The Joy-o-meter

“I read the book like Appa watches a movie! Done in 15 minutes, but got the gist. “ I said to general laughter. When the Spring cleaning bug bites, the family scuttles, and shy away from me like a horse that choked on plastic flowers once, and whinnies at the fresh wildflowers in the fields. 

“Really Amma! You too?” said the children

I admit I usually do not resort to the skimming technique. But this time, I read the Marie Kondo book on The Magic of Tidying Up.  “Well …. You know how some books have all they need to say in an article, but make books and songs out of them? That was this book. In essence, the table of contents should suffice, but if you want the nub of the thing, it is: If something doesn’t spark joy discard it!” 

“So, why are you still here?” Came the answer pat. Really! The speed of the repartee, I will never learn I tell you. I just walk into traps, and then goggle like a famished gargoyle, with these smart-alecks in the home. 

I sniffed a haughty sniff, and continued. “Anyway, I am going to apply the concept to the whole house. So, if something sparks joy in you, keep it, else junk it. Spring cleaning starts tomorrow!” I said in my best energetic cleaner voice. Dark looks were exchanged, some mutterings were heard, and talk was ripe of hoping that I would head out into those long walks that have me famished by the end of it all, so I spare the lot the anguish of losing things. The problem is of course that the things the children are passionate about and the things I am passionate about, are not an intersecting set. Consequently, the last time, I threw away a cardboard box, I spent a trying afternoon with the son who behaved like a gladiator losing his arena. I have since learnt my lesson, and they are given a warning. 

cardboard_box

I started the morning with my closet feeling like Mole spring cleaning his home in The Wind in the Willows.

The Mole had been working hard all morning spring cleaning his little home.

I must tell you. How do you mean ‘spark joy’? Some clothes you see are out of fashion, have some problems, faded etc. But mostly I seem to have clothes that I liked. So, how to deploy the joy-o-meter by them? 

Almost all my ethnic clothes evoked memories – does that count as sparking joy? For instance, I picked up the pink skirt bought in a bazaar in Jaipur. The blue hand-drawn elephants were not exactly life-like, but I could not stop the memories from marching in. The sister-in-law and I had had a tete-a-tete with the skirt vendor, and we landed up enjoying tea, pakoras, and a long chat on local artisans and design techniques, while the husband stood nearby sounding like a cooker letting out impatient steam.

Or the carefully hand woven and fabric painted dupatta that I had decided was too much to buy in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk bazaar, and settled for more utilitarian lunch boxes.  Imagine my glee then, only to find that the lovely dupatta was bought for me by the loving family on a subsequent shopping trip seeing how much I liked it. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

peacock_dupatta

Or the dancing saree that captured my spirit? The one with ballet dancers and Bharatnatyam dancers printed on them in unison – East-West collaboration at its saree best. 

The only ones I could apply the rule to, seemed to be the mass produced mall clothes bought in ‘Sale’ sections, which wasn’t much.

If there was a usage ratio to apply, almost all of the ethnic clothes can be set aside. If there was a cost to the environment ratio to be applied, one must keep these clothes till we use them at least a few times before discarding them. Over this, one must apply the cultural umbrella of using new clothes for every occasion, and the result is a sorry state of affairs.

I wonder if joy-o-meter designs can use all these variables. 

I looked pityingly at the disappointing results of the morning scourge. Feeling a bit of a hypocrite, I told the children to save anything they liked, and almost instantly regretted it, for the son ran for the largest cardboard box set for the recycling bin and said – “Dibs! I want this in my room!” 

No wonder the Mole preferred to scurry outside into the beautiful spring rather than finish spring cleaning his home.

“The joy of living and the delight of spring made him jump into the air, and he raced across the meadow ….” – The Wind in the Willows

The Joy-O-Meter swung to the right, and all was well with the world.

A Celebration Of … 🌏

The afternoon was a mild, sunny one. Quite unusual for wintry January. The grass has turned green enough, the birds were chirping, and every now and then, the son and I stopped to admire a willow tree. How different each tree looks, and yet how soothing they all are together?  One doesn’t need a leap of the fanciful to liken the willows to beautiful damsels letting their hair down to dip ever so slightly into the waters below. What is remarkable is these damsels don’t seem to mind us watching. 

img_1119

I do not remember the first willow tree I saw, although I am sure I would have admired it long before knowing its name.  These are times I feel remiss. 

Why do we not make a celebration

of smelling the first sprig of lavender

and falling in love with the scent of it? 

Why do we not celebrate the perfect clovers,

the first feel of moss against a damp earth 

the taste of the first wild berry, 

the first sniff of eucalyptus after a fresh rain, 

the first time we touched a petal, 

the first time we sat and watched a butterfly, 

the first time we heard the name of someone who would go on to become kindred spirits 

and brighten our lives forever more?

While at this, why not also celebrate 

the times, we can watch a tree upside down,

The moon rise, or the sun set?

The times we spot the shape of a fluffy dog in the clouds,

the times we are mesmerized by a rainbow,

the times we can watch the world flit by with nary a worry?

summer-collage

Anyway, where was I before I went off on my little celebration-of-life poetic trail? Yes yes. It all comes back now: I cannot quite resist the charm of a willow tree. It’s true. There is a generosity to its form. The tree just seems to give itself. The long tresses weigh down as they reach into the waters below.  When you walk along a river, you can be fairly certain that if there is one willow by the banks, nature would have given us a few more beautiful ones just further downstream. It was while reading Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren that I learnt many of these willow trees are identical genetically. Apparently, all it takes is for a branch to break off by a riverside, float down the banks, a little joyful eddy to push it near the banks, and voila: it can take root. An identical, genetically mapped tree, though it looks different on the outside – the trunks bulge differently, the branches fan out differently, but essentially the same. Hope Jahren’s lyrical writing is as beautiful as the willows themselves. 

“It is easy to become besotted with a willow. The Rapunzel of the plant world, this tree appears as a graceful princess bowed down by her lush tresses, waiting on the riverbank for someone just like you to come along and keep her company.” 

We walked on for some time on this beautiful day, before I plonked myself on the grass. I tugged the little fellow’s arm to sit on the grass next to me. After the initial reluctance of getting his clothes dirty, this suburban child gave in to the pleasures almost completely.  There we were, lying down on the grass, the willow trees drooped into the waters nearby while winter’s afternoon sun gently glowed upon us, and the clouds drifted above.

I told him about the willow trees and how most of the ones we saw may have originated from the same one. He looked awed. 

“Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life. It has also convinced me that carefully writing everything down is the only real defense we have against forgetting something important that once was and is no more,” 

Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

Will he remember the first time he learnt that willow trees reproduce with just a branch flowing downstream? I hope he does, but if not, here it is written down: It was a golden day in early winter on a walk with his loving mother: when all the world was green and filled with possibility.

When Autumn Feels Like Spring

The first day of fall was here, and it felt like the first day of spring.

I stepped out to see a blue, blue sky with some cumulus clouds flecking the ocean above with froth. My heart soared like the eagle above. High and higher still. The air felt fresh like it does after the Earth has had a good rain. Even though it hadn’t rained, the Earth sparkled. The effect the clear blues, mellow temperatures and cumulus clouds have on our temperaments is remarkable. The Californian blue jay chirped, the squirrels tittered, the hummingbirds frisked and the hawks soared. Even I burst into song, and poured my joyous nonsensical lyrics into the world. 

But duty beckoned. I had a string of meetings awaiting me, and though my heart soared and flew with the eagles, clouds and all that, I headed inside musing all the while on how marvelous a blue sky is.

I read somewhere that the smog in some polluted cities is so bad that children growing up there think a ‘blue sky’ is a poetic liberty, for the skies are never blue. I could empathize with the poor children so far away. It was similar to that in California over the past few weeks. Wildfires burning over millions of acres hundreds of miles away drew a smoggy veil across the skies, and cast a pallid gloom at times, made for brilliant sunsets at others, but through it all, there was an air of impending doom.

That feeling fell away on the first day of autumn. Fall in California are not as drastic and spectacular as autumn in north-east or north-west parts of the United States, but it is beautiful nevertheless. The gingko leaves have started turning from their brilliant green to a golden yellow, and the maple leaves are turning colors slowly. The air is not nippy yet – in fact, we are bracing for another hot spell.

Meanwhile, inside the house, I was feeling a trifle boxed-up after a continuous string of meetings, in which people had showed up with varying amounts of enthusiasm and optimism. Some of them had managed to retain that cumulus cloud effect, others matched the brilliant blue skies outside – uplifting and promising, and some others retained the pallid gloom of the smoggy fire-ridden days. I glanced outside the window and could identify with the young pupils of Miss Read, who taught her on a beautiful Spring day that words and pictures are but imitations of the real thing. I reached out for the essay in Tales from a Village School from my newly acquired bookshelf (a gift from the dear husband for he could not stand the piles of books everywhere in the house).

Tales from a Village School – By Miss Read

Titled ‘The Real Thing’, the short essay evoked the essence of Spring in one breathtaking stroke of a page. She writes of a Spring morning she started to read The Wind in the Willows to her class.

“I had planned to start ‘The Wind in the Willows’ next term, but what more fitting occasion than this could be found for beginning such a spring song?”

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning spring cleaning his little home…” but after a page or two, I am conscious that Henry’s restlessness is infectious, 

‘Say’, he urges loudly, ‘lets go out!’

There is a shocked silence. What madness is this? Will it make me fly right off the handle?

The essay lilts on with ease and ends on the sagacious note:

It was he, the babe among us, who led us befuddled elders to reality when he cut straight to the heart of the matter with those three words, ‘Let’s go out!’

I heeded the clarion call of the essay, and briskly stepped out. Standing outside on that glorious day in September made me doubly grateful for things as normal as a blue sky and a breath of fresh air. May we continue to be blessed with these normalities! May we never complain about what a delight an ordinary day is!

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” ― Albert Camus

To Nourish & To Cherish

This May marks 15 years of nourish-ing &  cherish-ing. I started the blog out as a sort of a personal journal with embarrassingly personal posts. But over time, the journal took on a life of its own. It has helped me find my voice, helped me resoundingly answer the question, “What is your friend?“, and has definitely played an outsize role in the family joke circles.

My family and friends have been marvelously sportive about starring in the posts, reading them and encouraging me. Over time, the nourisher became the cherisher, and vice-versa. Fiascos were looked on with amusement knowing it will take on a life of its own and pave  the way for amusement. Travelogues are interwoven with family  drama, and it makes it all the more memorable.

When I am out in nature stopping to admire the butterflies flit between flowers, 🌺 🌸 , I think of how I would capture these beautiful images in the one place I nourish and cherish. I have a phone filled with images of family, friends, travel destinations jostling along side the everyday wonders of sunsets, lakes, rivers, butterflies, mountainsides, grasses, flowers and trees, and still the photographs seem to lack a narrative. A narrative that words round out.

“To walk on Earth and fall in love with it. “, as Mary Olivers would say.

When I am reading books, I stop and wonder about particularly  well written passages. Books take us on incredible journeys and some of them, I manage to write down to nourish later on. Some books open my mind in ways I did not imagine possible, some others reiterate what I had nebulously known, while some others do the most marvelous job of soothing and calming the mind. For every article I do write related to books, there are probably 15 others that I didn’t get to finish writing.

cropped-reading_wordpress

A friend of mine once asked me how I stumbled upon writing as a passion, and I found to my surprise that I had no clear answer. I remember a marvelous childhood filled to the brim with absolutely stunning and inspirational personalities, joyous friends, beautiful nature, dance, music, reading and writing complete with toppings of marvelous reveries and journeys into the make believe worlds. But somewhere in my early twenties I lost touch with it all. I meandered in the corporate world spending almost all my waking hours pursuing work and my part-time post graduate degree simultaneously. What time I had for reading was dedicated to academic work, and all other times were dedicated to learning and unlearning technologies to continue work.

Shoshin was in short supply.

Life in the meanwhile had brought me to the shores of the United States, opening a whole new world of possibilities. When I became a mother, something beautiful happened. I came in contact with the marvelous feeling of youth. Being an immigrant, the children’s books were all new to me, and with the children, I read and devoured books alongside them, reminding me of Kenneth Grahame’s note on the Wind in the Willows.

“A book of youth, and so perhaps chiefly for youth and those who still keep the spirit of youth alive in them; of life, sunshine, running water, woodlands, dusty roads, winter firesides, free of problems, clear of the clash of the sex, of life as it might fairly be supposed to be regarded by some of the wise, small things that ‘glide in grasses and rubble of woody wreck’.”

With all the supposed ‘achievement’ of being in the big world, there was a niggling dissatisfaction though. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was missing my link to Art. When eventually, I stumbled back to Art forms, albeit in a much reduced fashion, I started feeling whole again.

“The most regretful people on Earth are those who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither time nor power.” – Mary Oliver

My hope and wish is for everyone to nourish and cherish their own creative powers to the extent possible.

 

Thoughts Gained & Lost

I looked at this note written a few days ago: both amused and exasperated at it.

**** The children said something – what? As I was walking around by myself, it came to me loud and clear, and now cannot seem to remember it! But remember, and remember to WRite about it!!

It had obviously been something marvelous that I felt the need write myself this note. I have tried and tried to jog my memory though. I don’t have a clue. It could have been anything.  Sports, tea, school, politics, travels, books or social media?

I remember the walk though.

The full moon was beaming – there was no other word for it. It looked larger than usual, felt much closer to earth and glowed a golden yellow in the early evening skies. I am a confirmed selenophile (a lover of the moon) there isn’t a doubt. The pinkish hues of the sunset was just giving rise to the purplish hues and slowly but surely the inky blues of the night would creep in, as though slowly covering the blanket gently over the world.

img_7345

The family had all called or texted me to look up at the skies from wherever they were, and I glowed in the beaming moonlight, fading sunlight and the glorious inner light born of happiness that the children in particular had thought of me when they had seen something beautiful.

I was enjoying the quiet of a moon that rises on an early evening over a week-end. Things seemed surreal in this light and time. This, I felt, was the truest way to bring oneself down to our marvelous Earth.

The birds don’t fly any faster just because the world around them pants and coughs up smoke in automobiles charging from one place to another. The buds are still furled in the tree boughs or the plants below – they don’t rush to unfurl their petals just because February sped past, and beautiful March roared its way in. The grass sways to the speed of the winds whipping them – the winds react to the atmospheric pressures, no one can change their pace.

The world moves on measurably, one moment at a time. The full moon grew predictably over the past fortnight, and there it beamed at me, and my little family, wherever we were at that point in time.  I thought of different posts to write up, beautiful phrases flitted in, and then by the looks of it, evaporated just as quickly. If only I could shore up the energy and determination to write up all the lovely things that occur to me as I walk on!

Later when I read this Brain Pickings post on Walking as Creative Fuel, I nodded along at the wise words of Kenneth Grahame.

Kenneth Grahame – the author of Wind in the Willows wrote:
“Not a fiftieth part of all your happy imaginings will you ever, later, recapture, note down, reduce to dull inadequate words; but meantime the mind has stretched itself and had its holiday.”

Out on the walk that day, what he says seems to have been true. I relished the enthusiasm and the energy in the note to myself – the asterisks, exclamation points and the half-capitalized words written out in haste. It definitely wasn’t the first such note to myself.

img_20200208_193142

Well, the universe alone knows how many great works of literature have been lost, and gained by writers enjoying themselves on their walks. I am glad for the simple act of walking and musing. The meandering of the soul is special because of them.

 

Golden Memory Bubbles

I was excited beyond measure – I was going to see my dearest friend after almost two decades. It didn’t feel like decades had passed since I last saw her. The flutter in my stomach was the same as when school reopened after the holidays. I was eager, expectant and a little nervous.

As I took her in, the years fell away from us. I was so happy to hear her voice, see her smile and take in the movements that were so familiar to me as a girl. After watching me spend the evening with my dear friend, the daughter said, “You know I have never seen Amma this giggly and happy! It is like she is a teenager!”

“You know? There are a few moments that will shine in every one’s mind. It is one of the dearest moments in life when I sat next to the girl with wavy hair and a blue hairpin in Second grade. She stoutly stood by me even in ugly situations such as me being threatened with worms 🐛 and I hope I did the same for her. ” I said with a dreamy look in my eyes.

The next morning, I was lazing in bed, when a memory rose unbidden from the depths pushing aside decades of adulthood and surfacing the teenage self. It reminded me of Mole, Rat, & Badger in The Wind in the Willows.

wind_in_the_willows

We had been “bunking class” as it was called. It was technically no more than taking a circuitous route to the restroom and back. But for some reason, our teachers did not like to see us “loitering” around the corridors as they so inelegantly put it. I would have preferred the term “musing along the corridors”. So, it was no surprise then that we were hailed in stern tones, almost as soon as we left class, by one of our milder and more patient teachers.

Inexplicably, we decided that the prudent course of action is to run to the girls toilets instead of back to our classroom. A dumber choice I cannot think of, for the girls bathroom was a good way off. Off we ran – charging down the corridors, and skating down hallways to the safety of the girls bathroom, giggling and encouraging each other to keep up.

When finally we locked ourselves in, we burst out laughing, heady with relief at outwitting the poor man, though it must have been glaringly obvious to him who the miscreants were. We were also dumb enough to call each other by name just in case he had any problems with his sight. Really! The collective intelligence of teenagers is to be seen to be believed.

I laughed in my sleepy state, and the teenage daughter gave me a quizzical look, “Why? what happened?” I sheepishly told her.

“You bunked class? ” she said a little incredulously. “Well…actually it shouldn’t surprise me that much. Thaatha (grandpaand paati (grandma) said that you were the naughtiest of the three children.” said she with a newfound respect in her voice. This summer was a revelation of sorts for her.

Within minutes, this confession had the most marvelous effect I could have wished for. The children and nieces piled on to the bed I was lounging on, and each one narrated their own school tales to much hilarity and pride. A glimpse into their world with no inhibitions is a marvelous gift. I looked into their shining and mischievous eyes, and listened to them. Amusing escapades revealing their beautiful personalities – fun-loving, good, loyal, sharp, sincere, and witty.

These golden bubbles to be treasured come unbidden, spontaneously and genuinely.

The feeling of being in a Wind in a Willows sort of world deepened:

wind_in_willows

“A book of youth, and so perhaps chiefly for youth and those who still keep the spirit of youth alive in them; of life, sunshine, running water, woodlands, dusty roads, winter firesides, free of problems, clear of the clash of the sex, of life as it might fairly be supposed to be regarded by some of the wise, small things that ‘glide in grasses and rubble of woody wreck’.”

I wished for these children nothing more than the warmth and strength of the gift of lifelong friendships that allow them to smile just thinking of them.

Beavers & Skunk Weeds

We were out in the mountains, and had stopped for a little walk into the wilderness. Stellar jays popped in and out of the bushes. The marshes ahead had water logging the path, and in the beauty of the day, that too became an adventure. We plopped into the water, squealing as the snow melt felt its way through our shoes, past the socks and then our toes. 

It was the perfect spot for The Wind in the Willows. There was a swift flowing river, the marshes nearby looked supple and full of life. “Look! There is a water-mole!” I said pointing to swift movements in the river. We peered to the movements in the opposite bank looking excited. I was quite prepared to find the water rat and the mole enjoying a cup of tea together after sailing down the river on a wooden boat. 

IMG_2861

“How do you know it is a Mole Amma?” said the young son looking at me with awe.

“Why – by looking at it of course!”, I said confidently, forgetting for a moment how nature always finds a way for me to eat my words, and in this case was quite eager to do so within a mile.

It was a marvelous day – with a touch of Spring still about. The nippiness in the air did not smell Summer just yet. It seemed to be just the sort of day to abandon Spring cleaning for a glorious day outside with one’s friends. I know that was what I was doing and not a bit guilty too. This is what days like these were sent for.

“To walk on Earth and fall in love with it. “, as Mary Olivers would say.

We had the most pleasurable hour discussing The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Some books are blessed with gloriously sunny spirits. I thought of Kenneth Graham’s words that it was a book meant for those who want a whiff of childhood. He said, it was

“A book of youth, and so perhaps chiefly for youth and those who still keep the spirit of youth alive in them; of life, sunshine, running water, woodlands, dusty roads, winter firesides, free of problems, clear of the clash of the sex, of life as it might fairly be supposed to be regarded by some of the wise, small things that ‘glide in grasses and rubble of woody wreck’.”

 

img_2850

I looked around me rapturously taking in my surroundings. What better place to imagine looking for Toad, Mole, Badger, and Rat? This was a beautiful setting with a fast flowing river, probably making its way into the larger lake below, and the fertile river marshes were thick with forest cover – the area of transitions as it were.

wind_in_willows.jpg

Where the marshes meet the river, 

Where the river meets the lake, 

Where the brush meets the forest,

Where the distant clouds meet the snow capped mountains,

Where Spring meets Summer

In short, a place

Where the spirits meet the soul

Walking along this setting, I was thinking of the beautiful concept of Biomimicry and all the wonderful things such a place can teach us. 

The Magic of Biomimicry

screen-shot-2017-06-02-at-9-37-47-am

As if nature heard my thoughts, within moments we heard a family talking about
Skunk Weeds. This was the first we had heard of Skunk weeds. The grandmother behind us on the trail was telling her grandchildren that if ever there were stuck in the mountains and in dire need, they should consider skunk weed instead of toilet paper. I looked at the weeds they were pointing at, and they did not look soft. The leaves looked like they had a scratchy texture, and we giggled at the unsaid thought of the effect it would have on already sore bottoms. Dangle a piece like that in front of school going children who like reading Captain Underpants, and it is easier to keep a kettle of boiling water from singing and bubbling.

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that!” I said deftly trying to keep the conversation clean. I cannot say I had much success though. 

Skunk weed, contrary to the smells it evokes, is quite neutral smelling. It is also exceedingly soft, and surprisingly strong. 

“Ha! That should teach us not to judge something by its looks.” I said as I stooped to touch skunk weed for the 15th time. I had never encountered anything this soft, and completely biodegradable. Wet as it was with the recent rains and snow, it had an alluring freshness to it that I can imagine even now just by closing my eyes. 

img_2875

 A few minutes later, the son pointed excitedly at a sign. “Look amma! That was not a mole, it was a beaver!”

I drew up next to him to read a note pinned by the wildlife ranger that said something to the effect of: Be Quiet and nice – all of you please! We are now hosting a family of beavers!

img_2871

Luckily, I did not become a veterinarian was my private thought. But there was something so special about finding ourselves in the midst of a beaver family surrounded by skunk weeds, that the aspiring naturalist in me accepted the humorous mocking and relished the humble pie willingly.

If I were to immerse myself in this version of The Wind in the Willows, I should be ready to have my moles replaced by beavers.

 

The Dance of the Butterflies

Magical March gave us the immense satisfaction of walking to school under magical rainbows,  leprechauns had wreaked havoc and left treasures, my mother got to see her father for the first time at the age of 73, we had a beautiful trip playing in the snow, the doting grandparents arrived and the children have been reveling in the social rainbow that enveloped them.

Out in the natural world, the hills are alive with the sound of moo-sic (cows grazing – get it, get it?), the cherry blossoms send sparks of joy piercing through the soul every time I look at them, and the butterflies have been dancing the dance of joy. Rain showers cleansed the Earth, and all nature around us seems to be smiling benevolently.

 

One beautiful evening, I stepped out on a walk with my little son. Elementary school children derive a certain pleasure in crouching and looking at ants, snails or ladybugs. This time, however, we crouched down to look at a furry, black caterpillar. After reading Eric Carle’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, everyday for months at a time with each of the children, I did not think that I would be enamored sitting and observing caterpillars, but such is the infectious enthusiasm of youth. (The Wind in the Reefs – Working title of The Wind In The Willows)

I found myself excited and thrilled to crouch and watch the caterpillar make its short journey across the concrete path back into the sidewalk where the bushes grew. I still find it amazing that these creatures metamorphose into butterflies. Eggs->Caterpillar(larvae)->Chrysalis(Pupa)->Butterfly has to be the most magical thing in our daily existence next to rainbows.

Later that week, the crouch with the caterpillar made me reach longingly for the book, The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science – Joyce Sidman

IMG_8198.jpg

Maria Merian was a naturalist and illustrator in the seventeenth century.  Written by the children’s author and poet, Joyce Sidman, she says:

In many ways, Maria was an enigma. She rarely wrote about anything other than caterpillars…What we do know is that she had boundless energy, insatiable curiosity, and superhuman focus – traits that would have been difficult to live with, but ones that marked her as a true scientist at a time when the odds were stacked against her.

How does one find the passion and perseverance to stick to a field of study in spite of societal disapproval, familial duties and demanding businesses?  The book gives us a glimpse into seventeenth century life: The impossible clamps on Women, the dangerous possibility of any curiosity being mistaken for witchcraft, the difficult life of artists in general and so much more.

I have always admired those who have high energy levels and put it to good use. Maria Merian was one of those people. She was a brilliant artist, had business acumen and her curiosity about insects made her a pioneer in the field of etymology (A field that did not even have a name until several decades after her death). Her contributions to etymology were remarkable because she also managed to travel to Surinam near Barbados in those days with the sole purpose of studying animal life. Her paintings on Surinam and her books on caterpillars had great appeal in Europe, and Maria Merian went on to transform Art and Science forever.

Screen Shot 2018-03-29 at 5.12.14 PM.png

The book is full of beautiful diagrams, paintings, flowers and plants with little insects on them. It is a joy to thumb through even if it is just to look at the pictures.

 

 

Here is to more butterflies, rainbows and magic.

Spring is in the Air

I started the month off with a beautiful walk in the park as an unusually bright February unfurled itself around me. Nature’s shows are marvelous: Whether we are learning to skip pebbles along the waterside, or admiring the early cherry blossoms,  the unmistakable signs of Spring stirring is in the air.

IMG_7860

 

As I walked, I could not help listening to the wind rustling through the trees, the trilling of the birds, the quacking of the geese, and the chittering of the squirrels. If I had any musical sense, I would have conducted the Great Animal Orchestra.

Birds
The Great Bird Orchestra

I was therefore very happy when a children’s book joyfully tapped into the orchestra playing out around us so beautifully.

Hiccupotamus By Steve Smallman and illustrated by Ada grey, is a perfect companion for a nippy spring.

It is a beautiful bubble squeaking sort of day. It makes little mouse want to squeak and so he does.

IMG_7874.jpg

His squeaks soon encourage the bird to tweet. Then, the centipede taps, and the alligator plays the xylophone with a bone on his teeth.

IMG_7875.jpg

Before we know it,

Boom-dee-Boom

Tappity Tappity

Squeak Squeak

Plink Plink

Boom ba-da boom boom!

Everyone is happy when the Hippo claims to have started the whole thing off. Hey! cried the mouse, bird, alligator and monkey. Where were you?

Why? I am hiccuping bubbles non-stop! says Hiccupotamus.IMG_7876.jpg

The illustrations are so charming, that we have looked at these pages several times, and enjoyed the joy contained in this book.

Spring is in the air, and I’d like to join the birds and animals out on these beautiful Wind In The Reefs sort of days.

The Wind in the Reefs

We are enjoying Wind in the Willows sort of days of late. Every so often, I crave for some comfort reading and fall back on Children’s story books. The Wind in the Willows is one such. I still remember my best friend walking up to the front of the assembly and saying nervously, “The Wind in the Willows By Kenneth Grahame. The Mole had been working hard all morning spring cleaning his home …” She had me sit in the first row so she could look at me for moral support, and I gladly obliged. She had brushed her wavy hair neatly parted at the side, and her nervousness was evident in the small shake in her voice. She looked at me and smiled nervously and I gave her a large blooming-flower-kind of smile that encouraged her to go on and she carried on heartened. She finished her recitation to much applause, and collapsed on the chair next to me, and I assured her that she had been marvelous.

When I read snippets of the book on the train, I thought of her again and all the sunny balmy days of childhood play in the warm sun and pouring rain came back to me. Folks looked at me like I need to have my head examined, I grinned disarmingly at them. After all, Grahame described The Wind in the Reeds (the working title till it became Wind in the Willows) as:

“A book of youth, and so perhaps chiefly for youth and those who still keep the spirit of youth alive in them; of life, sunshine, running water, woodlands, dusty roads, winter firesides, free of problems, clear of the clash of the sex, of life as it might fairly be supposed to be regarded by some of the wise, small things that ‘glide in grasses and rubble of woody wreck’.”

The Wind in the Willows
The Wind in the Willows

There is something deeply alluring about animal stories. I love to imagine them talking to each other, helping one another in times of trouble and having their little adventures. I was similarly happy when I read another passage on Dolphins and Humans in the Cosmic Connection by Carl Sagan. These helpful animals probably crave a little intellectual stimulation and have often been friends to humans, and yet we have shown them time and again how heartless we are by going after them.

Carl Sagan writes of Elvar the Dolphin, who he had the pleasure of meeting during one of his visits to his friend, John Lilly. John Lilly was an admirable scientist who was involved in several researches, Dolphins being one of them. Lilly introduced Elvar-the-Dolphin to Sagan-the-Human, and seeing that they were getting along, let them to it. Sagan and Elvar came into playing a sort of game, and after being splashed thoroughly by Elvar thrice, Sagan refused to play a fourth time.

Elvar surveyed the standoff for several minutes and swam up to Sagan up and said in a squeaky tone of voice, “More!”.

Carl Sagan, justifiably flustered, came running to his friend and said he might have heard a dolphin say the word, “More”.

To which his friend asked him, “Was it in context?”

“Yes! “, spluttered the poor physicist, to which the neuro-scientist smiled and said that it was one of the 50 odd words he knew.

In all these years, we have yet to pick up one word of Dolphinese and yet, we boast about being knowledgable and go to no end to display our arrogance to Mother Nature.

The Wind in the Reefs
Why are we so quick so assume that a place like this will not be rife with little joys and strifes? Doodling by the Daughter

If we are so intent about looking for extra terrestrial life, maybe we should stop and let our own ecosystems thrive.

I am reminded of what William James said, about letting Nature teach us as she ought:

It is to be hoped that we have some friend, perhaps more young than old, whose soul is of this sky-blue tint, whose affinities are rather with flowers and birds and all enchanting innocencies, than with dark human passions, who can think of no ill of man.