🐓 🦆 🦢 Akua Manu 🐓 🦆🦢

Almost as soon as one lands win the quaint island of Kauai, the unmistakable feeling of rural bliss welcomes you with the rooster crowing. As one fellow traveler put it, the roosters of Hawaii are like squirrels everywhere else. They are everywhere, and probably contribute to the seeding and flowering of the habitats near them in myriad ways. 

They ducked and weaved through the airport traffic, just as surely as they waddled into the fragrant plumeria flowers flitting down from the trees above.

The roosters there sure have a comical element to them. Moana’s Hei-Hei could have been a real life characterization of any of these birds.

heart-moana.gif
Hei-Hei of Moana Fame

The children sat inside the car cackling and laughing as I ran out into the parking lot ahead of me to shoo the birds away as the languid car trundled into its spot in the parking lots. Sound effects included: baaackk—buck-buck-buck….shoo-shoo-duck-duck-goose, nene-nene-nene with an inspiring arm flailing and running after the birds. 

“Just one video of this ma! “ said the teenage daughter and niece to many enthusiastic nods from their little brother. I joined them in the laughter but refused to star in a video like this. One has one limits – even if it is to entertain our fellow human beings.

“I love birds too much and these birds seem to be so – I don’t know, bird-brained! Huh! Is that where the term comes from? Makes sense. These birds seem to think the roads belong to them and they sit there – pecking at whatever it is on the roads!” I said.

Just as engaging as the roosters are the red breasted cardinals, the nene (geese), cattle egrets, starlings, mockingbirds, plovers, sandpipers near the beaches , and the marvelously inspiring long-tailed tropicbirds. 

Standing atop the viewpoints of the Waimea Canyon in Hawaii, the long tailed tropic birds gained our attention and admiration. Gracefully traversing the yawning canyon below them in swift smooth flights, these birds seem to fly in and out of rainbows 🌈 . If that isn’t magical I don’t know what is. 

It is no wonder that Hawaiian folktales are so rich with their imagery of birds and ocean animals.  

Every morning, as the sunlight crept in through the clouds, and ushered in another surreal day in the magical islands, The Hawaiian state birds, Nene as the geese there are called, did  their bit and squawked their way into our consciousness as well. 

Some nights I would wander outside to stand under the stars when I’d notice groups of nene sleeping under the stars. ✨ Seeing them under the stars like that made me slightly envious I must admit.

Whether it was the beautiful darting and elusive ‘i’iwi (hummingbird -like creatures that are endangered) or the common roosters, starlings, egrets, cardinals, and nene, the birds (Manu) of Kauai have a divinity (a certain Akua) about them that make you want to soar in spirits with them. 

One morning I caught the daughter sounding very much like me and chastising her little brother who was watching Marvel on the television. “You come to Kauai and watch these super-hero fellows again – no! Nuh-uh! Out!”

“But there is nothing now – just eating breakfast and watching TV!” came the wounded reply from the budding naturalist. But his sister was firm and switched off the television.

The fellow came into the kitchen, and I shushed him, for out on the verandah was a small, and elegantly regal-looking red-breasted cardinal. We watched the bird in awe for several minutes before our spell was broken, and we sighed contentedly and went about the day.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_birds_of_Hawaii

If naturalists go to heaven (about which there is considerable ecclesiastical doubt), I hope that I will be furnished with a troop of kakapo to amuse me in the evening instead of television.

Gerald Durell

🌺 🌹 🌸 Leilani Pua 🌺 🌹 🌸

Almost as soon as one lands in the quaint island of Kauai, in the Hawaiian islands, the unmistakable feeling of rural bliss welcomes you with the rooster crowing and the colors of the flora.

Within hours of being in the island, the phone yearned for some plumeria pictures and before we knew it, there were hundreds of pictures of plumerias, hibiscus and so many plants whose name we knew not, but contributed to the vibrant colors of the Hawaiian islands.

Really! How marvelous flowers are.

“Who was that poet who said something about ‘infinity in a flower’, or ‘universe in a grain of sand’ or something? I think he hit it spot on.” I said burying my beak into a fragrant multi-colored frangipani blossom and sniffing rapturously. 

A flower elegantly floated down from the tree above into the grass below and I ran to catch it with open arms. I proposed to adorn my hair with the beautiful blossoms. The children wondered whether to clip this behavior or indulge it when I picked up a blossom from the verdant green grasses below and gave it to the children. The perfect symmetry of the flowers won their hearts instantly, and they gave into my whimsy, with a smart quip instead.

‘The grain of sand is probably parrotfish poop, but whatever!’ 

How does sand form?

As I looked into the photos of the particularly alluring flora of the fertile land, I fell in love with the flowers themselves as much with their names. I am not one for classifying and categorizing everything to within an inch of their existence. But even I couldn’t resist the poetic beauty of being classified as a Nymphaea Capensis (Egyptian water lotuses in brilliant colors) or Heliconia Bahai (false birds of paradise) 

On hikes through the rain-forest like surroundings, the canopy above invited one to look up, but every now and then some beautiful wild orchids would attract the attention. A slender piece of purple or pink vibrance holding its own in a lush forest of greens, just as surely as the Moa (roosters) held their own on tricky rocky beaches, rainforests and parking lots alike.

Painter’s Palette, Laceleaf, bamboo orchids, purple wild orchids (spathoglottis plicata), milkworts, pink and purple colored thistles, crepe ginger, red frangipani, lance leaved coreopsis, Cooktown orchids, shell gingers, Egyptian lotuses (nymphaea capensis or pygmy water lilies) , birds of paradise (heliconia bahai – the red ones or the false birds of paradise) 

Pua means flowers in Hawaiian 

Leilani denotes heavenly flowers

The most beautiful surprise was the clumps of touch-me-nots (Mimosa Pudica) everywhere. All those warm afternoons of playing with these marvelous plants in the countryside in the Nilgiris as children came flooding back.

The son, who spent a whole hike through a mahogany forest endearingly called The Enchanted Forest, playing with the touch-me-nots said with a contented look on his face. “I think touch-me-nots are my favorite plants!”

I agree with him. They have learnt to adapt and interpret the steady trickle of rain doesn’t need them to close up their leaves, but other external stimuli warrant that. How marvelous?

If ever one needs to be intensely aware of all the things that need to co-exist for a beautiful ecosystem, a well preserved island would do the trick. Being there amidst nature’s bounties only reminds me of Mary Oliver’s quote on attention being our only task.

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

Mary Oliver

Our quaint cosmic neighborhood!

Everywhere on social media and news platforms were images from the James Webb telescope magnifying in glorious detail sections of the universe billions of light years away. The universe has enlightened us all and reminded us of our humble place in it once again. In the midst of all this chaos, and enormous gas clouds is a tiny planet where our particular kind of life evolved capable of acquiring these images. 

If, along with these images, and the equally glorious full moon, one has not caught a whiff of shoshin, I urge you all to do so. I also have the resident astronomer of the house on summer vacation, so I am constantly being given statistics along with the images. 

It is fortune indeed to, purely by chance, be immersed in starlight myself even in the reading world.

The beautiful images in the children’s book: The Stuff of Stars – Illustrated by Ekua Holmes, Written by : Marion Dane Bauer 

The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer Illustrated by Ekua Holmes

I just finished reading Bewilderment by Richard Powers last week. Bewilderment: the book and the feeling

I am now reading Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir.

After a walk under the stars, our corner of the universe seems sanguine – the countryside of the cosmic arena. In our suburban areas, not too many stars are visible, and the gas clouds in the James Webb photographs seem surreal. The universe is a happening place – stars and galaxies being born every day, yet the rise of our faithful moon glowing rose-gold in the early evening makes for a satisfying adventure enough in the cosmos. 

“The laws that govern the light from a firefly in my backyard as I write these words tonight also govern the light emitted from an exploding star one billion light-years away. Place changes nothing. Nor does time. One set of fixed rules runs the game, in all times and places. That’s as big a truth as we Earthlings have discovered, or ever will, in our brief run.” 

Richard Powers, Bewilderment

With images such as these, we are perhaps closer than ever to finding another planet that is capable of harboring earth-like lifeforms. 

But till then, Carl Sagan’s words hold true:

Frog & Toad Would Be Proud!

The husband in a fit of enthusiasm started a vegetable patch. When the h starts a project, he goes at it with all the usual enthusiasm. Which is to say that he was coming home every other day with a different piece of equipment – a fascinating looking thing called a trellis, spades, a garden patch, large bags of compostable soil. 

As much as I moaned about the necessary and unnecessary things in our midst, I was impressed with the work the man was putting in. He had the look of a man with a mission toiling to accomplish his vision.

Within days, the man had created a veritable garden patch. Enthusiastic and proactive actions such as these lead to unexpected outcomes. Soon, the local library’s solarium seed packets made their way to the patch, visiting aunts and uncles, neighbors and friends who are far better at gardening than us, added their bit to the seeds, and gloriously, the vegetable garden grew.

For the next few mornings and evenings, I would take my tea over to see if the plants had grown. Feeling a bit like Frog & Toad, I walked up and down several times and poking the ground (Arnold Lobel writes of hilariously identifiable situations with Frog & Toad as his protagonists) In one story, Frog gives Toad some seeds to start a garden:

“Here are some flower seeds. Plant them in the ground. “ said Frog, “and soon you will have a garden.”

“How soon?”, said Toad.

“Quite soon.”, said Frog.

He planted the flower seeds.

“Now seeds”, said Toad, “start growing.”

Toad walked up and down a few times.

The seeds did not start to grow.

Arnold Lobel, Frog & Toad

I wondered whether a spot of singing would help and all that. (there is research that suggests that music helps the plants) 🌱 🪴

I must’ve discussed the possibility in earshot of the plants, for I felt the earth shudder and the underground networks that these plants seem to have buzzed with coming disaster, and the very next day, they started to grow and flourish in the patch. 

Once the shoots peeped into the ground above, two things happened. They benefitted from the hot Californian sun and the nurturing of the mother who is here a-visiting. She would fuss over the patch, spray tea leaves, crush dried vegetable droppings to the soil, and water the plants regularly twice a day when the plants were young.

The patch attracted butterflies and and the creepers looked for ways in which to latch onto the trees nearby and take root. 

The vegetable patch is a daily joy – we had the first cucumber from the creepers today, and I must say: the raita (cucumber + yogurt) was tastier than anything I have eaten before. The vision and initial spade work was the husband’s, the mother’s was the subsequent tendering and nurturing of the patch. 

I clapped the husband and mother on their backs in a congratulatory note. That cucumber was a marvel. Something that was produced by the hardworking plants on Planet Earth. 

“People don’t know to make a leaf, but they know how to destroy one.” 
― Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

Oh! How easily we go to the store and rip out one of those plastic bags and pay for the produce? It makes us appreciate all the agriculturists, farmers, and gardeners in our midst. 

“It takes a long time to turn into what you’re supposed to be.” 
― Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

Bewilderment – The book and the feeling

A friend of mine teased me lovingly and perfectly validly that every time she looks at the stars she thinks of me looking up and wondering about the various kinds of worlds out there, the vastness of it, the beauty and grandeur.  “You will become a star one day.” , she said, and we laughed. 

I would love to become like Oogway the Turtle master who, when the time came became one with the stars. That picturization is brilliant and so poignant. 

Oogway becoming one with the stars

It is true – after a long day, when most earthly duties of the day are done, I take myself off to ponder at the stars – the distant worlds and the beauty of sentience to appreciate the vastness of our presence in this universe. Truly, one of the biggest leaps of humankind is to have found our humble place in the cosmos – the worlds do not revolve around us, the gods were not thinking of us and our fates during the grand creation. We just are, and while here, we can make the best of it. 

Photo by Mohan Reddy Atalu on Pexels.com

The more we discover earth-like planets, the more we realize that our planet is probably the only home we have for at least 10 (possibly much higher) light years in every direction. It should be a moment of awakening then for us to look after our one home. 

Life on Earth

Space.com – Earth like planets

Obviously, I was thrilled to read the book Bewilderment by Richard Powers. He writes about a dedicated, loving father who is raising his neuro-divergent son as a single father. He is also an astrobiologist whose job it is to model the worlds found depending on their atmospheric possibilities and constitution to simulate the kinds of life possible. (Even on Earth, the extremophiles found in sulphur vents deep inside the ocean were a revelation. If that was possible, what else and how many kinds of life were possible? )  The unique nature of their relationship, the steadfast and somewhat refreshing outlook of the possibilities of life outside Earth make for a fabulous read. A dip into the stars and beyond while being earth-bound. 

Bewilderment – By Richard Powers

For those of you who wish to read the possibilities of worlds and the ability to dream past our current home and circumstances, I shall not spoil the end (but I wish it had not ended the way it did) .

Richard Powers is quickly becoming one of my favorite Science and nature based authors.

Snippet :

One night in mid-August, he asked for a planet before bed. I gave him the planet Chromat. It had nine moons and two suns, one small and red, the other large and blue. That made for three kinds of day of different lengths, four kinds of sunset and sunrise, scores of different eclipses, and countless flavors of disk and night,. Dust in the atmosphere turned the two kinds of sunlight into swirling watercolors. The languages of that world had as many as two hundred words for sadness and three hundred for joy, depending on the latitude and hemisphere.

He was thoughtful, at the story’s end. He lay back on his pillow, hands clasped behind his head, looking up at the idea of Chromat on his bedroom ceiling.

Bewilderment – Richard Powers

The book has rekindled the wonder of the universe, and the wondrous ponderings associated with them. How can one be bored by our narrow lives when the cosmos offers itself as a venue to ponder and more importantly, get a perspective on.

Birdwatching & Biomimicry

The bike ride was a long one on a hot summer’s day. The sun was rising steadily and though it hadn’t reached its blazing glory across the Californian coasts, it was promising in its ascent. Even within the first 5 miles, we could feel the temperatures rise enough for us to be grateful for the mild breezes continuing to fan the body as we pumped through the trail. 

A little while later, we stopped for a quick peek at the pelicans lazing in the waters nearby. As the hot day wore on, our spirits only grew. All around us were the spritely images of life – birds swooped and flew in the mild breeze. As we stopped to see the pelicans lazing about in a patch of freshwater, a fellow biker and nature enthusiast stopped to share the calm of the pelicans with us. He asked the son whether he’d seen them fishing together like ballerinas. The son flashed a smile at me – a fellow nature lover using the same words to describe the pelicans?

The man told us how to identify harriers, hawks and bald eagles, and we biked on looking for the regulars as well for the new species he had told us about.

Right enough, in just a few miles, we spotted a harrier taking rest on a rock before scouring the fields for prey. There is something joyous in being to able to identify a newly learnt about species even if the species has existed far longer than we may have.

Harrier resting

But the ones that truly mesmerized us were the avocets. The avocets are a joy to behold on a hot day. They fly to a reasonable height, take a second to stabilize and then swoop down into the water below for a quick dip and fly out again. The smoothness of the breaking of the surface tension between the mediums is so flawlessly done. Their sharp beaks assisting them and reminding me of the little tidbit I had read in the book, Biomimicry by Jane Benyus. 

TED Talks by Janine Benyus on Biomimicry

Apparently, sonic boom was a big problem for the fast trains in Japan. The sonic booms were felt as far as a few hundred meters away as the trains emerged from the tunnels, and obviously this was a genuine problem that risked the success of the entire operation.

One of the engineers on the team, on his vacation, sat by the waterside watching a kingfisher swoop into the water and swoop out again with a smoothness of movement that inspired the engineer. How come the little bird was able to transition between mediums as different as water and air so sleekly? That is when the design of the sharp beak stood out. Eons of evolution may have shaped the beak in that particular long shape for a reason. The engineer went on to shape the train’s beak, and solved the problem for the fastest train of the day. 

The more our world functions like the natural world, the more likely we are to endure on this home that is ours, but not ours alone.

Janine Benyus

As the son & I stood there on the bay watching the avocets dive in and out, I told him that the collective noun for these lovely birds is an orchestra, and he beamed, and approved of the name. Their trilling, swooping, and pirouetting were apt.

Watching the little avocets on a hot day was a lovely little reminder of the designs of nature and its many wondrous ways. Not every saunter into nature is bound to solve a problem wracking humankind, but they very well might. 

Dancing Hippos of Loango

The summer solstice was unusually hot this time of the year. 

I was just back from the pool. The children looked at me approvingly as I hummed through the early evening light making dosas for dinner. “Amma is like one of those partying surfing hippos of Loango isn’t it?” said the children, and I beamed.

“Those hippos are so cool – riding the coastline, swimming so well – I want to be able to swim like them. I mean, I sputter and bumble in the pool. Imagine if I could swim like the happy hippos of Loango?” I sang and danced a little hippo jig. 

The children exchanged glances and burst out laughing. “You know? Some moms would be offended if they are called the surfing hippos of Loango. “ 

“Well, I am honored.” said I truthfully. “Fascinating creatures hippos. Do y’all remember the hippo handbag I had? Drew admiring glances a few times that one.”

“Yeah – also pitiful ones ma. That one was falling apart – we know, actually the whole world knew, you liked the hippo handbag.” Said the older eye-roll and the younger eye roll in unison.

I laughed. “By the way, did you also know that Taweret – the greek goddess of childbirth was a hippo?” Said the mythology experts in the house, and I glanced up from my dosas with wonder and curiosity. 

Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taweret

Taweret , a goddess depicted as a pregnant hippopotamus standing upright.

Mankind has for ages gleaned its inspirations from the animal world. All the more reason for us to protect the diversity of life and the planet that nurtures them all. 

Ever since we saw the first episode on National Parks narrated by Barack Obama, we all fell in love with the surfing hippos of Loango, the flying sifakas of Madagascar, the camouflaging coolness of the sleepy sloths that have the potential to cure cancer and so much more.

Watching programs featuring the wild in the National Geographic or the National Parks series make me glad that I am alive in today’s day and age. The camera angles, the kind of cinematography, the explosion of knowledge and sharing, the entertainment options and standards, technology everything is instrumental in a wildlife show. Where previously, we had to rely on the mental imagery through words such as Gerald Durrell’s, now we have the ability to see the guanacos act of survival in the Patagonian landscapes right along side the sluggish sea lions on the Californian coast. If that isn’t lucky, I don’t what is.

I have tried capturing a butterfly with my phone several times, and I must confess this simple act is all it takes for me to gain a sense of awe with the captures of these wildlife photographers and documentary producers. 

Is this Pearl a Gem?

The daughter was looking for pearls to go with her dress. I moaned. Jewelry was not my specialty. Pearl jewelry even less so.  I remember, decades ago, going to one of those famed pearl stores in San Francisco and being completely bewildered by the array that met me. I told the husband quite honestly that I had no idea what I had bought and whether they were worth it, but I liked how they looked and that ought to do. Things had not changed much on the pearl front in the intervening decades.

So, off I went looking for pearls in the best place I knew. Not the oceans to hobnob with oysters and occasional mollusks to see how they were doing with the irritants of the sand against their skin and all that, but to that one place you go to check to buy anything from ‘bear goggles for toddler swimmers’ to ‘jellyfish tees for teens’: Amazon.

It was while deciding between a $20 piece and a $50 piece that I threw my hands up in the air. The pictures looked amazing. My keen, discerning eye that had helped me spot a heron in the riverbed before anyone else could, could make out no difference between the $20 ones and the $50 pearls. Scratch any of those observations you have seen me make on the birds nearby. With pearls, I was an oyster chasing a duck.

A little rabbit hole related reading later, I emerged with this tidbit: freshwater pearls require our oyster friends to make the pearls after they are injected with an irritant, while artificial ones could be coated with oil-pearl like substances to get the sheen you need. 

With that, I was content and bought something that she wore gleefully. It was $20 well spent. I asked her if her friends thought they were $2000, and she gave me a throaty gargle. “No ma! They know me, and they know you and jewelry too! But they said it looked nice!”

The Smithsonian on how pearls are made – in case you are interested

Imagine my surprise then when I decided to get a spot of light reading in and picked up the book, Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit by P G Wodehouse, I learnt more about these gems. Jeeves, the narrator Bertie’s valet, that trusted man whose intellect shaped his head, taught me about endoscopes and how to determine real pearls from the ones I’d bought on Amazon a few days ago.

Usually, it is risky business to hinge a whole novel on one concept viz knowing how to tell a real pearl from a dud. But P G Wodehouse, that master of the sublime, pirouetted a whole novel around this knowledge. Starting slowly like an oyster does when it’s making its pearls, the novel meanders and swishes with the ocean water, slowly grating and building the pearl.

‘The genuine pearl has no core.’ says Jeeves and then goes on to enlighten his master, Bertie Wooster.

“Core sir. In its interior, the cultured pearl has a core….Nature’s own irritant is invariably so small as to be invisible, but the core in the cultured imitation can be discerned as a simple rule by holding the object before a strong light. This is what I did with Mrs Travers necklace. I had no need for an endoscope.”

The endoscope, is also something doctors (not just endocrinologists) use to plumb your systems and to get a good view. An endoscope is an instrument that can also be used to “peer into the cultured pearl’s interior to discern the core.”

Jeeves, being Jeeves, never leaves us with just this information, but goes on to give us something about the Moh’s scale of hardness that can be used to determine a true diamond. 

After reading that piece, I chuckled to myself. When next I wear my pearls, I intend to keep away from bright lights and endoscopes and all should be well. 

Life’s Determinants

“It’s Summer! It’s Summer!” Olaf and Anna were singing and prancing downstairs. I mock-scowled at the duo having summer fun while I dialed into my meetings dutifully. But I was happy to see them finally get some down time after school and grateful that some of their summer euphoria could rub off on me.

I peered outside wearing my owlish glasses and was treated to a beautiful painted lady spreading joy. Flitting here and flitting there.

Painted Lady

A mild breeze rippled through the tree, and I decided enough was enough. A walk would be what the doctor ordered. So, I hollered to the Olaf in the house to come with me on a little stroll. I reached for my sunglasses and instantly, the sun dappled streets of our little suburb took on a magical hue.

Off we went: me trying to look at flitting butterflies and rippling trees; Olaf – fighting imaginary wars and swishing every now and then. 

After a while, I asked him whether he had stopped to think of the stripes on the striped lady butterfly and he gave me a quizzical look – “What? I am fighting some intergalactic wars Amma! Don’t have time to look at butterflies!”

Every now and then, he stopped to explain the action sequence in his head (you know to make me feel included!) So my walk was now accompanied by the strangest commentary:

“I am now imagining the fight but how the electrons would be affected in the atoms inside the fight. The energy transfer and everything else.” and so on.

He went back to his musings and I to mine. If his musings were at the atomic level, mine were at the cellular scale of life. I remember reading about Alan Turing’s work on the mathematical models used to determine patterns in living creatures such as spots on leopards, stripes on butterflies and the like in the book, What is Life – by Paul Nurse

So, that is what we spoke about as we swished our way back home. I asked him if he knew Alan Turing. He mentioned a video in which he had been mentioned. So, there were talking of Alan Turing and his inspired work in the fields of Math and Computing.

Life as Information – What is Life – By Paul Nurse

“This was a set of problems that Alan Turing – he of Enigma code-cracking fame and one of the founders of modern computing- turned to during the early 1950s. He came up with an alternative, and imaginative, suggestion for how embryos generate spatial information from within.  He devised a set of mathematical equations that predicted the behavior of chemical substances interacting with each other, and so undergoing specific chemical reactions as they diffuse through a structure. Unexpectedly, his equations, which he called reaction-diffusion models, could arrange chemical substances into elaborate and often rather beautiful spatial patterns,.By tweaking the parameters of his equations, the two substances could organize themselves into evenly spaced spots, stripes or blotches, for example. …Turing died before his theoretical ideas could be tested in real embryos, but developmental biologists now believe that this could be the mechanism that puts spots on cheetahs backs and stripes on many fish; distributes the hair follicles on your head; and even divides each of the developing human baby hands into 5 distinct fingers.”

What is Life, By Paul Nurse

By the time we flitted back into the house, we had a proper awe of stripes and patterns that hitherto would have been less than wondrous but beautiful all the same.

I was reminded of Richard Feynman’s Ode to the Flower, and the renewed wonder in knowing the intricacies of nature. Every dot and stripe will now be a source of wonder and awe at the brain that sought to model and predict it.

Ode to a Flower – By Richard Feynman. This brain pickings article links to the beautiful animated video made by Fraser Davidson based on his ode to a flower.

The Oceans As Soul Refreshers

Explorers arriving at the nourishncherish home would have found the chronicler walking around with one book more often than others, Chasing Science at Sea – Racing Hurricanes, Stalking Sharks, and Living Undersea with Ocean Experts by Ellen Prager.

You see, I wanted to finish reading the book before World Environment Day World Oceans Day on June 5th. Then, I thought I will somehow make it to World Oceans Day on June 8th. Now both days have come and gone, many marvelous meals have been tucked into, many laughs shared with friends and family, many meetings sat through, many hikes and bikes to appreciate the world around us, but the book is still in my hand.

The book is engaging at a fundamental level – a subject and set of anecdotes so absorbing and amusing that despite all the demands on my time, I do not want to set it down unfinished. Every time I have gone to the edge of the land overlooking the waters, the lure of understanding the world is beyond me. How would it be if we had evolved under water instead of on land. How would our technologies have taken shape? Then, there is a gratitude that we are land dwellers and 3/4ths of the Earth is uninhabitable by us.

The pressure of living under the sea must be enormous and I wonder about how the various creatures of the sea manage. A friend of mine had taken a picture of a chips bag at high altitude. Imagine that bag 10,000 feet under the ocean. Apparently, every 33 feet the pressure increases by another atmosphere. With what ease these dolphins and whales navigate the pressure differences as they come up to gulp air and go back into the depths of the oceans?

One evening I stood watching the magnificent waxing gibbous moon over the bay waters one one side, and the setting sun on the opposite side. I remember reading that the creatures of the ocean have their own lunar cycles to follow. The little turtles that come ashore on full moon nights to lay their eggs, the fish orienting themselves by the direction of the stars, the birds using their innate gifts of navigation to traverse the Earth on there impressive migratory journeys – everything ebbed and flowed into the mind’s eye much as the gentle waves lapping nearby.

“To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist, is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.” –

Rachel Carson

There were pelicans bobbing elegantly in a uniform motion a distance away, seagulls, avocets and blackbirds flying energetically, while the herons stood stoic as ever apparently gazing at the moon and waiting for the fish in the waters below.

The edge of the sea

How must it be to live under the sea? How I wished to be a little mermaid just then to glimpse into the ocean worlds? Imagine my surprise when I sat with the Chasing Science at Sea book that evening to read about Aquarius – the under sea research station that allows marine biologists and oceanographers to research the oceans. They spend hours at these deep pressure stations after which they need to be carefully acclimatized to the surface atmosphere before returning to the surface. While inside Aquarius, they can stay for as long as their mission takes, but:

At the end of a mission, aquanauts undergo a 17-hour decompression that is conducted within Aquarius itself, while on the bottom. At the end of decompression, aquanauts exit Aquarius and scuba-dive back to the surface.

NASA site on Aquarius

The truth is that the oceans are still an enigma. Despite underwater diving equipment, the ability to scuba dive, submarines, and remote access vehicles, the oceans are vast, and full of an alluring mystery. 

A few years ago, I read a book on marine farming and was enthralled at the possibilities of seaweed farming and kelp forests, but not a little afraid as we start taming the seas. We have not shown ourselves to be good custodians of the lands and the atmosphere.

Kelp Forest – Monterey Bay Aquarium

As I determinedly read about the adventures or the scientists, a strange calm engulfed the soul. Water and water-related imagery often does this. I slipped into bed with beautiful thoughts of the oceans and how little we really think of them in our day-to-day problems. What amazing soul refreshers the waters are?

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