Oh Lovely LadyBugs – What a Loveliness!

We were crouched on a beautiful trail overlooking the bay on the west, and the beautiful golden hills on the east. A flock of birds flew overhead, while an egret stood in the shallow waters below. 

We were a cacophonous group at times, gregarious at others, fast and slow either by choice or the lack of it. The cousin and family had come a-visiting and we were enjoying their company. The laughter, wisdom of the different ages, and the quirks of life that make for fun and interesting times were in plenty. We had already walked a good 5 miles, and were heading back home. 

Suddenly, the son crouched. I knew at once that a small role-poly or lady bug must’ve stopped him in his tracks. I headed over to see, and just as I thought, it was a lady bug. A red beauty. We had seen an orange spotted one on a mustard bush a few minutes ago, and here was a red seven spotted one moving slowly. It had crawled up a cliff, and was justifiably slow moving. 

https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/facts/ladybug

Our companions, braver souls than the son and I when it came to fauna, gave their hand nearby and the ladybug crawled on. Watching it maneuver the contours of the fingers and hands was a joy to watch. If they did have a fear of heights, it wasn’t apparent. What they did seem to have is a remarkable spatial orientation – when the degree of the hand tilted, it moved quickly towards stabler slopes. 

Slowly, however, we let the creature dawdle on by the bayside – away from pedestrian traffic. However, the image of the little creature is a striking one. Was it aware that it was on a beautiful trail overlooking a Bay of the Pacific Ocean? Real estate prices, climate change notwithstanding, the lady bug was a gentle reminder to live in the present. To be a part of life that fills this planet with beauty. To be a red thread in the rich tapestry of life.

Regular readers know my curiosity about the collective nouns for creatures:

Well, I was delighted to know that a cluster of ladybugs is called a loveliness.

The Speed of Living

I was galloping between meetings. Several things of importance in today’s world were being discussed. Time, accuracy, and speed were the over-arching themes. Service level agreements, acceptable latency, how many milliseconds for the information to flow, how many minutes to first respond by human agency, how quickly things can be fixed, how businesses following-the-sun model could ensure that every minute was accounted for and so much more. 

Unbidden, the image from a few mornings ago rose in my mind. I had found a pair of turtles by a riverbank. I stopped and smiled to myself. It was a reminder, and I took a deep breath. The breath reminded me how shallow our breathing normally is – for I felt a great gulp of air rush in. The little turtles had done their duty: unknowingly, unwittingly. The fascinating creatures were sunning themselves by the narrow stretch of water. Slowly, unhurriedly taking deep breaths and lying contentedly by the water’s edge. The waters gently lapped just a few centimeters away from their feet. It was hard to see whether their eyes were closed or not, but one could not deny their sense of bliss. The morning sun, the fresh waters. 

Ever since, I have been adding small doses to this set of images in the mind’s eye: 

  • The heron standing peacefully in the waters of the bay just a few feet from me. Waiting patiently – not fidgeting nor making anxious movements.
  • The geese tending to their newly hatched goslings with energy – a noisy, happy family. 
  • A mild breeze blowing through the tall grasses by the riverbank – reminding us of the forces of nature. 
  • The great white egrets taking flight and flapping their wings high above – the joy of embracing the winds apparent in their movements.

Another day,  I had opened the double-paned windows just a wee bit, so that the sweet noises of the chittering of squirrels and tweeting of birds could float into the room. I stopped every once in a while, and somehow the sounds of nature outside seemed to still the throng of speed. Network speeds did not make the birds’ trilling any faster. The bustling squirrels outside were bustling regardless of the chime of the clocks and the ticking of seconds. The rose bushes grew, burst into buds and bloomed into great big blossoms at its own pace. The sunlight, soil, and the plant doing its job in harmony, at a steady pace.

As Alan Lightman says in his book, In Praise of Wasting Time:

The pace of life has always been driven by the pace of business, and the pace of business has always been driven by the speed of communication.

But wouldn’t it be nice if the speed of business was defined by the business of living?

April

April is Poetry Month

April is also the month we celebrate Earth Day

April also happens to be the month the days are lengthening enough for us to moon about the countryside, and life is full of promise

Nature sat up and decided to revel in glorious life, and the hills are bursting with greenery and wildflowers

The buds are waiting to burst into bloom

Trees have been working extra hard to sprout new leaves. My alarm gleefully extols rapturous spring, and despite the strong motivation to get in a few snoozes more, the allure of the outside world is hard to resist.

Imagine my complete delight when I stepped out on a walk today and saw the goslings had hatched just in time for Earth Day?

Could this be why Easter festivities involve egg searches?

I walked into the house soaked one morning after walking in the rain, and announced to the chagrin of all in the household, “Only fools would step out on a walk on a day like this, but it was totally worth it!”

Maybe that is why April also hosts April Fools Day.

Nevertheless, please do enjoy and revel in the joys of April while you can.

What’s our hurry?

“Oh! How I love the fiery glow of the sunset and how I missed our quiet garden“, I said leaping out of the car after my long dredge of a commute back into the office. It has been two years since Covid shut office spaces down, and I cannot say that I missed the crowds on the trains, the noise of the city, or the snarling traffic inching along at peak times.

“I am so happy to come back to this suburban paradise from the hustling, bustling city!” I said sighing happily and taking in deep gulps of fresh air. I flitted to the rose buds starting to form, flew to the jasmine bushes sending wafts of jasmine-ly scent into the evening air, and lovingly tousled the lavender bushes. I suppose butterflies when let loose in a meadow from a bottle do the same.

I looked up to see the daughter giving me that look: the one where she is wondering whether it is prudent to have my head checked for bumps.

I am such a country mouse my dear!” I said by way of making conversation.

“I wouldn’t want to be a cat in a world that you are a mouse, that is for sure!”, said she, never one to falter at smart quips. 

I straightened my shoulders haughtily and wanted to retort. Sharply. With sarcasm, speed and humor. 

Nothing came. 

I shook my head and tried to fetch some quip, anything. Nothing.

I stood there fumbling and stammering. Maybe the pace of the day had taken it all out. So, I finally laughed. 

It was while I was out sauntering on a mild spring morning a few days later that I remembered the study on the pace of life in the book, In Praise of Wasting Time – By Alan Lightman. 

In Praise of Wasting Time – By Alan Lightman

In the book, Alan Lightman writes of the study where people’s average walking speed was measured across a decade. The speed was measured in suburban places, cities and bustling city centers. Apparently, the walking speed had increased considerably. An average woman of today in San Francisco city walks faster than an average woman in the 20th century. Makes us pause and think doesn’t it? What are we hurrying towards?

Excerpt from the book:

A momentous study by the University of Hertfordshire in collaboration with the British Council found that the walking speed of pedestrians in 32 cities around the world increased by 10% just in the 10 year period from 1995 to 2005.

How did we arrive at this point in the history of the world?

First, there is business. The pace of life has always been driven by the pace of business, and the pace of business has always been driven by the speed of communication. In 1881, in a book titled American Nervousness: its Causes and Consequences, physician George Beard noted the increase of nervousness and stress in the public caused by the new communication technologies of the day: The railroad and the telegraph. Today, its the Internet. 

In Praise of Wasting Time – By Alan Lightman

It is no wonder that spending time in Nature is such a soother, acting almost like an analgesic. The pace of nature hardly varies. 

Like Lao Tzu says: 

Nature never hurries, yet accomplishes everything.

Lao Tzu
Bryce Canyon National Park

The Leaping of Spring

We had been on a short trip up the mountains recently. On the way back, I realized yet again that I had taken far too many photographs that were of no use. So I sat sagely deleting them making space for more. In that moment of weakness, I told myself that I would not whip out my phone at the slightest thing, and take a photograph. That is how I landed up missing the picture of the blackbird racing a red hawk for a few meters. It is also why I have the image clearly etched in my head. 

I took a short morning walk to clear my head. It was cold, I had not slept well. As I trudged on, I was already listing the different things to get done during the workday, the things that needed tending in the home, and the things I wanted to do with the children and friends. All the mundane things that flit through a working woman’s mind on a weekday morning flitted, and I stopped to chastise myself. This was what Henry David Thoreau meant when he said he walked without leaving the village behind or something to that effect.  I was physically there, but not spiritually or mentally, and that would not do, I told myself sternly.

Taking a deep breath and feeling the cold rush of fresh air, I moved on. This time, I felt the difference. The clear, trilling sound of the swarms of blackbirds, that is missing in January or even February was clearly filling the air. I stopped to look around, and the soaring of the blackbirds with their little flashes of red beneath their wings, the tittering of the thrushes, and the quacking of the ducks in the distance were all enough to pin me to planet Earth even as my spirits soared from the ground. 

Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.

Henry David Thoreau
The influence of the Earth

A little distance away, a red hawk took flight, and a little blackbird flitted up against it. Trying to keep up, basking behind the great birds wing span and sheltering against the air currents. It was a marvelous sight to catch. The little one’s sense of adventure elicited a smile. After a few minutes of this folly, the little one veered away. Happy to go back to flitting joyously. 

It is amazing what a little spring time air can do for the soul. One can come back energized in soul, and tired physically, and that is just as it should be. 

On the Shores of Sleep

I lay awake ready to explore the cosmic oceans of the subconscious, which is to say, the eyelids were heavy with welcoming drowsiness, but blessed sleep was momentarily elusive.

The infection in my eye was throbbing, and had morphed into a dull headache. A trip to the city earlier in the day had tuckered me out more than I cared to admit, and an over-tired body can take some time falling asleep. 

The quick trip to the city had also rekindled some familiar feelings. Some things never seemed to change. The city with its trembling lights, its massive office buildings, the scores of people rushing, rushing towards something, nothing. Life felt long, unchanging, and yet, distressingly tumultuous all at once.

I stopped to take pulse – the anxious rush of traffic, the speed with which one needed to act and react on the streets, the cacophony of ambulances and traffic, and the frenzied pace were one thing. Colleagues who had moved out of the geographic location, colleagues who had moved on was quite another. The memory of a colleague who had succumbed to cancer a few weeks prior: another good human being whose companionship and solid good sense I missed.

How could time feel swift and still at the same time? 

How can our ephemerality coincide with that sense of life being long and varied?

“We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.” 

― Carl Sagan, Cosmos

Every moment plucked like a strand from a whirlwind, and yet, every person’s appreciation of the whirlwind was their own. Life seemed meaningless and meaningful in spots of flashing clarity in the confusing overwhelm of the day.

I tried to sleep that night – back in the quiet of our suburban home. I couldn’t, and took to moon-watching instead. The moon had risen – the same moon that rose over the Sierra Nevada mountains – unmoving, majestic; the oceans – calm and serene; the vast plains of the desert cactii-laden amidst multi-hued rocks and sands; the coastal regions  – the sandy shores and the redwood forests reaching up to eternity; and the bustling city all at the same time. 

The Japanese have a beautiful word for moon-watching:

Tsukimi (月見) or Otsukimi (お月見), meaning, “moon-viewing”, also known as Jugoya (十五夜), are Japanese festivals honoring the autumn moon, a variant of the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Time and Space in the physical realm invites us to think of Being in the meta-physical sense.  The land of dreams beckoned again, and I went to bed – grateful for the quiet solitude of the night, the calming nature of moonlit thoughts and blessed sleep.

The sun will rise bringing with it a whole new perspective.

Back from the Brink

Matt Sewell’s, book, Forgotten Beasts: Amazing creatures that once roamed the Earth is a highly captivating book of animals that once roamed the Earth. Beautifully illustrated, this book is a marvel. Every time, I marvel at how life managed to thrive, sustain, and regenerate in all its fantastic forms. As I thumbed through the pages, admiring the defense mechanisms of each animal, the unique ways in which they thrived and survived, an obvious question flickered through the brain : how many of our current organisms are having the same sort of trouble?

Starting with prehistoric animals, the book slowly walks through the animals through the ages, and finally arrives at the timeline in which human-beings appeared. 

The next book was the obvious pair to Matt Sewell’s book of extinct animals. It is: 100 animals to see before they die – By Nick Garbutt & Mike Unwin. 

Reading these two, along with Birds, Beasts & Relatives by Gerald Durrell, made for an interesting time in the old head. Gerald Durrell is a naturalist and his obvious enchantment with the fauna he finds around him, led to create the Durrell Foundation for Conservation of Animals.

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

 

So, it was a surprise indeed to be able to watch the excellent documentary, Back to the Brink at the Boston Science Museum. 

We charged and weaved through traffic to make it to Back from the Brink. The documentary was playing in the Boston Science Museum for which the son & I were going. This was going to be our special afternoon, and we had made any number of snafus with the tickets, the cab to get there etc. But we were there at the right time, and the pair of us took a few deep breaths. 

How often we find ourselves mired myopically into our own lives? It is at moments like these, that books, museums, and documentaries do their bit I suppose. We sat there, as the camera zoomed and picked us along for the ride. We were there to watch the exhilarating recovery of 3 animals who had made it off the endangered list. 

As I sat there watching nature’s survival unfold before us on the high ceilinged dome, I remember thinking of Gerald Durrell’s book, Mockery Bird, and the sense of awe when I learned that Charles Darwin predicted a particular kind of species- a long proboscis, he said, should be there, given that there were flowers with a long tubular structure. A decade later, they did find the hawkmoth capable of pollinating the star orchids. How thrilling is must be, to be able to figure out things like that?

In Back from the Brink, the documentary walks us through 3 different scenarios in which man-made decisions led to the near extinction of certain species, and how man-made efforts also brought them back from the brink of extinction. 

  • The first one was about the foxes in Catalina Island, off the coast of California
  • The second one was on golden monkeys in China
  • The third were the red crabs in an island near Australia 

Each species has a different story arc – the foxes in Catalina Island were the result of DDT spray affecting the eggs laid by the bald eagles near the island. This led to a mass dying / migration of bald eagles. Once the bald eagles were no longer there, the golden eagles swooped in, and for them, these tiny foxes were prey. How the team of naturalists figured this piece out, and how they went about trapping foxes, bald eagles, and golden eagles, and then nurtured and relocated them till they could thrive again, is a marvelous journey.

The golden monkeys were a simple case of stopping poaching, but a hard fight indeed to get the poachers to act as guardians in these snowy terrains. 

The red crabs had an army to fight and thrive against. The yellow crazy ants who accidentally came off the ships years ago, had ran amuck, and the crabs were being inched out of their own homes. This one, had a unique solution too. The naturalists introduced another species(knowing fully well out how much havoc such an act could cause). After much deliberation, they did so. The yellow ant population came down, and the crabs could thrive again. 

The Boston Science Museum is a marvelous place for the curious and the uninterested alike. 

The Sappy Pine

I sat outside idly watching the world as it continued on its day. These rare moments of solitude and stillness are more refreshing than any energy pills being advertised on television or in between YouTube videos. The wind stirred at the pace it was going to: Today , incidentally, was idle breeze day. The clouds in the distance were parting to reveal a blue sky. The birds made their brave show chirping, catering to their little ones in their nest, or flitting about joyously it seemed. 

Sitting outside like this, without any fast forward buttons reminds us of the nature of time. How come we manage to fill all our moments with alarms, and meetings, placing firm demands on the hours available to us, while other living beings around us manage to live in harmony with the seasons? The rose buds bloom, the fresh leaves sprout after winter, the nest eggs hatch, and life seems to go on: on a schedule of its own, quite distinct from what we have.

I watched mesmerized as the breeze rippled through the luscious pine tree nearby generating green soothing waves, and thought of the magic of life around us. Every tree, every plant was a marvel, and a couple of sparrows playing high near the top of the tree were a joy to watch. Nature’s forms are truly amazing. 

The car was parked under the beautiful tree, and enjoying its hospitable shade. I nodded approvingly as the Californian summers have started beating down after cloudy starts to the day. It is like the curtains part around mid morning, and then the sun seems to take upon itself to show us its dazzling abilities.  

Musing on how we must spend some time sleeping under the stars, watching the moonlight piercing through the sharp pine needles etc, I headed inside.

Komorebi (木漏れ日): is a beautiful word meaning the sunlight or moonlight filtering through the trees.

I managed to convey a rather jumbled version of this evocative feeling of nature to the children and husband, and they looked at me with something approaching pity. Was I alright? Did I need my head examined? They certainly weren’t having this business of sleeping under pine trees whatever else I said.

“What if a pine cone falls on your head huh?” said one, and I had no answer.

“Well….they aren’t very big pinecones.”

A large guffaw greeted this rather clever observation. I drew myself up haughtily and said, “You know how you are worried about something? Well, if you sit down outside, and watch the wind rustle the pine leaves, you aren’t. “ I said. I must admit, it sounded weak even to me, as I said it. So, I finished up strongly: “I mean nature always delivers!”

I peeked at the car standing in the shade, and shrugged happily at it. At least the car was having a good time of it. 

Maybe I should’ve waited before pandering on about the pine tree, for a few days later, the car was distinctly sticky. A large dose of pine sap had dripped on the car. 

“Eww! That is disgusting and it refuses to come off when you wipe it!” I wailed. 

The nourishncherish household exchanged amused looks and did not say, “Nature always delivers!” To that, I am grateful.

The Music of Rose-Scented Winds

Roses are blooming everywhere. The white, saffron, yellow, pink, corals and red roses are a real treat to behold. Watching the breeze gently take the rose essences and waft off into the neighborhood reminded me of an old Tamil song. “Rojavai thalaattum thendral…” a few weeks ago, and I hummed it as I went about my day. Loosely translated, it means a breeze that caressed the roses. 

“Dei! One more time, you sing that song……” said the husband. 

His tone of voice reminded me of my elementary school friend all those decades ago, when I sang something continuously, wrongly and unknowingly at times. 

Particularly prone to these brain-itches or ear-worms, I am not particularly fond of them either. I thought life was full of them, till I noticed my friends seemed to be able to enjoy a song, hum it a bit and then move on with their lives, without the annoying thing being stuck in their heads for weeks at a time. 

The curious case of not being very good at picking the lyrics out in a song also means that I am singing garbled nonsense, and often just snippets of them as I go about the house. 

I don’t know how folks live with me, for I want to box my ears every time  ‘rojavai thaalattum thendral ‘loops on in the old brain. Apparently, the song itself has a good enough lyrical quality, but I would not know anything about it for I have never been great at catching the words in a song. I sing

Rojavai thalaatum thendral, poon thendral, yen mandral (No meaning). 

Un nenjil porattangal hohoho (Santa Claus>!), rojavai thalaatum thendral…”

I am sick of the song, but luckily not of the roses. 

For one prone to brain-itches such as these, the modern world can be quite the problem. There are catchy songs on television, in cars, radio stations, not to mention gas stations, almost everywhere. It is only recently that I found listening to instrumental music helps since it allows me to listen to music without having garbled phrases stuck in my head on an endless loop.

“Many people are set off by the theme music of a film or television show or an advertisement, This is not unusual for they are catchy tunes” says Dr Oliver Sacks, in his book, Musicophilia (Read the essay titled “Brainworms, Sticky Music and Catchy Tunes”)

He writes of his friend,Nick, who had fixated on the song, “Love and Marriage”and was ‘trapped inside the tempo of the song’. 

I nodded along fervently as he wrote of his affliction:

“With incessant repetition, it soon lost its charm, its lilt, its musicality and its meaning. It interfered with his schoolwork, his thinking, his peace of mind, his sleep.”

Originating from the literal translation of the German term Ohrwurm, an earworm can go on for weeks, or in some cases months.

When I read about this phenomenon in Oliver Sacks’, Musicophilia, I hummed the broken piece. I wish I could’ve written to the wise doctor and asked him whether he had come across any cases where the patient was stuck in a song with lousy garbled words in the correct tune, and how their marriage with a man who could not hold a tune but could ace the words would function. (Read: The Noetic Touch to the Poetic Muse

Alas! Dr Oliver Sacks is no longer alive to share his insights with us.

Antheia’s Gifts

April has the whiff of spring about it. Fresh green leaves, and flowers bursting forth everywhere. 

I could not help thinking of William Blake’s ‘heaven in a wild flower’ as we made our way through the trails. Really! I am in awe of poets – how do they think up these things? 

“Who was the Greek god of flowers? Persephone?”

“Nope! Persephone was agriculture, you know when she comes out of the underworld, she brings Spring with her and the world blooms again. She was the one who was abducted by Hades.”

“Ah yes. There should be one for flowers though. Or is it just nymphs?”

She shrugged – “There is a minor goddess. I forget.”

I looked it up as I sat down this morning after sniffing a couple of roses in the garden. Antheia is the greek goddess of flowers.

I was out walking with the daughter on a trail. She was telling me about a fascinating piece of fan fiction she read about the lives of Remus Lupin and Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series. Told from the perspective of Remus Lupin, it was truly amazing. A deer grazed in the river bed now overgrown with shrubbery, while the stream-like river played host to herons and geese. It was fitting setting for the story of The Marauders who first made their appearance in The Prisoner of Azkaban.

I stooped to sneeze. “You know? I think you deserve this!” she said, looking severe. That child has the heart of Minerva McGonagall. Her lips looked thin and her eyes had just a hint of a smile that could not be displayed for wanting to look stern.

“Do you really have to sniff every flower when you know you have allergies?”

“But I do! Just see this my dear. A spider has patiently woven its web within the petals of a narcissi bloom. What is that story of the Ariadne challenging that Greek goddess?”

“You mean Arachne challenging Athena.”

“Yes…really how perfect these spider webs are! As an engineer, I admire the tensile strength, as a artist, I love the clean nature of their work, as a minor creepy crawlie phobe, I want to squeal, and as a clean freak,  I know I clean out cobwebs, but it makes me wonder every time about the nature of work. The constant doing and undoing of it all. It all seems so haphazard, but nature is so intensely productive in its being, no.” I said and then told her about the book I was reading just then.

Titled The Tree, it is part meditation on nature, part autobiographical detailing the relationship with the author and his father, and their differing views of nature. His father was quite the productive fruit producer in his narrow strip of land in the city, while the author’s love for trees bloomed away from the structured fruit producing expectations – in the wilder countryside.

On the walk, in the meanwhile, I pointed out the resourcefulness of the vine that can jump fences and leap between trees, the flowers that think nothing of scenting the world as they go about blooming, the humming bees, and the humming birds darting about all of this with a purpose of their own. “I suppose one could spend all day thinking about these things without any sort of cogency huh?”

“Yep! Like you are doing now? You know this is where some folks really surprise me. I mean, they regularly write and put out a chapter of fan fiction every week, to this brilliant story of Lupin and Sirius I was telling you about. ”

“Yes and look at humankind’s imagination through the ages. All those myths and stories of nymphs turning into rivers, and running through worlds and sprouting off into geysers. ” We walked back in admiration of writers and poets. Oscar Wilde, the daughter’s favorite poet and his life, William Blake, Greek myths, her re-reading of The Song of Achilles, Harry Potter characters all contributed to a magical spring-time saunter.

Imagination and Creativity are always enthralling themes to engage in. How do you cultivate it – are we born with a natural gift that we then need to prune and cultivate like the trees the author’s father looked after or does it thrive and bloom like Antheia’s flowers in the wild?

No fruit for those who do not prune; no fruit for those who question knowledge; no fruit for those who hide in trees untouched by man; no fruit for traitors to the human cause. – John Fowles, The Tree

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