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

Making Cherry Blossoms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Girl Who Drank The Moon

I was dawdling one evening. Quite uncharacteristically I might add. For the evening walks I go on are brisk and filled with purpose: I focus on getting the day’s stresses out of my head and to appreciate the larger world around us. I arrive after these walks, therefore, a trifle breathless maybe, but mostly refreshed in mind and spirit. 

“Are you tired?”, asked a solicitous neighbor. 

I smiled and said truthfully that I had been very tired when I set out on the walk, and after briskly taking in the sights, was now rejuvenating myself in the magic of the moonlight. “Moon-Bathing!” I called it, and she gave me an indulgent smile knowing my leaning towards nature.

Sometimes, all it takes is a peek of the waxing moon, or the brilliant hues of the setting sun, or the clouds in the skies painting a thousand pictures for us, or a hummingbird flying in the light of dusk, or geese flying overhead with the light of the moon on their wings never failing to remind me of the beautiful song in The Sound of Music : These are a few of my favorite things.

All good things are wild and free. – Thoreau

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Other times, it is inordinately hard. I find it very hard to leave the village behind as Thoreau says. 

“I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit.”  – Henry David Thoreau

I feel the Earth works doubly hard at these times. Always granting a little something extra by the end of it all to make up for the time lost in thought and worry. The wintry evenings of the past few days have been working hard at setting my mind at ease and helping the stresses of the day take flight into the unknown tendrils of the night. Lost in space, till I can grab newer positive strands from the cosmos and replace them consciously.

That evening that I was dawdling, had been one of these evenings. The light of the full moon shone through the clear dark skies, and I felt the strength of its benign light seep into my very being. The wintry skies have the magic of starlight, but the days when the moon is also at play, the nights feel vibrant with possibilities and magic.

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Maybe I was feeling poetic because of all the beautiful poetry in the book I had just finished reading. For those of you wanting a strong dose of magic, I strongly recommend The Girl Who Drank The Moon by Kelly Barnhill.  

“The heart is built of starlight 

And time.

A pinprick of longing lost in the dark.

An unbroken chord linking the Infinite to the Infinite.

My heart wishes upon your heart and the wish is granted.

Meanwhile the world spins.

Meanwhile the universe expands.

Meanwhile the mystery of love reveals itself,

again and again, in the mystery of you.

I have gone.

I will return.

Glerk” 

Kelly Barnhill, The Girl Who Drank the Moon

It maybe because of the waxing and waning of the moon, and the fact that we have only one moon, the sheer delight of catching a glimpse of its benign light in the evening skies is magic enough. The son, as regular readers knows, is a cosmologist and a curious wonderer at heart. One night, when he was a toddler, he asked me, “Imagine how it must be to take a walk on Jupiter, and you look up and see 64 moons in the sky.

Note: Jupiter has 79 known moons, and more are being discovered.

I suppose the magic of that sort of walk must be exemplified, but for now, I am grateful for a peaceful Earthly existence, with the ability to gaze and gain peace with the one moon we do have.

A Celebration Of … 🌏

The afternoon was a mild, sunny one. Quite unusual for wintry January. The grass has turned green enough, the birds were chirping, and every now and then, the son and I stopped to admire a willow tree. How different each tree looks, and yet how soothing they all are together?  One doesn’t need a leap of the fanciful to liken the willows to beautiful damsels letting their hair down to dip ever so slightly into the waters below. What is remarkable is these damsels don’t seem to mind us watching. 

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I do not remember the first willow tree I saw, although I am sure I would have admired it long before knowing its name.  These are times I feel remiss. 

Why do we not make a celebration

of smelling the first sprig of lavender

and falling in love with the scent of it? 

Why do we not celebrate the perfect clovers,

the first feel of moss against a damp earth 

the taste of the first wild berry, 

the first sniff of eucalyptus after a fresh rain, 

the first time we touched a petal, 

the first time we sat and watched a butterfly, 

the first time we heard the name of someone who would go on to become kindred spirits 

and brighten our lives forever more?

While at this, why not also celebrate 

the times, we can watch a tree upside down,

The moon rise, or the sun set?

The times we spot the shape of a fluffy dog in the clouds,

the times we are mesmerized by a rainbow,

the times we can watch the world flit by with nary a worry?

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Anyway, where was I before I went off on my little celebration-of-life poetic trail? Yes yes. It all comes back now: I cannot quite resist the charm of a willow tree. It’s true. There is a generosity to its form. The tree just seems to give itself. The long tresses weigh down as they reach into the waters below.  When you walk along a river, you can be fairly certain that if there is one willow by the banks, nature would have given us a few more beautiful ones just further downstream. It was while reading Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren that I learnt many of these willow trees are identical genetically. Apparently, all it takes is for a branch to break off by a riverside, float down the banks, a little joyful eddy to push it near the banks, and voila: it can take root. An identical, genetically mapped tree, though it looks different on the outside – the trunks bulge differently, the branches fan out differently, but essentially the same. Hope Jahren’s lyrical writing is as beautiful as the willows themselves. 

“It is easy to become besotted with a willow. The Rapunzel of the plant world, this tree appears as a graceful princess bowed down by her lush tresses, waiting on the riverbank for someone just like you to come along and keep her company.” 

We walked on for some time on this beautiful day, before I plonked myself on the grass. I tugged the little fellow’s arm to sit on the grass next to me. After the initial reluctance of getting his clothes dirty, this suburban child gave in to the pleasures almost completely.  There we were, lying down on the grass, the willow trees drooped into the waters nearby while winter’s afternoon sun gently glowed upon us, and the clouds drifted above.

I told him about the willow trees and how most of the ones we saw may have originated from the same one. He looked awed. 

“Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life. It has also convinced me that carefully writing everything down is the only real defense we have against forgetting something important that once was and is no more,” 

Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

Will he remember the first time he learnt that willow trees reproduce with just a branch flowing downstream? I hope he does, but if not, here it is written down: It was a golden day in early winter on a walk with his loving mother: when all the world was green and filled with possibility.

Bestiary Tales in Covid Times

“Summer will be done in just two weeks!” trilled the children. The son was excited, as expected, by the fact that it was time for the autumnal solstice. (Earth’s tilt, cosmos, time are all fair game for him)

I stopped bustling about and nodded. It was true! That’s two whole seasons of Covid living.

Summer has been a blur. Sometimes, it was a happy blur of forests, rivers, beaches, craters, lakes, browning meadows, bundles of hay, wildflowers, towering trees, stars at night, comets zipping in the Earth’s vicinity, angry and mellow sunsets, pelicans and 🎼 “wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings” 🎶, hummingbirds flittering in the pale light of the rising moon, asters and star lilies in the shade of their massive neighborly trees. All of this with the sweet companionship of the family, and close friends – zooming in at times.

Other times, it was exhausting – heat waves, massive wildfires, poor air quality indexes, Covid numbers continuing to rise and showing no signs of abetting, protest marches, racism, bomb blasts, all on top of a news cycle that seems to think it has to deliver the heaviest punch into every day. It is like watching the world’s worst wrestling match. 🤼‍♂️ Really, someone should coach the world that not everything needs to be shocking and bigger and worse than ever before. It might be okay to watch a match in which the players seldom land a punch and are merely playing the game warily sizing each other up once in a while. 

Yet, life must go on, and it often goes along much better when we stop and look for promising moments in the gloom. There are moments that stand out clearly in this pandemic, when I felt a wave of gratitude overwhelm me, and I am also grateful for the sheer timing of these moments.

The time I stood on a windy, lonely strip of beach wrapping a towel about me for warmth and watching the sandpipers fly against the wind without wavering one bit, while I had a tough time just standing erect was one such. It was but a fleeting instant in which the little nippy sandpipers taught me about keeping one’s spirits up when the world is attempting to veer us off course every which way.

Or the moment, when on a road trip to a solitary house by the Umpqua river, the road wove on, the heat rose in waves around us, and the shimmering waters of the Lake Shasta looked like a green beast taking it easy in the summer, and laying low for what lay ahead. A few weeks later, the Sierra Nevada mountains were to be threatened by wildfires on a magnitude that sent the state of California reeling. Looking at the dry lands about us for a couple of hours, I felt a moment of dread, when the road turned, and a beautiful gushing river accompanied the road, and there on a rock in the middle of the river was a great big bear, looking contented and trying to fish or just cool off. 

As we took our summer walks in the evenings, I stopped so many times to admire the geese splashing into the waters after their great squawking, while the pelicans achieved this feat with none of the noise, but all of the grace.

I remember the time we looked up on a stroll to come eye to eye with a great turkey vulture. The elementary school going son was with me, and he thrilled at it. “Amma – I know you take pictures of the flowers  everyday because they only last for sometime, but this…oh…this is so special. It is so .. umm.. “ He struggled for the right word, but I think I knew what he was going for. I felt it too. There was a majesty about the bird that was hard to describe. There was a divinity and a razor sharp quality to its gaze that falconers love. I have tried to experience this when I read the book H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. But all I needed was that encounter lasting all of two minutes. 

“The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life.”

― Helen Macdonald, H Is for Hawk

Really! How much our fellow creatures have to teach us?! 

I think of what wild animals are in our imaginations. And how they are disappearing — not just from the wild, but from people’s everyday lives, replaced by images of themselves in print and on screen. The rarer they get, the fewer meanings animals can have. Eventually rarity is all they are made of.” H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald

Just like that, Autumn comes in all its glory to teach us what it does best. Preparing for Winter.

Weather Monsters

“Have you gotten your bags ready?” my friends’ voices piped over the phone. 

“Uh – not yet. Got a bag down from the loft – will get to it.” I said shuffling my feet as I said so.

“Well..what are you doing now?”

“Writing about the weather over the past week.” I said somewhat sheepishly, and a loud laughter emanated from the other side. 

We toodled off with the sentiment of “Well Nero fiddled, I write!” but I am not going to lie. I was rattled, and went off to pack the emergency kit. The wildfires were too close for comfort – the air has been thick with smoke.

Exactly a week ago:

The days had been stifling in the heat wave that gripped the land. Oppressive waves rose from the shimmering hills nearby, and the eyes squinted for respite after the briefest strays outside. Some evenings had a splattering of clouds giving rise to splendid sunsets, and while I swooned my way through the evening walk, I yearned for a bit of rain, if nothing but to smell the parched sizzling earth cooling off a little bit. 

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I may have wished too soon.

For the very next day, I was looking at the most improbable of sights. I had set a whimsical alarm to rouse me at 5:30 a.m on that Sunday rearing for a hike before the sun started beating down on us. 

While I am always crooning about Nature and talking about it being the greatest soother of all time and all that, I often forget nature’s fury. I live in California where we pay a weather-tax. For the most part, the weather conditions are soothing, flowers bloom the year around, and though I yearn for more rains, it is a mellow nature that greets me most days. But that morning, I listened astounded as thunder rumbled overhead and the noise penetrated the double-paned windows, and then in the darkness the whole house stood illumined for a few seconds. I glanced unwittingly towards the sleeping children, and I stood awed.

We have easily gone more than two decades without thunder and lightning storms of this magnitude in this area. What was going on? 

I whispered to the husband – “Wow! Rain was not even in the weather forecast huh?” and stood mesmerized by the window wondering whether a walk was still on the cards if not a hike.

The husband looked at me and said, “Are you nuts?! Who goes out in this weather? Hiking at that. Nothing doing – if this is you wanting to watch the rain, pull up a chair and sit by the window!”, and he went right back to bed.

So, I did just that – I woke the son and showed him the lightning and the rain pelting down. It made for a magical morning, but I hadn’t completely realized the harm a storm of this magnitude can unleash on an already dry and parched Earth. In under 6 hours, there were more than 10,000 flashes of lightning starting over 300 fires that continue to rage across the Bay Area.

Time Lapse based off Satellite images of the Lightning strikes and subsequent fires in the area.

In just a few days we had experienced everything from heat waves to lightning and thunder storms – all in the midst of a pandemic no less. The air quality deteriorated significantly as the fires raged and fire fighters poured in from everywhere to contain the fires. 🔥 The sheer magnitude of the fires 🔥 they were dealing with had simple folk like me blanching, but these teams had strategy and they were working tirelessly. The tenacity for a job like that! 

In our skies, an angry sun shone through when it could through the smog.

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One week later:

Wildfires continue to rage over thousands of acres of land. Beloved forests and mountains ranges that have provided solace and comfort to millions of people over the years have been lost to the fires. My heart caught at the news that Big Basin Redwoods were damaged badly. Though redwood trees are supposed to be extraordinarily resilient to fires  and would probably make it past these fires, I grieved. Every time I visited these forests, I have come back not just refreshed, but spiritually in a better place as have thousands of tree huggers over the years. A true space for forest bathing or shinrin yoku as the Japanese call it.

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It has been a week since the lightning strikes. 1 week in which more than 60,000 acres of land have been burnt, with ominous statistics of 5% fire contained, fire alerts etc.

California Redwoods 

2020 seems to be determined to make its mark.




 

Bee Blossoms

Out on a evening walk one day, my heart rose. The corona virus may be taking the world for a spin of its own. Days seem to be blending into weeks, and weeks into months. There are times, I sit up and notice the weekend is here. Some other times, I sit up and wonder where the week-end went. All of life seems to be one long news cycles of confusion & anxiety. What is a good time to reopen, should we reopen?

Human-beings may be in a state of confusion and anxiety.  But Nature around us has no such doubts. She brought on Spring just in time. The leaves sprouted in one marvelous unified stage opening. I stood mesmerized under the fresh, new leaves, sometimes glinting with dewdrops, and other times, filtering the rays of the sun beautifully around. Early tulips bloomed, spring snowflakes made their hearty show.

Then slowly, and just as surely, the temperatures rose, and the hills near where we live browned in the suns. But that meant, it was time for the summer flowers to take the stage. The jacaranda trees took their cues from the receding spring snowflakes, and assured them that the show must go on. On the evening walk, I noticed the beautiful purple flowers blooming against the green leaves, the early oleander flowers are revealing their pinks and whites, and roses everywhere are out on their annual romps warming hearts and lifting spirits with greater sincerity this year.

The son and I stood watching bees buzz from one flower to another taking with them the memories of a thousand blossoms with them, slowly but surely nurturing the circle of life. I was reminded of Ray Bradbury’s saying:

“Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”
― Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

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When I watch the dew drops glisten on the spring snowflakes,
When I watch the rainbow makes up its mind and throw itself like a garland across the skies
When I watch the eight-legged marvels creations catch in the sunset
When I watch the waves lap and play with the sandpipers

I feel hope stir in the spirits
I feel decisive and conviction in Being
I feel solitude’s gift can be tangible and needs to be nurtured for its fragile state
I feel engaged with the planet and all its gifts

There is beauty in knowledge of the changing seasons, and wonder in anticipation.

Mother Earth is preparing for the Summer!