The Physics Of Myth

“Which is your favorite tree?” asked the children one day.

I am often asked questions like this, especially by the elementary school going son. Your favorite color, your favorite food, your favorite flower and on and on till I shriek in agony, at which point he flips to – when was the first time you ate with a spoon, when was the first time you touched a frog, when did you first climb a tree?

I thought about the favorite tree one though: which one was my favorite tree? Is it the oak tree that I plonked my satchel under every day in school, or the flowering jacaranda trees under which we had steaming hot cups of tea with friends, or the tall eucalyptus tree that edged our street towering majestically against the skies signaling home was nearby, or the fir & pine trees that contributed to many an amateur flower arrangement lending beauty and joy to the surroundings, or the willow that made one want to relax just by its shape and allure, or the gingko tree that makes me smile on a evening walk, or the oleander trees that sag with flowers in the summer, or the fruit trees in my backyard that are so hospitable to squirrels ,or the redwood trees that urge me to be like them: strong, resilient and upright, or the curious, curvy bristlecone trees that remind me they are older than our oldest myths, or the pine tree with an elephant head that reminds me of the time the son as a toddler tried to fit his understanding of Physics into Myth?


It was a tough question and I told them so. The son scenting a ‘wild’ story from his childhood asked for the story, and I mock-sighed before telling him:

“One day a couple of years ago, when you were very much a toddler, and had just started attending a preschool, you picked up a book from the library about Lord Ganesha. You were thrilled with the find because Indian mythology is hardly found in the libraries in America, right? Lord Ganesha Curses The Moon – was the title. Appa and you settled down to read together at night.

Anyway, so, remember the story? It went something like this:

The moon used to beam as a full moon every night. One day, the moon laughed at Lord Ganesha when he tripped and fell in the forest.  Ganesha promptly got angry at the moon, and cursed it into oblivion.The whole world plunged into darkness (this was before electric lights remember?). At this, the book painted some gory pictures of the problems faced by the population because it was completely dark. People fell, people bumped into each other, people were robbed. Soon, everyone begged Ganesha to take back his curse. But he couldn’t. His word being law and all that. 


An impasse was reached, and soon the king of Gods, Indra, came to him and asked him to do something about it. Ganesha thought and thought, and finally reached a compromise. He said the moon could grow from no moon to the full moon, and then shrink back again to no moon. That ought to teach him not to laugh at people. The moon agreed, and that is how it remains to this day.


After the story, Appa asked you, “What do you think of the story? Do you really think that is what happened?”

You had that serious look on your face as you thought about it, and you said, “Yes, of course. That’s when the moon must have started going around the Earth, and the Earth started spinning, so the moon could grow bigger and smaller.”

“Appa told me what you said later, and ever since I think of that story and remember how you fit your understanding of Physics into that mythological story when I see that fir tree with an elephant head.”

“Did I really do that?” asked the son laughing heartily, and I smiled.

It was true of course. His response had us flabbergasted, for we hardly ever consciously think about how we continually shape our worldly views and understanding. We subtly and subconsciously incorporate the stories we hear, choosing to consider which ones to digest and which ones to leave.

“So, as you see, I cannot only name one favorite tree. I love them all. Just like…”

“We know…. we know! Just like you love us both!”, said the children, and I smiled my favorite smile.


Essential or Eternal Communication?

I recently read a book called The Hidden Life of Trees written by a forester, Peter Wohlleben.

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 8.59.19 AM

Trees have always fascinated me. I have tried becoming one with little success.

Their calm, stoic essence of being is reassuring. Trees are social beings, and they are capable of immense internal processes that not only sustain their lives, but also those of others around them.

Reading the book is like dipping into a life that we as a race can barely contemplate for as the author reminds us in the book, trees live life in the slow lane, and that is what made the reading experience refreshing. It is largely based on observations and of the forester’s study on the forests he helps to manage. Throughout the book, he cites relevant research studies that have been carried by botanists.

Trees are social beings and know that they can thrive if they look out for one another. Many interesting anecdotes dot the book such as the one with the giraffes chomping down the leaves of the acacia trees in the Savannah.

The giraffes there were feeding on umbrella thorn acacias, and the trees didn’t like this one bit. It took the acacias mere minutes to start pumping toxic substances into their leaves to rid themselves of the large herbivores.

The acacia trees that were being eaten gave off a warning gas (specifically, ethylene) that signaled to neighboring trees of the same species that a crisis was at hand. Right away, all the forewarned trees also pumped toxins into their leaves to prepare themselves. The giraffes were wise to this game and therefore moved farther away to a part of the savannah where they could find trees that were oblivious to what was going on. Or else they moved upwind.

How beautifully nature equipped the trees and giraffes for survival.

After reading about how effectively and essentially Trees communicate, I could not help comparing and contrasting our lives with those of our stoic friends. This frenzied communication lifestyle we have adapted as our own, often leads to amusing outcomes, but sometimes to questionable ones.

One morning, I set out to enjoy a leisurely week-end breakfast with the children. When the menu card says ‘Noodles’, the beaming sous chef in the home is more active than is called for. I doubt restaurant kitchens have sous chefs standing on chairs next to the chef gabbling instructions for all to hear, but our kitchen does.


Minutes later, we clattered down with our bowls of steaming instant noodles – there is something deeply satisfying about slurping the long noodle strings noisily, and reveling in the liberating feeling of not being governed by the ticking minutes of the clock for a change.

I was doing my best to ignore the incessant modes of communication that is our bane today, but I was still interrupted with the International Phone Call.  On the call, I was given the shocking news that Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp had been vying to give me, and told to check it all immediately. Apparently, the noodles I was eating that very day had 17% lead content. 17% lead. Funny because I did not feel like I had a metal tube lodged in my intestines after eating it, nor did I feel like an old ceiling waiting to be torn down. What it meant to say of course is that there were supposedly 17 parts per million of lead in the offending food item, a claim that in itself proved to be baseless later on.


Quote from link:

The wrongness of the initial stories is the result of a perfect storm of three factors: Technical subject matter, a master of disinformation, and always on race to publish stories quickly. It’s yet another reminder of the Internet’s five least common words: Let me think about that.

Should we learn the art of essential communication, and develop the ability to chaff it from the demands of eternal communication? Maybe learn a lesson or two from our stoic friends.

For a quick read:

For the Love of ( Halloween & the Environment) – Part 2

In Part 1 of the Halloween post, I had written about deciding on an Environment themed costume for Halloween for myself. I settled upon a Tree. We had a whole hour ahead of us to plan, execute and pull it off. I don’t know whether you have tried impersonating trees, it is very easy. You send your husband to buy something, say a car or some green cloth for the tree depending on your mood, get out a piece of cardboard and some green paint. You then set your children to cut and paint a tree-top and you sit back and you wonder how to pull off looking like a tree trunk and you are set. Ask some creative friend of yours to finish up the costume, stand back and project the spirituality of stolid trees. Like Booker. T. Washington said, “There is no power on Earth that can neutralize the influence of a high, simple and useful life.”

There is no power on Earth that can neutralize the influence of a high, simple and useful life. - Booker. T. Washington
There is no power on Earth that can neutralize the influence of a high, simple and useful life. – Booker. T. Washington

Trees are wonderful and soothing. Their stoic presence, their sturdy silence and their useful practical lives should say it all. Setting aside the fact I cannot produce oxygen, or hold a sturdy silence, or be stoic, or useful, I could be a Tree. I need to stand rooted and sway a bit in the breeze. How hard can it be? I just have to be out and about for people on candy-highs on Halloween night to flock to me for some calm.

The Silent Spectator.

That went well. I only spent the whole evening explaining to all and sundry who I was. Have you tried impersonating a Tree? It is a spiritual experience in and of itself. It is not easy. For one. I don’t see Tree Costumes, so you cannot pick one up and pull it on. For another, it is dashed hard to hoist the top of a tree on a hat. It flops back and forth and does not stay sturdy. I am sure that plenty of people on Pinterest will tell you how to do it, but I can tell you how not to do it. Especially, if you try to work with a cowboy hat.

How to make a Tree Costume
How to make a Tree Costume

So, with some excellent suggestions from my friends and children, we morphed it into a Tree Nymph whose express aim was to Save Trees. I tied the painted tree around my torso, wore brown pants so my legs would serve as the trunk and then wrapped my head with flowers to look like a Tree Nymph. I don’t know how Tree Nymphs look, but neither does the majority of the populace, so now they know. They look like me.

I must say I rather enjoyed myself. The son was Spiderman and the pair of us went around telling everyone that “Amma saves trees, and Son saves Humans”. When else could I have sported that Green nail polish the daughter and I picked up so we could have Rainbow themed nails?

Is this a Tree Nymph? If you haven't seen one, then yes.
Is this a Tree Nymph? If you haven’t seen one, then yes.

Say what you will about the rains that washed the Sun-dried California after Halloween, a small irrational part of me was happy. As a Tree-Nymph, had I invited the clouds over? It was certainly part of my original theme. The husband had even suggested I walk around with a large water droplet. But we did not have time to cut and color the water droplet. I sat relishing the sounds of the fresh patter of the rain, smelling the parched Earth drinking in the moisture, and enjoying a hot cup of tea in my hands.

“Next year, let’s all go environment themed. Maybe that will end the drought. If a Tree Nymph can bring rains, ….”, I crowed, and stepped out of my door to see an uprooted tree.

I hope you all had a Happy Halloween. I did.

Life is a Tricky Canvas

There are a few trees by our walking path. Great firs, pines, eucalytpus with their mild scents and some bottlebrush trees (Apparently their biological name is Callistemon Melaleuca Myrtaceae I mean if you can call Anantha Padmanabha Venkateswaran as Nandu, would you rather call him Anantha Padmanabha Venkateswaran?  I think I will continue calling them bottlebrush trees.)

Often when I walk past these trees, I think that to be a tree must be a great thing. To foster life by just living, to be the cornerstone of life as it unfolds around you must be wonderful if you have the right mindset of course. I mean, I don’t know whether trees are contented beings or go through the same tumultuousness that humankind does. But they are the steadiers for scores of nature lovers, so we assume they are content.

Anyway, what I wanted to talk about was not the trees, but the drama these trees witness every now and again. There is a spot of pavement near these trees that is uneven. One large slab of concrete is about 2 inches above the adjacent one. This makes for bumpy rides, trippy walks, parents telling children to be careful, husbands telling their wives to be careful and being met with retorts as to how they too can see the pavement is uneven, walkers yelling to cyclists to be careful, kids yelling to one another to watch the bump and a few scrapes and bruises as people busy squabbling about having eyes of their own neglect to watch for the step and go hurtling down.

Life is a Canvas
Life is a Canvas

Yes if that does not constitute Drama, I don’t know what does. Many attempts have been made to smooth the mini step over: logs were placed, stones were provided. One try was pretty smart, for they tried to make it a slope instead, but somehow, all attempts been half hearted. One time, there were a great many cones and much hullaballoo. A tar laying machine managed to get one half of itself on the pavement like a dog raising a foot to pee against the fire hydrant, and was making a great noise filling up the hole. It was definitely a wonderful scene to stand and watch. It proved to be a fascinating evening as we watched the gravel held together by some tar. The loose gravel was there, tar was poured half-heartedly as if wondering whether the sidewalk really needs tar, and anyway the huge thing that rolls on it to pack the gravel together couldn’t make it to the narrow pavement, so the repair-folks just left it there. The next day, the gravel started disintegrating and within a week, there was nothing left except the trees waiting to see what the next endeavor to tackle this spot would be.

Things went on and every now and then there would be an attempt to level the flagstones and nothing would happen thereafter. All that changed last week when the city decided to pour cement and make it all even instead. This looked like the thing.

Once the cement dried, I was appalled to see that some couple had used the drying concrete as a canvas on which to declare their undying love and had carved their initials in while it was still drying. Looking at that graffiti annoys me much more than the inconvenience of tripping up every now and then. I have the same feeling of bubbling annoyance when I visit any of the heritage sites in India. Beautiful structures all telling us how much DV loves BB. If you are DV, and truly love BB, please use that marvelous force to forge a meaningful life not just for DV and BB, but DV&BB’s friends, colleagues and community too.

When I saw this news article, it looked to me like nature slapped us all in the face with her sarcasm.

I quote from the article:

Mother Nature is capable of creating all sorts of amazing things, though the face is very striking.” 

Of course, this tied in with another alarming news article with a typical doomsday line to the mass of grey cloud:

The article states that the rate of extinction brought about by mankind is 114 times the normal rate for species to die out and regenerate themselves.

At this rate, the human rock face maybe the one to tell future lifeforms about our race, and if they look elsewhere, they may also know that DV loved BB, if those lifeforms also have hearts and use that to symbolize love.

Life is a tricky canvas.