Roving on Planets

Standing outside by the curbside of our home one night, my eyes were drawn to the beautifully illumined Sirius shining bright in the night sky. Sirius has been looking brighter than usual in the winter skies, and I have often stared at the blinking star wondering what was happening that far away in the Universe.  Every dot in the night sky suggesting a universe of possibilities. The space between dots showing the emptiness, the dots themselves, bright and important only because of the surrounding darkness

Almost subconsciously, my eyes moved over to the red spot Mars. For here, in our own solar neighborhood, we know that something is happening. Something of human interest, and intent. To think that on that distant reddish spot in the sky, 3 generations of rovers have spent the time taking photographs and trying to determine the existence of life on the planet, is surreal. Not to mention the fact that they have been able to transmit the pictures back to Earth for analysis. 

Screen Shot 2021-02-21 at 2.46.02 PM

The planet has long beckoned us with its allure. All those Science Fiction writers, who used the planet as the home for their fertile imagination, paved the way for these missions. 

Fiction on Mars isn’t new. In fact, the red planet invited writers as early as mid-1800’s to set their stories there. Long before knowing anything about the sounds on Mars, the temperatures, or the atmospheres; worlds were set in it. War of the Worlds had the strangest creatures that human imagination could think of (cephalopod like creatures), who could overpower humans. (This quest for dominance vs courteous co-existence is a pet peeve – why must we turn everything into a conquest? But then, do ants wonder the same about us?) 

martian-ray

Throughout the week, the little cosmologist in the house interspersed our Earthly life with Mars-ly anecdotes and clips. 

Do you know? If we want to live on Mars, we have to have high metal barrier suits. If you go out on an adventure without a suit, there is so much radiation that it could kill you. “ (He had read a novel set in Mars)

Wonder what happened to all water on Mars. The video said there really was water there.” (He has been watching the NASA  videos with interest)

One evening, we sat together huddled up, watching pictures stitched together from the 3 Mars rovers: Opportunity, Curiosity, Perseverance. Barren desert landscapes, not unlike those in the Sahara desert or the Arizonian deserts, are all the rovers could see. In some shots, the commentator says the NASA team stitched thousands of individual images together to gain a clearer view. In some pictures, a blue sky is visible  (the commentator says that NASA colored the skies blue, so as to be able to see the images better, and I thought about how pretty blue skies are and how blue is a very rare color in nature. )

Curiosity and Perseverance will help us find answers. Till then, we have the opportunity to ponder and puzzle about these things. More than any of these curious wanderings, the one thing that the Martian landscape reinforces to me, is that our Earth is a beautiful planet – so vast in its diversity, and lifeforms. The Martian pictures make me want to go out and sigh and fall in love, look after, and cherish the one planet we can thrive on. To admire the miracle that is every tree, every lake, every cloud, every blade of grass, and every flower. 

summer-collage

Not to mention the great miracle of life in the form of marine creatures, land based creatures and those that are able to aerially survey our beautiful planet. 

img_1168-collage

If Martian 4K resolution images have taught me anything, it is to buckle down and look after the one planet we do have. If I am to be roving on planets, why not this beautiful one that has so much to offer?

“I walk in the world to love it.” – Mary Oliver

Soonish

“How do you think the water on Titan is? “

I must’ve responded with a quizzical look, for the son responded with a “Saturn’s moon!” 

http://Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=610237

“Oh!” 

His interest in all things Space-Cosmos has me unnerved sometimes. He catches me when I am zap in the middle of the myriad things that keep me busy and unproductive, and like a zing of fresh air, sends a question like this to remind me that life does not always have to be stern.

As I thought up a response to another ping at work, I found myself wondering what ammonia-esque water must be like. The temperatures must be more frigid – sure, but beyond that the imagination sort of teeters. Would there be  fish in the seas on Titan? Would their eyesight have evolved so differently because of the low amounts of sunlight, and all this, only if we assume life has evolved on Titan. 

We did not evolve into cyclops like one-eyed creatures. Two eyes lends perspective to our vision and construct the world around us differently than a person with only 1 eye would. What if we had evolved with one eye on top of our head – always upward looking? And another set under our feet? I wonder how we would have shaped our world if we had managed to evolve like octopii with neurons everywhere not just in our brains. 

Over lunch today, discussion moved to contact lenses. With changes in contact lens technology, the disposable ones are in use now. Calculations were being made as to how many days of lenses were left, and I picked up the thread of the third eye and the octopus-like eyes-and -brains-in-limbs theory.

The son immediately calculated the number of the contact lenses we would have required for 3, 4 & 5 eye scenarios, while the daughter moved to the more practical problems

“Yes – imagine – looking upwards all the time, and see bird poop flying towards your upper eye and not having time to close it. Aaah!” That child can take the magic of star dust and turn it into duck-poop!

Another time, there I was thinking along simple lines such as ‘These flowers have faded so much in the summer heat”, or “These poor little squirrels in the heat wave – should we leave some water outside for them?” when the son in his attempt to make conversation pulled me straight out of this solar system altogether with “Did you know Proxima Centauri can pull comets towards it from the original Kuiper belt?”

https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/news/792/10-things-to-know-about-the-kuiper-belt/

Keeping up with a child’s curiosity is difficult enough as an adult. Yet, I look forward to these little chats with the budding futurologist, for they make me think outside of the what-needs-to-be-done to the more creatively beckoning what-can-be-done mode of thinking.

One evening, on a little stroll by the waters, the fellow asked me what I thought would be the 5 most interesting things in the future. I love it when I have to think through his questions like this. I had him go first so I could get my thoughts into some sort of order.

He started off with the space elevator, and then a sky hook, moved on to some solid asteroid mining, and then conservation of energy. He is increasingly fond of the channel Kurzgesagt 

Their you-tube channel has a number of philosophical, scientific concepts. The videos are only a few minutes long and are done in a highly simplistic style, yet enough to give one the overall picture. 

Luckily, for me, I had picked up this book, Soonish by Kelly & Zach Weinersmith

Thanks to the book, I could hold up my end of the conversation. The book is written in a funny and engaging manner. Starting with space technologies and asteroid mining; the book moves on to robotics, augmented realities; and the future of personalized medicine and synthetic biology.

People who have the joy of gaining fresh perspectives from the forward looking spirit of youth are lucky indeed.

May we always retain the inner child in us – The wonder of Shoshin.

The Kaleidoscope of Life on Earth 🌏

“Hmm…how Covid has changed things right Amma?” said the daughter when I walked into her room one day, and spotted ‘Greece’ sprawled across the whiteboard. She has been spending her summer making minor changes to the decorations in her room. As most teens do, she has a fond attraction to her room, and one day I found her looking at the pictures she had printed out to make a sort of picture collage. Her teenage eye-roll and monosyllabic answers fell away as soon as I showed an interest in the choice of pictures she had laid out on the floor arranging and rearranging them to see the best patterns.

How do you see the best patterns in a kaleidoscope? Everything seems beautiful, everything seems fine, and yet the artistic piece of her fussed with the layout and order of the pictures. There were pictures of happy people, little cafes, books, beaches, forests, city lights, quotations, rainbows, flowers, and small towns. The collage was eclectic enough to interest me. She gurgled and burst forth with the thought that went into them. I listened amused. 

By then, her excited voice had attracted her little brother and fond father into the room. Her brother painstakingly wrote ‘Mars’ below ‘Greece’.

“Mars! Seriously dude- next thing we know you will be lugging us into black holes and having us all burst into all the tiny starry bits like your Avengers or Star Wars superhero dudes in their adventures! No! No space travel!”

“Just yet”. I added and she gave me a look that indicated that this idiocy with space is because I indulge him with this stuff. I laughed out loud, and the children joined in too.

“And while we are at it,  no fictional or mythical places either. Only places that we can locate on a known map of the world.”

“Sheesh – she is so strict!” said the young explorer of the cosmos.

Travel_dreams

Cautiously, like deer in a prairie, we approached the topic of places we’d like to visit, ready to scurry back to Covid restrictions. Slowly, the name scrawled on a whiteboard set the stage. In the safe company of just the four of us, it felt good to take a peek into travel dreams again. It was done at first soberly – how happily we had taken international travel for granted? How happily we had taken good health for granted? Disconcerting as the Covid situation has been, it has also made us sit up and take notice of the beautiful things surrounding us on Earth. 

Once we started talking of lands beyond our day-to-day, a different energy gripped the room. Within moments, distances melted away, and the globe-trotters threw names on the board with no thought to distance or expense. Exactly how dreams should be.

Looking at the list on the board reminded us, however, that our lifetimes were not enough for this sort of ambition. How does one fit in a hike in the Himalayas for a zen feel, with a sort of Darwin-esque trip to the Galapagos? How can one fit the journey of civilization in Greece and Peru, to the pure sounds of nature as yet untouched by mankind? I suppose travel still has a lot to teach us, and post-covid, the world will start to cautiously explore once more.

We started, therefore, with a couple of day trips taken mostly on a week-day taken off from work, so we could avoid crowds. We looked for wide trails on which to get our dose of nature and exercise in. While for the first time thinking of a 2-3 day trip, we looked for godforsaken places. Places people do not usually go to for a vacation. But the house was a good one, pitched atop a hill with the nearest neighbor miles away. There was a  Jane Austen-esque feel to the whole thing. It reminded me of the poem by Wendell Berry: The Beauty of Wild Things.

On Being: The Beauty of Wild Things – By Wendell Berry

I set about the evening meal after the long drive there, while the children ran to find board games to be played that night. I cradled a cup of tea in my hands, as I set the water to boil, and rummaged the contents I had packed with me so as to minimize exposure to the outside world.  Slowly, the kitchen’s essence wafted around the room – smells, heat, textures all dancing together in an exquisite symphony of the senses. A symphony was playing as I cooked, and talked to the children. Here was a lively room packed with energy, activity, witty comments, and chaos that strangely translates to calm.

Inside this house overlooking a river valley, I felt the kaleidoscope of our life on Earth lap at me in waves. Watching the objects in the room around me evoked a strange sense of living  on this earth: the telescope, the books ,the music, the keyboard that promises the best music to those willing to invest in it, the creature comforts of a well-built house with the furnishings about us, the deer grazing in the hillside by us, the beautiful moon, the thousands of stars visible because of the distance from populated areas.

Life_On_Earth

The Peace of Wild Things: By Wendell Berry

I come into the peace of wild things

And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.

The daughter’s pictures had indeed done a good job of capturing life on earth.

Star 🌟 Stuff?!

I don’t know if you have tried comet chasing every night for a week. A week in which photographers from the world over posted photographs that suggested a flaming, brilliant torch tearing past our heavens with an urgency that made you realize life was short, our journeys spectacular, and a whole lot of poetic asides.

The husband, the bright matter energy source in the household, if anything, shored up even more bright matter to counteract all the dark matter in the universe. His resolve only wiggled a bit when he saw these brilliant flaming pictures of the comet as though it was an olympic torch blazing through the heavens, when in reality, the comet looked like a Pluto after a good cry. (After the astronomer’s good cry, not Pluto’s!)

The son, kept his running commentary on photons, light years, superclusters, cosmic addresses, and the pair of us dreamt on.

The daughter, pragmatic as ever, squashed The Poetic Outlook like a bug under a hippo’s knee. Some teenagers may find it cool to tag along with their parents on adventures chasing 💫 comets: ours rolled her eyes, and the drag of the eye roll did resemble a comet’s tail.

I’d like to think that I was the calm influence that steered the boat into the cosmic oceans. The husband turned to give me an amused look, the son’s laughing rattled the comet to go back into hiding, and the daughter pulled her coolest teenage look of scorn and said the all-encompassing word, “kook!”.

“You know? I don’t see why people are wasting so much  time with the skies. I mean, if you  do see  the comet, I suppose it is nice and all, but  what’s the point of sitting there for hours on end and trying to find something hurtling through space. Huh-hmm!” she said, her lips thinning just the way her grandmother’s would.  I love it when the mannerisms of her grandmothers slip into her speech in unguarded moments like these, and couldn’t help smiling.

“I  mean – what sort of career is that? And what use is it?!” she cried, clearly asking for it.

The son & I, inferior debate  companions as we are to her sharp tongue, rose up to the occasion.

“Hey  hey hey! Going at the rate we are, scanning the skies may give us an opportunity to find another habitable planet to expand into. The same can be said of all kinds of research – the actual research does not immediately yield results, but every little bit of understanding advances us  a little bit further.”

“Yeah – also we need to know where we are in the universe! Are we in Milky  Way, Virgo Supercluster, Observable Universe:  what is our address?” said the son.

Location_of_Earth

Andrew Z. Colvin / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

The daughter’s tongue could have  sliced an apple in an instant as she rattled off our home address and said, “Why do we need to know huh? I mean, here we are. This is it. Live here, what is all this knowing where-we-are stuff? Waste of time. What is it going to do for us?”

The son & I blanched. You see: the pair of us are dreamers, standing beneath the stars, and endlessly wondering whether we belong to the Lainakea supercluster (is it the same as the Virgo supercluster?)  After the observable universe, then what? What if all the observable universe in inside a massive black hole, and time is only  something in this space? 

“But we are made of star stuff – isn’t that magical? Star stuff!” said the son wistfully.

“Yeah – duck poop is is also star stuff – deal with it!” said the daughter. The son wilted under this argument. The daughter caught sight of my eye looking like an angry comet, and mollified the little poetic fellow. “But duck poop is good star stuff! Heh??!!”

I cannot say the debate went anywhere. It was a disappointing bunch of evenings after all, and the teenager felt it keenly. I mean, when one has posted  to one’s friends that they are going comet gazing, and then come back after hours, having  grazed on half a luna-bar, there is bound to be a dearth of the poetic. 

“You know young lady, I have just the book to cure you of this disappointment.” I said and gave her the book, The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer Illustrated by Ekua Holmes

The illustrations in this book make it an absolute treasure. In the past few days, after a clearly disappointing  comet gazing experience, I found myself gazing at the marvelous pictures in the book instead. 

stuff_of_stars

The 💫 Comet 💫 Life

The past few days have been a flurry of activity with tiny little bursts of stardust and magic spun into the day.

We traipsed home tired, sleepy but triumphant. This was a Sunday morning well spent: we had finally sighted the elusive comet, 💫  Neowise. The previous morning, we had run outside at a similar time, and stood pinching our eyes, squinting at a resplendent Venus and thinking that if you cocked your head to one angle, and yawned loudly enough to get tears in your eyes, you could spot the tail. This technique made for some hilarious moments, but comets don’t seem to care much for sentient beings on some transient planet trying to catch sight of them in the wee hours of their morning, and we had to accept defeat and head home.

The next morning, however, we had managed a grainy sighting of the comet and we were jubilant. When the chocolate drink was gulped, and the little fellow was tucked into bed again, I lay in bed thinking of the comet 💫 . I could not shake the beautiful image from my mind’s eye.

img_8934

To the naked eye, it looked nothing like the images taken by setting one’s camera to a long exposure, but it was there alright. The burning star with a yearning, a lone star shining its torch as it scorched its way by numerous stars treading a path it had set for itself. An unconventional celestial object. Compared to the systemic order of the rest of the universe, there was a object that was definitely unconventional , a trail blazer (get it, get it?) Why an elliptical shape, and why 6800 years?

I went about the days after the comet sighting with a faint gasp in my demeanor. Imagine, as we are holding all these important meetings, combating pandemics, and trying to protest against all things unjust, here was an icy blob just spinning away on its own elliptical. 6800 years before it can peek at us again. Often as I went about my day, I wondered whether there was a possibility of sentient life evolving on comets. Comets and asteroids have been known to be microbe transporters, seeding the possibilities of life as they hurtle through the vast dark emptiness.

Do extremophiles have what it takes to feel?

I mean, if we were to have evolved on a comet rather than a planet, would we have had such success in determining the nature of physics and the laws that holds the cosmos and the universe within which we thrive? How would time be measured on a comet? If rhythms helped us discern music, what would music have been in a comet-ic life? Our own days on Earth are neatly sliced into hours, minutes, and these days blend into weeks, months and years. Before we know it, we have made one full circle around the sun, and the seasons have changed along the way in predictable ways.

But none of that would be true if sentient life such as ours had evolved on a comet instead. There would be no days, no seasons, no predictable cyclical rhythm to our days. The sense of adventure as we drew near other stars and planets would probably fill the time. But time itself may have no more meaning, or much more meaning depending on how one perceived it.

These musings were sources of mild amusement, while life itself marched on with a comforting rhythm down here on Earth – dawns, days, dusks, nights, weeks.

Did the seagulls, deer and ducks think of such things?

Ahh! Comet life!

Comet Chasing * Chocolate Charms

The children have a shared liking for Calvin  & Hobbes. The adorable pair have been the source of many hysterical giggles between the siblings in our home. In the son’s room, there is a cartoon clip of Calvin & Hobbes that seems to tickle both his whimsy and his innate rapture and curiosity of the universe we live in.

calvin-gif

If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I bet they would live a lot differently  ✨- Calvin & Hobbes

A few weeks ago, I was typing out an email with the ounces of concentration I could muster at the end of a 12 meeting day, and I wasn’t exactly thinking  about 💫 comets, stars, pulsars, neutron stars, black holes, and parallel universes, when the little fellow shot into the room bursting about comets. I turned around , and my face probably looked like some of the spreadsheets I was looking at, for the son gave me a pitying look that seemed to indicate, “What good is a day when you haven’t thought of these important things?”

I laughed at the incredulity on his face: Stars, superclusters, muons traveling the speed of light, quirky  quarks are all thriving right beside his world of super-powers for super-heroes, who are incidentally gifted with important sounding superpowers such as gamma-rays and electromagneto-muon-transporters and what-not. 

“Did you  know Halley’s comet is going to come again in 40 years?” said the son still bouncing and glowing from the stash of chocolate chips he has been chipping into while reading his little books on Physics.

img_8953

“Yep! Sounds about right. I was around your age when I saw Halley’s Comet. So once in 76 years means …” and I trailed off.

“What?! You’ve seen Halley’s comet? Aww…..so lucky!” said he, and I had to laugh at his yearning. I did remember the cold nights awaiting the turn at the telescope to catch a grainy sight of the Halley’s comet. I must say that the whole experience felt worth a lot more given the rapture with which he listened to the comet sighting. I seem to remember the hot chocolate provided to the young astronomers more than the telescope and the grainy image itself.

Maybe the universe really did hear his yearnings that day, for within a few weeks, another comet came our way: the Neowise 360 comet sighting was supposedly possible from where we lived. I was so happy for the little fellow. He could barely contain the excitement in his system when his father said at the lunch table that the comet would be visible at 4:30 a.m. He got up and ran upstairs to his room. We were exchanging quizzical glances at this when he tumbled downstairs and said, “Yes! I set the alarm for 4:30 – I cannot wait to see it!”

I had to admit; the young astronomer’s enthusiasm put us to shame. So, for the next few nights, we bundled up and comedically traipsed from location to location in the wee hours of the morning looking for a comet sighting. The clouds were there in one place, some low mountains in another, and then, finally, we managed to find a plain spot in which we caught a grainy sighting.

img_8934

Knowing that we caught a fleeting glimpse of something that is not going to come by to see us for another 6800 years is strangely moving. I have to tell you though, that similar to the Halley’s comet sighting, the hot chocolate after coming back, and the the long tail of wishes accompanying the comet sighting, definitely made the hustle worthwhile. 

That morning, the rest of the comet chasers had no problem falling back to sleep, but I did – the comet had kindled dreams of long ago: dreams born of comet chasing and chocolate charms; dreams woven with the magic of stardust 💫 and comet trails – bright, shiny, sparkling, path-breaking and aspirational.

Bill Watterson was absolutely right: People who spend time looking up at the night sky do live life differently!

 

How do we exist?

It had been another long day, and as the clock ticked towards midnight, the body yearned for sleep, but the mind looked longingly at the tsundoku pile, and craved for some quiet moments of solitude. I peeked out of the window, and the moon sailing high through the skies tugged at my heart. There is something so intensely beautiful about catching sight of our  lovely cosmic neighbor sending its mellow moonbeams through the leaves at night.

I looked for a word that captures the phenomenon, but there isn’t one.

There are two words in Japanese that come close (the Japanese language has such amazing words for admiring wondrous nature around us.)

Kawaakari ( 川明かり – a word depicting the evening reflection of light on water, or in some cases can refer to the reflection of the moonlight off flowing water.

img_20200407_195324-effects

Komorebi (木漏れ日): Sunshine filtering through the trees.

trees_komerabi

I had just started reading The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson. In the first chapter, Rachel Carson takes us with her steady voice into a time on Earth before the seas were created. When the planet was still heaving and churning its metallic ores, hot searing waves of liquid settling into a semi-liquid state in its outer cores. She wonders then about the question, how were the oceans formed?
“So if I tell here the story of how the young planet Earth acquired an ocean, it must be a story pieced together from many sources and containing whole chapters the details of which we can only imagine.
For although no man was there to witness this cosmic birth, the stars and moon and the rocks were there, and indeed, had much to do with the fact that there is an ocean.”

Then, she leads us from this fiery place in the cosmos with the sun heaving its solar flares, the earth itself arranging itself into concentric spheres with hot, molten iron at its core, and an intermediate sphere of semiplastic basalt , the outer layers of granite and basalt. And then gently she lures us into the possibility of the moon and the ocean being related to each other.

The next time you stand on a beach at night, watching the moon’s bright path across the water, and conscious of the moon drawn tides, remember that the moon itself may have been born of a great tidal wave of earthly substance, torn off into space.

How can one not be mesmerized by the creation of the moon? Was it truly hewn from the surface of the earth (The moon’s density does match the density of the outer crust). The hypothesis that the moon was hewn away after massive solar tides exerting a pull on semi-molten Earth is based on the theory that the large portion thus hewn away left such a large scar on the surface of the Earth. A scar that would continue to shape Earth and its lifeforms for millions of years afterward: The Pacific Ocean.

Later, as the Earth cooled and clouds formed from the steam rising, the rains started. Pouring onto the hot earth for years – initially almost immediately evaporating into steam, but eventually collecting as water – forming the first oceans.

It is, of course, fascinating that we still do not know for sure how the moon was created. There are several theories – theories of violent impacts, random objects being attracted by gravity, and young earth managing to keep one satellite, while heftier ones like Jupiter acquiring 67 etc. This is a topic still under discussion.

https://www.space.com/19275-moon-formation.html

Nevertheless, the very first chapter had me wowed. I would never be able to look at our closest cosmic neighbor with the same eyes ever again. How often I have stood marveling at the moon? Out on walks, my heart always skips a beat when I catch sight of the beautiful, faithful satellite accompanying Earth as she tears through space. To think that there is a possibility that the very creation of our cosmic neighbor was crucial to our oceans is awe inspiring. I live on the Pacific Coast, and never can I see the bays, the ocean or the moon without reminding me of this book.

The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson

sea_around_us

The skies hold the answers to our most philosophical stirrings. Why do we exist?

The seas, it seems, holds the answers to our most existential stirrings. How do we exist?

May the Fourth …

“I AM YOUR FATHER!” the son comes yelling into the room. His excitement has woken up the megaphone in his vocal chords and he startles his father as he professes this sudden revelation of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker and all the rest of it. I turned around startled, as the pair of them babbled on about Star Wars – Return of the Jedi, Force Awakens. 

I knew my time was up.

I have hitherto flitted about the world confusing Star Wars and Star Trek – they looked like the same thing. There are spaceships, battleships, people wearing masks, everyone looking and sounding important, as they take their noble part in inter-galactic warfare. Every  time the husband tried to explain, I happily let my brain flit to more important things, like rose gardens, ducklings, sore thumbs, or dumplings.

Comparison of Star Wars & Star Trek

I could totally identify with Penny in Big Bang Theory as she said:

“There is absolutely no difference! But they get cranky when you mix the two up.”

My days of star-innocence however are coming to an end. The son has taken to watching Star Wars. He now painstakingly explains Jedi warriors, storm-troopers, and with a shining face awaits us as he says, “Oh my goodness! Revenge of the Sith blew my mind away! Everything suddenly made sense, right?!” 

As a treat to me, he sat next to me and made me watch Revenge of the Sith (the prequel that was taken after a considerable number of sequels were taken) in which it is revealed who Darth  Vader is. He sat like a little shining moon-let watching my face to see if it had the appropriate reaction as Anakin Skywalker is christened Darth Vader.

Sigh.

He uses his magic wand that is doubling up as a light saber these  days as he fights his imaginary battles. I tell him he needs nothing of the sort to fight inter-galactic battles – all he needs to do is fake-sneeze. He snorts with derision and guffaws with laughter at this Covid-humor, but good naturedly battles on armed with a wand or a rolling pin as the case may be. This Jedi shall stand by Obi-wan Kenobi!

To raise a geek, one must not be weak, or meek. I pick up my rolling pin, that I am making pooris with, and join in the fight. Your wand against my rolling pin – our light sabers emit energy, noises and most importantly memories.

Amy Farrah Fowler: “If you are going to compare hammers and wands, I can’t even take you seriously!”

May the Fourth be with you! The spaceship galactica takes off to a galaxy far far away…

img_8276

That is the Earth!

“Do you know what this is?”

“That is the Earth! From the moon.” said the son matter of factly. “I saw it before!” he said in response to my awed expression.

We were looking at the back jacket of a book, that I flipped to the last page first.

this_is_earth

This is the Earth, by Diane Z Shore & Jessica Alexander with paintings by Wendell Minor.

It was a picture of the Earth rising on the Moon’s horizon.

A picture that generations of humans for millennia could only have imagined, and never really gotten close to the sheer beauty of it. Our myths are at once rich and limiting in its reach. They have imagined Earth as being elephants on elephants, turtles on turtles all the way down, flat discs, imagining heavens above and hells below.  

earth_myth

 

The picture was taken by an astronaut, Bill Anders, aboard the Apollo 8 spacecraft in 1968. I looked on mesmerized at the picture.

1200px-NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-Earthrise

Bill Anders / Public domain

But this picture is truly astounding. The pale blue dot when seen from the Moon is a brilliant, blue orb, suspended in space, intriguingly spattered with clouds, oceans, landmasses, not really depicting the billions of lives it fosters, or the number of ecosystems it has in its fragile balance. 

Bill Anders said: “We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”

What a lovely statement that is, and together with his Earth Rising image, contributed to the concerns around Planet Earth that led to founding of Earth Day in 1970.

50 years later, we have made rocky starts and gains towards conservation. But this April 2020, 50 years later, purely coincidentally, Covid-19 has the world on lockdown, not just imagining a life of bare necessities but embracing it for the social good. We, the people, now have the time to observe our fellow inhabitants.

Heart warming tales of peacocks making its foray into the deserted cityscapes of Mumbai; turtles coming ashore to hatch in the beaches along the Bay of Bengal; seeing the Himalayas from a 100 miles away once the smog fog lifted; deeming the waters of the Ganges near Rishikesh fit for human consumption again without all the factories along the way dumping its wastes into the flowing water;or bears enjoying their natural habitats unhindered by human presence in Yosemite National Park, are surfacing, and it has my heart lifting again. I have often enough lamented on this blog about the poor attention we pay to the Planet that nurtures our fragile selves and egos. 

Watching the even more fragile ego of the stock market indices, it seems to me that we can very well have the world function this way, by having a month off every year in which everything stops but essential services. An Earth Month every year to reflect, slow down, plan and recoup our staggering impact to the environment. After all, the stock market seems to have a life of its own and seems only to want some stolidity in its expectations. So, we anticipate a month with no major events, no excessive or unnecessary travel, and only essential services operating. The notion isn’t that far-out either. 100 years ago, no one thought we could have 5 day work-weeks. Yet, here we are, in state where it is the norm now. 

Maybe this could be the measure we take for Earth Day to slow the rise of Carbon Dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 6.33.29 PM

Please go this site to see the curve over 2 years and over 200  years Keeling Curve – Scripps UCSD

If you look at the extrapolated curve from the 1700’s, it has risen exponentially. It is probably too soon to see the effect of Covid-19 on CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

Could, Earth Month become the new normal for us. So children matter of factly accept that Earth Month as essentials month in the coming generations?

I call it Tao

I lowered the tired frame gingerly onto the mattress. The once firm mattress sagged a little, and I felt the springs creak, as though mattresses moaned. The senses were feeling somewhat overwhelmed. It is often the case after a long day amidst crowds, and cacophonous sounds. Crowded airports, train stations, bus stations can all bring the feelings to a head.

After a couple of weeks of continuous travel, I felt unmoored from the Earth. I had been flying a lot: both for long hours and frequently. I felt euphoric amidst the clouds, but yearned to stretch my legs and feel that solid connection to the Earth.

My steps on Mother Earth between my travels gave me a rushed feeling as well. Asian cities are crowded, and I lacked the narrative of control in my feet. I shuffled along with the crowds to make it in and out of places. I was being harried and jostled to a particular direction. I needed to slow down, to take it all in at my own pace, in solitude. Maybe speed isn’t a good thing, and bullock carts were better off.

I don’t know how our ancestors felt after traveling a few days by horseback or bullock carts to neighboring villages. At first, I started my musings on the travels in time assuming simpler times and less problems, but my pragmatic side took over: If all our modern methods of comfortable travel still pounded the muscles and energies out of our system, how must rudimentary modes of travel have felt on their poor frames? After their tiring journeys, there were no instant methods of heating water, drinking tea, or cooking a meal after all. If the humans felt that way, how did the bulls and horses feel?

tring-tring

No, maybe we all have bodies that need rest regardless of bullock carts or airplanes.

This is where I rewind to the place in the narrative where I lowered the t.frame gingerly onto the mattress. The m sagged and springs creaked, thoughts swirled. You get the picture.

I tried to calm the senses enough to sleep, but it was uphill work. I tried visualizing the misty mountain tops that I love hiking in. I tried imagining the body after a good hike amidst the mountains, but found I just could not! It was then that I surrendered to the written word with a deep breath.

In the Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen was on a journey to find snow leopards in the upper reaches of the Himalayas. Journeying into the heartlands of Tibet’s Dolpo valley, and possibly an inner journey much richer. The author was discovering the meaning of being present. He was walking a high cliff and looking down upon a distant meadow with goats grazing. The cliffs on either side of him a constant reminder that unless his entire being was concentrated on being there, he would not. There was a moment of clarity he says, when he realized that he would never set foot on that distant valley in this lifetime, and not be amidst the same goats in that distant wanderland ever. But he was given the opportunity of being there on that ledge-like cliff at that moment, and he took it.

snow_leopard

Of course, I realize I am doing a poor job of both my explanations and interpretations of the passage. (I was too tired at the time to jot down the passage for reference), but that was a clairvoyant moment for me. In one sentence, in one breath, I felt space both in me, and around me. I was in a cramped city with no parks or beautiful walkways nearby, but I was transported to the clear mountain ledge atop the Himalayas. Maybe we all have such moments of clarity, and appreciate them. Or the moments themselves vaporize and there is a vague feeling of contentment, I do not know.

I felt one such moment when I came home, and was standing in my backyard. Winter had come in, the leaves had all been stripped bare from the trees, and the wet earth squelched as I walked gingerly on it. There, in the glorious peek of the sun’s rays, I felt a moment of grounding, a moment so profound that I can visualize it now. The suns rays caught on the rain drops in a spider web that was gently swaying to the winds. The work of one creature that did its work in solitude, with perfection, and at its own pace. Though the web itself was spun well above the ground, it held against the branches of the trees, on a planet spinning very fast in its cosmic journey with the Universe.

mars_watching

I remembered this passage from the book then:
“Before heaven and earth
There was something nebulous
     silent isolated
     unchanging and alone
     eternal
     the mother of all things
I do not know its name
I call it Tao