Tales from a River Bed

I stood there one morning, the serenity of the surroundings mirrored in my face. There, ahead of me, in the river bed with just a trickle of water making its way to the bay in the west was a snowy white egret. It stood there relishing its solitude. I have never seen them in groups in the riverbed. There are a few of them I spot every once in a while, but never together. Further in the distance stood a great blue heron – also alone, its regal grey neck craning to see I knew not what.

Great blue heron – when this grey beauty flies, one’s spirit soars too

This riverbed is an interesting place. Of late, I notice a little red fox darting quickly especially as the sun sets. How one fox cub managed to make its way into the suburban area so far removed from the hills on the other side of town is beyond me. I’ve seen coyotes up in the hills before, but never a red fox. There are many cats slinking around the river. I’ve seen water rats, geese, ducks, ducklings, deer. One some days, we see sheep grazing there, tended lovingly by a horseman with a cowboy hat who eclectically raises his hand in greeting, “Hola Amigos!” , and his shepherding dogs. 

On warm evenings, I am accompanied by cricket songs, and croaking. I read in a non-fiction book by Peter Wohlleben , The Weather Detective, that crickets only chirp when the temperature is above 54 degrees Fahrenheit. That is most summer evenings in California. 

The squawking of geese, the flapping of small wren-like birds, the beautiful chittering of birds, the blackbirds songs, the swooping of the sparrows, and cawing of ravens as they make their way home are all harmonious against the setting sun. The autumnal equinox is here, which means that the sun sets are getting earlier and earlier. Soon, by the time we are done with our host of meetings, life in the riverbed would have quietened down or is at least not visible.

The more time I spend in corporate worlds, the more I relish the simple pleasures of the creatures in the riverbed. True, they are affected more than we think by our lifestyles and the effects. The river -bed is a sad reminder of global warming. The Earth is hot and thirsty and is forever parched. The ribbon like strand of water is heavily regulated and trickles by not so regularly. The river bed itself is fully grown with reeds and tall grasses, creating the perfect camouflage for all the creatures that seek to make this place home.

A distant palm tree reflected in the river

I think the kind of landscape that you grew up in, it lives with you. I don’t think it’s true of people who’ve grown up in cities so much; you may love a building, but I don’t think that you can love it in the way that you love a tree or a river or the colour of the earth; it’s a different kind of love.

Arundhati Roy

But the river bed never looks the same. A trick of the light, the clouds scattered differently, the moonlight, the houses along the banks, and the creatures therein. There is constant change and yet, a constancy in its charm.

This trail near the new nest has become my own version of The Wind in the Willows. I stroll by there, sometimes yearning for the peek at the crane, or the heron, on other days just to catch a glimpse of the deer. Most days I go expecting nothing but come back fulfilled all the same. Some little thing has always worked its magic, and I come back refreshed.

Swimming Across The Media River

One week-end evening, the devices in the house were barking mad. Twing, twang, tring. Video calls, phone calls, instant messaging systems were all driving themselves to a tizzy. Far away, far, far away, 5000 miles away a temple bell was clanging.

I yearned for some quiet and asked if anyone cared on joining me for a walk in the cool Spring evening. Everyone sprang out of my sight like a cat let loose in a party of rats. The husband was trying to yelp his way out of a walk when the first free WhatsApp call came. He ran to pick up the phone with a sense of urgency, and secret relief that he did not have to go a-walking with me, but narrowly missed the call. I made for the open skies while he dialed back. 

The walk was a beautiful one. I admired squirrels chittering, birds twittering, even the raucous cackle of the geese seemed musical. I have, in my chronicles expressed an interest in finding out about animal communication. Misguided. It is better if we don’t know. This way, I could let the noise wash over me, and assume best intentions on their part. The breeze gently tousled my hair, and the setting sun threw brilliant hues across the scattered clouds.

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I stepped in to the home after some time, and saw the husband looking drawn and crumpled, like wet cloth tumbled about in a dryer.

Is everything alright? I asked him a little worried.

Yes! Yes! he said, and proceeded to tell me the thrilling tale of the past 1/2 hour. The saga clanged its way across temple towers, cell phone towers, underground cable networks, and busy human ones. Leaping from a small rural temple town in South India, a couple of metropolitan cities, and continents, with data bits coursing through half the earth, it read like the glossy blurb of these bestselling novels steeped in drama and suspense. 

I was intrigued, and gave the sympathetic ear at once.

The first phone call had been from his mother in India. She lives in Madras. WhatsApp calls are free, and people are free, so I will just give the gist. 

Mother in Madras: Can you call your cousin in New Jersey, and ask him for his sister’s number in India?

Husband in California: Why? 

M in M: His sister is here in India visiting no? 

Wait! I see even gists could take a while, alright let’s try this then:

Premise: Husband’s cousin visiting India for a few weeks.

Plot: Said cousin and her mother, viz, husband’s aunt, went to a small temple town in South India.  There, they planned to meet up with husband’s uncle, and go into the temple together.  

Plot Twist: Uncle tried to call Aunt, but she had put the phone in her handbag and did not hear it ring because someone was twanging the infernal temple bell with great righteousness.

Cliff hanger: Will they ever meet? The temple town had all of 3 streets culminating at the temple after all.

That is it. The entire plot. 

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How does that leap across metrops, continents and coasts, you ask? Fair question. 

As I see it, the itch to go temples stems from mankind’s search for spirituality. Learn to calm the inner anxieties and voices and so on. On this spiritual quest, when one does not meet the intended person in the first 32.5 seconds, the mind flutters and they place an immediate call to their sister in Madras. She then calms her brother saying there is no need to worry, and immediately places a phone call to the husband in California. 

Why husband in California? 

Repeat after me: Aunt visiting temple with d. Plot thickens when Aunt does not pick her phone. But the visiting cousin has a phone for use in India. Stroke of brilliance indicates that her brother preparing for bed in New Jersey will have his sister’s number. Call husband in CA *Tring* to call girl’s brother *Tring* to find out temp cell phone number in India. 

Husband misses call narrowly *Tring*. 

Husband calls mother again *Tring* as soon as possible, but mother’s phone is busy for she has called *Tring* her second son in New Delhi to call his cousin *Tring* in New Jersey and get the phone number. 

After several nerve wracking minutes, both folks call the poor fellow in New Jersey *Tring Tring*. The fellow moans sleepily that he has already fielded five free calls from various parts of the globe asking the same thing and there is no need for any of this, since they seem to have found each other. 

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Then a next set of phone calls were completed for the express purpose of letting everyone know that the concerned parties had met each other, and all was well. In all, I guess about 23 different calls were made. If one party had stood still for 5 minutes, the other party would have simply fluttered into them in the breeze. 

Though tactless, I laughed heartily. The husband looked like a spent force after dealing with this hurricane of calls. He eyed me, and said somewhat icily, “Let’s talk about something else, shan’t we?”

“Do you know how trees, and wild boars communicate to each other?” I asked the husband grinning. 

“Tell me”, he said, and we spent the rest of the walk discussing acacia trees, giraffes, wild boars and hunting laws in Geneva. (Inner Life of Animals, The Hidden Life of Trees – Peter Wohlleben)

“Did you know the wild boars are so smart, they have figured out that the Geneva side of the river has a hunting ban, and the France side doesn’t? So when the first gunshot rings out in France, all the boars scramble, splash into the river and swim to the other side of the river. I suppose they poke their tongues out at the hunters on the other side!” I said.

“Is there someplace that has a free-calling ban, so we can swim across the media river when the first phone calls start?” moaned the fellow, and I patted his hand in commiseration, wisely refraining from telling him that all of this could have been avoided if he had just come out on the walk with me leaving all modes of communication behind.