What do the Seasons look like?

Out on a walk today – I thought it would be a good way to start the cooling down from what turned out to be a heat wave of the likes that set new records in temperatures. 

While on the walk, I stood befuddled below some trees from which the leaves were falling. There was no cool breeze, and the sun-baked earth looked heavily in need of rains. But the leaves were gently starting to drift earthwards. The dissonance was loud, and the stillness louder. Falling leaves, changing colors, should all signify cooler temperatures, a move towards cozy indoor expectations et al. 

When that thought flitted into my mind, I smiled. For the clarity with which the thought came, belied the fact that for half my life, I had never known the beauty of Fall. Yet, once the brain knows, it does, and how unexpectedly this expectation of seasons took root in me was baffling.

I do not remember when I started observing the seasons – for they are not as stark in California as in the East Coast.

The next day on a bike ride, the son & I took a moment to recover. For the lakes we had seen brimming with water and teeming with fish and birds just a month ago, was now barren and dry. It has been one of the driest summers California has experienced, but even so, the shock of the dry lakes are hard to bear. What would the seasons be like on other planets?

While the rhythm of the seasons is hopefully predictable, I could not help looking for old pictures of the same ponds and lakes from a few weeks ago,

I stood there thinking of the deep comforting voice of Frank Sinatra

“Fly me to the Moon

I’d like to see Spring in Jupiter and Mars!”

Frank Sinatra

How marvelous it would be to get a glimpse into the different kinds of beauty in the universe? Are there other seasons in other planets? What is the music of each season?

The Woodpecker & The Tree

I am enormously grateful that I am moved by the beauty and strength of a tree. I have spent many (but not quite enough) tranquil moments watching and admiring trees. Trees provide an unassuming, grounding presence for restless spirits such as mine.

I remember one day not too long ago when spring had turned to summer, and I stopped short and quite abruptly in front of a gingko tree. The tree was now fully covered in green leaves – when did the bare winter transform to full grown summer? I don’t remember the quiet miracle of life marching on though I passed the tree almost everyday: The efficient leaves photosynthesizing and nourishing the tree.

I am reminded of William Blake’s quotes on trees:

“To some people a tree is something so incredibly beautiful that it brings tears to the eyes. To others, it is just a green thing that stands in the way.”

William Blake

How sagely they bear the scurrying squirrels, the boisterous monkeys, the birds who make their homes in them including birds like woodpeckers who must be a noisy presence, the army of insects, and so much more? Even in my most whimsical moments, I cannot envision an angry tree or even an annoyed one. A tree is always what it is: steady, useful, beautiful.

I was watching a woodpecker peck steadily at a tree branch one day.

Tok-tok-tok-tok-tok-tok-tok

Tok-tok-tok-tok-tok-tok-tok

I stood there taking in the beauty of the suns rays, the straight angle at which the woodpecker was perched on the tree (really – how was it holding on like that without ropes, and banging its head against the tree all day long?), the beautiful red of its feathers glinting against the rays of the sun, contrasting with the light green of the trees leaves.

Tok-tok-tok-tok-tok-tok-tok

Tok-tok-tok-tok-tok-tok-tok

I remember wondering why the tree didn’t just shudder a bit to shake the bird off. But it didn’t. The woodpecker for its part seemed to be so happy at yammering at the tree like that it shocked me. For such a small bird to absorb the waves created must be quite high even if it was self inflicted.

Musings like these are music to the soul. For I came back and the internet gave me plenty to read up on woodpeckers. Coming from the human world, I assumed a design structure such as shock absorbers for the woodpeckers to endure the yammering. But nature surprised me yet again. Biomimicry as a discipline continues to hold me in awe. Woodpeckers really do not have shock absorbers. Instead their skulls are designed to endure the impact much like a hammer takes the impact of a bang. Given their size, the impacts they make are just enough for them to absorb throughout the day. 

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/woodpecker-skulls-dont-absorb-shock-like-previously-thought-180980426/

About 12 thousand times a day, woodpeckers drill their beaks into trees to search for food, make nests or communicate with other birds. 

Article linked from the Smithsonian Magazine

When pecks arrive through the day, I think of the tree, and the happy woodpecker. Even though all those who knock and peck at my attention are not exactly happy to do so, I assume they are happy like the woodpecker, and I try, poorly, to act the part of the sagacious, gracious tree and all is well.

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.

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