for the author who spent every waking moment with these characters.

We had an unwritten rule in the house, viz: we’d watch the movies after the books have been read wherever possible. So, we waited patiently. As he finished one book after the other, there was a mini celebration and the week-end movie nights would invariably be Harry Potter & The Completed Book.

As we were getting ready for the movie watching session, the children came clamoring for an instant 2 minute Maggi noodles dinner. They love the tangy soupy instant nature of it. I gave them a stern look and a familiar lecture on healthy eating. Seeing the drooping faces, I said, “Look on the bright side, we can have 2 minute popcorn for movie night tonight!” 

Image from Amazon.com site

Comparisons between the movie script and a fresh reading of Harry Potter is always a thrilling exercise. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is an even more wonderful experience since it rewards you with 2 movies. And so it was, last week-end that we got to dissociate from the myriad problems of the world and immerse ourselves in those of the wizarding world. 

The last 2 movies are especially great watching, since there are so many scenes of note: Dear Dobby, Voldy screaming Aaavvvaaddaa Kedaavvrraaa, McGonagall calling on the locomotor to defend the school. 

The next evening, the son lumos-ed his way into the kitchen as I stood helplessly wondering what to make for dinner that night. Have I mentioned that it is one of my least favorite things to do: Standing and wondering what to make. I must’ve. It is a pet peeve. So, there I stood looking as mutinous as Voldemort’s clouds of doom, when the youngest wizard pranced in, and said, “Do you know there are at least 7 ways in which you can kill somebody without screaming Avada Kedavra like Voldemort does in the last scene?”

“Really?” I asked and he proceeded to rattle them all off. 

I stood there, and asked if he knew a spell for making dinner. 

“Yes! It only takes 2 minutes!” He said and grinned. I gave in to the little tyke’s demands and slurped Maggi 2 Minute Noodles discussing all the possible spells with disastrous effects.

The Joy-o-meter

“I read the book like Appa watches a movie! Done in 15 minutes, but got the gist. “ I said to general laughter. When the Spring cleaning bug bites, the family scuttles, and shy away from me like a horse that choked on plastic flowers once, and whinnies at the fresh wildflowers in the fields. 

“Really Amma! You too?” said the children

I admit I usually do not resort to the skimming technique. But this time, I read the Marie Kondo book on The Magic of Tidying Up.  “Well …. You know how some books have all they need to say in an article, but make books and songs out of them? That was this book. In essence, the table of contents should suffice, but if you want the nub of the thing, it is: If something doesn’t spark joy discard it!” 

“So, why are you still here?” Came the answer pat. Really! The speed of the repartee, I will never learn I tell you. I just walk into traps, and then goggle like a famished gargoyle, with these smart-alecks in the home. 

I sniffed a haughty sniff, and continued. “Anyway, I am going to apply the concept to the whole house. So, if something sparks joy in you, keep it, else junk it. Spring cleaning starts tomorrow!” I said in my best energetic cleaner voice. Dark looks were exchanged, some mutterings were heard, and talk was ripe of hoping that I would head out into those long walks that have me famished by the end of it all, so I spare the lot the anguish of losing things. The problem is of course that the things the children are passionate about and the things I am passionate about, are not an intersecting set. Consequently, the last time, I threw away a cardboard box, I spent a trying afternoon with the son who behaved like a gladiator losing his arena. I have since learnt my lesson, and they are given a warning. 

cardboard_box

I started the morning with my closet feeling like Mole spring cleaning his home in The Wind in the Willows.

The Mole had been working hard all morning spring cleaning his little home.

I must tell you. How do you mean ‘spark joy’? Some clothes you see are out of fashion, have some problems, faded etc. But mostly I seem to have clothes that I liked. So, how to deploy the joy-o-meter by them? 

Almost all my ethnic clothes evoked memories – does that count as sparking joy? For instance, I picked up the pink skirt bought in a bazaar in Jaipur. The blue hand-drawn elephants were not exactly life-like, but I could not stop the memories from marching in. The sister-in-law and I had had a tete-a-tete with the skirt vendor, and we landed up enjoying tea, pakoras, and a long chat on local artisans and design techniques, while the husband stood nearby sounding like a cooker letting out impatient steam.

Or the carefully hand woven and fabric painted dupatta that I had decided was too much to buy in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk bazaar, and settled for more utilitarian lunch boxes.  Imagine my glee then, only to find that the lovely dupatta was bought for me by the loving family on a subsequent shopping trip seeing how much I liked it. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

peacock_dupatta

Or the dancing saree that captured my spirit? The one with ballet dancers and Bharatnatyam dancers printed on them in unison – East-West collaboration at its saree best. 

The only ones I could apply the rule to, seemed to be the mass produced mall clothes bought in ‘Sale’ sections, which wasn’t much.

If there was a usage ratio to apply, almost all of the ethnic clothes can be set aside. If there was a cost to the environment ratio to be applied, one must keep these clothes till we use them at least a few times before discarding them. Over this, one must apply the cultural umbrella of using new clothes for every occasion, and the result is a sorry state of affairs.

I wonder if joy-o-meter designs can use all these variables. 

I looked pityingly at the disappointing results of the morning scourge. Feeling a bit of a hypocrite, I told the children to save anything they liked, and almost instantly regretted it, for the son ran for the largest cardboard box set for the recycling bin and said – “Dibs! I want this in my room!” 

No wonder the Mole preferred to scurry outside into the beautiful spring rather than finish spring cleaning his home.

“The joy of living and the delight of spring made him jump into the air, and he raced across the meadow ….” – The Wind in the Willows

The Joy-O-Meter swung to the right, and all was well with the world.

Spring Fever

“Why do goats looks so stern? I thought they are happy especially now in spring-time. Like lambs in spring-time could also mean like goat-kids in spring-time, no?”

The children exchanged looks. They knew to diagnose my bout of Spring Fever. I am seen scuttling off to sniff the air and marvel at life sitting up and stirring from its sleepy winter state. I head into the house looking flushed and happy. By evening, I am tired, but refuse to reduce the dose of spring bounding. But still this talk of stern looking goats had them worried.

“Ma?! You okay? Why are we talking of goats now?” said the daughter a mock-solicitous look in her eye, and I laughed out loud, and told them the context of the goat-ish tale.

“Well, it all started like this. Do you remember last Friday evening being  particularly beautiful? So, I shut the laptop with a whim, and headed out into the sunset. The hills were alive with the magic of spring. I told myself poetically that I could not bear to be a cell in a spreadsheet anymore. I wanted to be a newly sprouted leaf on a tree, a whimsical flower fluttering away in the mild breeze, or a Finnish fainting goat chewing thoughtfully at that latest blade of grass.

“Not for me the confines of mankind! Get rid of the shackles, and head out! “ I said.

” Uh-hm – someone would think you have a mission you are fighting for. How many times will you take pictures of the cherry blossoms and the clouds, and the sunset, hmm?” said the children but I waved these things away. Days like this are not meant to be wasted indoors arguing about the wisdom or lack thereof of going outdoors.

For a few months of the year, our neck of the woods resembles fairy lands, or the lands of the gods, or maybe heaven itself. The occasional rains, the burst of wildflowers, and the sunsets are all glorious. So much so that I find myself wandering around the countryside apparently lost, but really just finding the inner self. At least it is what I tell myself when that pile of laundry needs washing or that closet needs cleaning. Marie Kondo urges me to better myself, but Early Spring is more inviting. 

The fox squirrels atop the plum blossoms look naughty, while the fainting goat looks stern, the horse in the pastures peaceful, and the sunset glorious.

Where was I? Yes, on the stern looks of Finnish fainting goats. I had often wondered while reading the Three Billy Goats Gruff why the author went in for Gruff, but I see the choice of the word as I stood there admiring the serene setting against which the Finnish Fainting goat stood in its patch of farmland.

“Anyway, ” I said getting back to the point of stern goats, “I suppose if I had foul folks like me boggling at their spot of residence in that manner just because it is Spring, I would be gruff too! But the goat has a manner that is at once endearing, sober and majestic. The clump of fur on its chin growing away like a goatee (Get it? Get it? Goats have goatees!) made it look wise, and the green grass it chomped on made the world look a sweeter place.”

The children moaned not unlike the goat, and said, “Why not just call it a goat, why this fancy Finnish Fainting Goat?”

img_1352

“That is easy my dears. Google assures me that the picture I took of the goat is a Finnish Fainting Goat. And in any case, I doubt you would have listened patiently if I said I would tell you a story about a goat. No you would not have. But a Finnish Fainting Goat got your attention, did it not?” I said feeling clever.

“Ma?!” said the daughter, clenching her teeth. “You haven’t told us the story of the goat. You told us about the goat…you know what?! Never mind!”

“Yes…Never mind.” I said using that conciliatory spring-time tone, and said, “I will take you hiking there to see the old fellow. I am sure you all will like him. Looks like a satyr of your Greek myths. There is your story! Percy Jackson stuff on our next hike! ”

I ignored the ensuing groans. The fainting goat satyr and narcissus blooms will help.

Musings: Whally Mousical

 I was reading to the son’s classroom. I had planned out two little sections – one from the Tale of Despereaux and the other a true story of a pod of whales saved from the iced in waters of Siberia. The theme linking the two was music. I started, and the little musicians looked thrilled. I was too.

As I turned to the start of Chapter 4 in which the little mouse who was different finally understands what that honey-sweet sound was. I felt like Despereaux myself as I read about how little Despereaux felt a welling in his heart for the music, and how he slowly forgot where he was, or what he was doing. Slowly, he inched out from his hole, listening, mesmerized to the king playing music. As I read it out aloud to the children, I wanted to stifle a laugh, for a childhood memory peeked out of its deep hole the same way that Despereaux did. 

“And he discovered, finally, the source of the honey-sweet sound.

The sound was music.

The sound was King Phillip playing his guitar and singing for his daughter, the Princess Pea, every night before she fell asleep.

Hidden in a hole in the wall of the princess’s bedroom, the mouse listened with all his heart. The sound of the King’s music made Despereaux’s soul grow large and light inside of him.

Oh,” he said, “it sounds like heaven. It smells like honey.” 

Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux

We lived in the chilly mountainsides, and often times, the cold outside attracted rats and mice into the warm house. Several times, when music was playing in the old tape recorder, we would notice a mouse peeping cautiously and just listening. Curious as to what the noises meant maybe, but maybe not. One of the family would shriek, and the pater would at first try to quieten us down saying it was just a little mouse enjoying some music – so what, or something to that effect, only to have a somewhat more hysterical reaction. 

Almost reluctantly would ensue a hilarious game of hockey sticks against furniture trying to get the mouse. Mice are as nimble as well, mice, and humans are – how do I put this kindly? Clumsy. Well-fed humans have several disadvantages stacked against them as they go about the mouse chase:

* Leaning back in the chair after a good meal listening to music in the background has made them soporific, so while the hockey stick is meant to be a tool, it is often used as prop against which to lean on to catch a breath

* They lack the right motive to catch a mouse. The human’s motive is to see if they can tumble in another gulab jamun into the tummy before bed. The mouse’s is to get to the hole

* Crowd sentiment is hard to gauge. The mouse chaser is in the tough spot of being a warrior and a saviour. While the shrieking indicated that something must be done, if something were done, the shriekers would be devastated and clamor for animal rights. So, the mouse chaser has to diplomatically chase the mouse, but not harm it in anyway.

 By the end of this jolly game of mouse chasing, the furniture has received several whacks from the hockey stick, and the mouse has strolled into its hole, while the music lilts on from the tape recorder. Which takes me to the curious scenario of mice in kings courts. I wonder how a mouse must’ve been treated in the king’s court. Would the musicians stop playing, while the commotion continued, or would they lilt on? The shriekers would be more, and therefore the motive higher. Would the courtiers gallantly prove their loyalty to the king by mouse chasing themselves, or let the warriors go for it?

They say a mouse’s brain is closest in structure to the human brain, so is that why we enjoy music together? 

New Items: Lab Rats Listen to Mozart and Become Maze Busters

So Mozart turns rats into maze-busters. But does it have a similar effect on humans?

I suppose The Pied Piper of Hamelin knew what he was doing. 

The story of the effect of Classical Music on Whales is equally mesmerizing. From the book, The Symphony of Whales, By Steve Schuch

The story, is based on a real incident that happened in the narrow Senyavina Straits of Siberia. Over 3000 beluga whales had been trapped by the rapidly freezing waters in 1984-1985. For seven weeks, the people of the Chukchi peninsula, and the crew of the Moskva risked their lives to save the whales.

The story does not end there. Once the icebreaker ship, Moskva, had cleared the way, the whales had to follow the ship out into the open seas, but they were reluctant to do so. The crew tried playing whale song to lure them. While they reacted to the music, they were not assured of human intent, and were still scared of the engine sound. They lurked in the waters.  Then they tried Classical Instrumental Music.

“The crew found some classical music. First, the sweet sounds of violin and violas, next the deeper notes of the cellos and, deepest of all, the string basses…and way up high, a solo violin…

Everyone fell silent as the music carried over the waters.”

That had done the trick. The ship’s engines started and the whales slowly followed the icebreaker out into the open ocean.

Some musings are whally mousical, and all the more whimsical for it. The children seemed to enjoy the reading too. Their wondrous brain did not once question why a mouse liked music or how whales, mice and humans liked the same kind of music. 

Coming Soon: Musicophilia