The Lake of Lousy Metaphors

This post was published in the Nature Writing online magazine dated 11th August

The past few months in the nourish-n-cherish household have been a whirling vortex of activity. I enjoyed most of it, but one night I felt exhausted. A sense of being spread too thin washed over me. I tried chuckling at Bilbo Baggins’ famous quote in The Lord of the Rings,  ‘like butter scraped over too much bread’, but what came out was a whimper. 

I walked over to the window, and gazed outside. The view of a spring night with its flowering plants and trees bursting with young leaves is beautiful. The faint moonlight breaking through the clouds above, makes for a serene scene, and made me reach longingly for Thoreau at Walden Pond, though it was well past midnight.

 

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Henry David Thoreau built himself a cabin in the woods near Walden Pond, and lived there for 2 years 2 months and 2 days. What emerged from this minimalist living of Thoreau’s was the great writings, that to this day offers us wisdom. (In case you run away with this notion of my acquiring wisdom, I  assure you, that I am in no such danger. I am still firmly rooted in the hustle and bustle of the human village.). The book I read was a graphic book meant to introduce Walden Pond to those who draw like me (stick or easy sketches – the actual sketches were of course better than any I produce). The words and captions belonged to Thoreau, and I enjoyed the drawings – minimalist sketches to match a minimalist lifestyle. 

In the book, Thoreau refers to the calming influence of observing nature, and how if you stay still in the woods, you will notice things that are otherwise not revealed. I let the book flop on my tired torso, and threw my mind back to the day the husband & I managed to get a day to ourselves in the wilderness. We went on a strenuous hike up to Upper Yosemite Falls. It was a beautiful day to hike. Several cascades trickled across our paths, and we jumped joyously across them. The water trickles are the highlight of that hike, and we thoroughly enjoyed splashing ourselves with the fresh water from the snow melt. It was steep going, and we huffed and puffed our way upwards. 

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The trailhead helpfully said, that one must not under-estimate the hike, and that it would take 5-6 hours for average hikers. The husband, in his typical fashion, said it would only take 4 hours. I haha-ed somewhat helplessly at this optimism that has been my bait and mate, and said 6 hours it is. It took us 5 and 1/2. So there.

I was keeping my eyes out for some wildlife, and I was disappointed to find that apart from some squirrels, there really wasn’t any other wildlife of note. Of course, animals have learnt to keep away from wild humans. I remember reading somewhere that the only large animals to survive the Anthropocene stampede are those that are domesticated.  All others, we have managed to slowly wipe out. 

On the hike, it was a perfect day, the skies were a brilliant blue, the weather neither hot nor cold, anywhere you pointed the phone, you got a pretty enough picture ( I paid for this by spending an hour deleting 98% of these photos). The steps and switchbacks were exacting a toll on the calf muscles that I paid for the next day. Then we turned a bend, and there in front of us was the spectacular Yosemite falls crashing and thundering its way down to the Merced river. Loud crashes probably meant large shelves of ice chipping and crashing into the depths below. The mists created rainbows. It was marvelous. One could stand there for hours watching the waterfall. 

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It was mighty lucky for us to enjoy Yosemite like that. For just a few days later, a storm engulfed the region, and Yosemite valley was evacuated, several rivers ran swollen and we heard of tragic mishaps and washed away roads. I thought also about how on our recent trip to the mountains, we had narrowly missed a snow storm.  There is something eerie about knowing how close one was to mishap. I was yanked back to the present by the goose-bumps on my skin, and I held the Walden at Thoreau in my hands as if looking at it for the first time. Maybe that is what the wise mean when they say ‘Enjoy the present’, and ‘Savor the moment’ and so on. I opened Thoreau slowly, mentally leaving the human village behind, and entered a sanctuary of peace and calm. I  retreated into the book for several blissful minutes, like a deer in the meadow at a rare moment.  

Thoreau had written about Walden Pond itself: 

“A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful feature. It is Earth’s eye, looking into which the beholder measures the depths of his own nature. “ 

I dipped my feet into the lake of sleep, thought of what a lousy metaphor that was, and drifted off.

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The Big, Little and Half Domes at Yosemite

The grandparents arrived, and the grandchildren are reveling in the attention, food and companionship that grandparents bring in their wake. The pater is the Self Appointed Head Counsel for Advice in the household. When you take out a slice of bread, and don’t know how to bite it, he is the authority to seek out: Bread is best eaten when toasted with ghee on both sides in a frying pan, not toaster, and then you must liberally spread jam or even condensed milk. This new fangled chocolate on everything is not good for health, and one must keep away from large doses on chocolate on everything, he says to the children who have perfected the Art of Pacifying Thaatha (Thaatha – Grandpa) with a smile, and fleeing with the chocolates. The teenaged daughter is particularly adept at this. One time, he was advising her on how to leave the house for School without causing mayhem in the morning. “Remember, I went to School for 60 years!” said the old man. (He was a school teacher.) 

“Clearly, it wasn’t enough!” said the tongue-in-cheek grand-daughter to much mirth on Grandpa’s side. I don’t quite understand the rhythms of relationships between grandchildren and grandparents.

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Anyway, point is: Thaatha can give life advice on anything. Grandchildren can ignore life advice on everything. So, an easy truce prevails with each doing exactly what they want to do, with affection and love. It is a sight to behold.  

In other news, April rolled along, bringing Spring break in its wake, and off we went to Yosemite National Park for a few days. Gazing over the rain washed Yosemite valley, makes one think yearningly of the phrase: Where every prospect pleases and only man is vile. 

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Yosemite is a poet’s heaven, an artist’s dream, a hiker’s paradise, a parking headache, and a last minute accommodation seeker’s nightmare all rolled into one.

Luckily for us, we found a beautiful house about an hour away from the park’s valley. The second day of the trip,  the grand (children and parents) opted to stay in the house enjoying the environs nearby. This gave the husband and I an opportunity to sneak off on a hike, and we enjoyed the day and the views it gave us.

That day, the former school-going grandfather and current elementary-school-going grandson also set out on a hike of their own near the house.  

They were asked to take a phone along, and this suggestion was advised away saying the younger generation relies too much on technology, and that good common sense will always lead you in the right direction. “Especially on a walk, just note down the important roads and junctions, and you will increase your memory, …

“Okay okay Thaatha – you come back and teach me how to take a walk okay? I am only going to lie down and read today. Sure, you don’t want the phone? Okay! Bye! “ said the teenager and plonked herself on a couch that looked like it was made by fairies, and stuffed with dandelion twinkles.  She ruled the heavens of her imaginations with queenly delight and grace the whole morning.

Out in the streets, the walk started out sweetly enough. Grandpa advising his grandson on how to notice all the road signs, and distinguishing features, so they don’t get lost. About 2 hours later, the pair of them rolled up to the home in a police escort vehicle to much agitation in the household. The grandfather got himself out, somberly shook hands with the young officer, and his stentorian voice could be heard “ Thank you very much Officer. May God bless you. I am very sorry for the inconvenience caused to you, and we very much appreciate you bringing us home. ”

The son was seen shyly high-fiving the officer. 

“What happened?”, went the collective pry, and after a weary sigh, the duo set out to explain their walk.

The grandfather had started off by advising the little fellow about how not to lose his way. “Take note of the road name, and you can always find your way back.”, said Big Dome to the Little Dome. The Little Dome said, “Oak Dr, Oak Road, Oak Trail, Oak Grove, Fountain Road, Fountain Circle. “

“Don’t remember them all, that would confuse you.”

“But you said …”,  and off they went giving and imbibing life lessons for all of us.

About a mile afterward when they decided to come back was when the fun started. It was a confusing place to get to, and several times the same road names looped one over the other. Was it Fountain Circle, or Fountain Drive that they had passed last. What about Lion Cove? Was Lion Cove parallel to Fountain Drive or perpendicular to Fountain Circle? The poor things went round and round in circles, till Officer Dave had driven by. The Little Dome helpfully rattled all the street names he remembered, and Big Dome apologized for having forgotten the route, though he remembered the name of the street the house was on. The police officer was most gracious and helpful to the grateful duo, and gave them a ride to the house on the prairie.

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Thereafter, for the rest of the trip, Big Dome was teased about remembering the names of the streets, and landmarks. “Thaatha – this is Half Dome. Always remember that rock, and you will not get lost in the valley. If you get lost, keep walking towards Half Dome. From up there, you can see everything clearly, and can find your way.”

Never a dull moment, and that is just as life should be.

Henry David Thoreau At Walden Pond:

I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one’s self on this Earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we live life simply and wisely.

Also read:

Slay The Dragon, Not The Parrot