The morning drive had a sense of promise to it. My eyes shone as it took in the beauty and rays of the rising sun. I felt a revival of the old spirits.
This is usually the time of year when the natural world starts to look tired in Northern California. The summer heat beats down on the hills, and the greenery of the jolly hills of a few months ago feels like a distant memory, the river beds have signs telling people that ‘No Fishing or Swimming or Diving is allowed’ and we chuckle when we see these signs – for there are no waters in which to do these activities.
As if to make up for this though, the summer flowers on the oleander trees the rose shrubs and lavender bushes all make up for it by their exuberance blossoms and presence.
During the drive I was listening to an old Tamil Song that was dripping with philosophies of life. There are some truths that only experience can bring about. I found myself thinking of Dr Seuss’s book on similar lines, Oh! The Places You’ll Go!”
There is an understanding of the ebbs and flows of life’s tides in these that is strangely soothing to the human soul meandering through it all. Almost instinctively, I peered out at the sun rising over the glistening waters of the bay. The waters near the shore gently lapping on the shores. There is a periodic rhythm to life – the waves of the waters, the sunrise and sunset, seasons.
“I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you.”
By the end of the drive though, the sense of promise was uplifting. After an equally uplifting walk with friends, as I drove back with the sun beating down and the shabby summer looks were there again, I harked back to the book again.
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
There are blues that are particularly attractive in clothing. For instance there was a deep sea blue nickname M S Blue, for the famed singer, M S Subbulakshmi first stylishly wore saris win that rich blue to concerts. Then there was the copper sulphate blue, turquoise blue, peacock blue, sky blue and navy blue.
Nevertheless, the book has many interesting aspects to the color blue. Starting from ceramics to precious stones and textile colors, the color blue has always enamored artists and patrons alike.
I found myself gleefully reading about the color, YinMn (pronounced yin-min) blue created by Dr Mas Subramanian that was later honored by having a color of its own created by Crayola the Crayon company. Made from Yttrium, Indium and Manganese, the color created a blue wave in the world of colors.
The chemical formula of YInMn Blue is YIn1-xMnxO3.
I always imagined the creatures of the ocean having an even higher frequency range of light perception than humans. So I envisioned them swimming and living in a brilliant world of coral reefs and kelp forests with the myriad shades of blue contributing to its beauty. Imagine my disappointment then that the book while explaining the cones that are present in our eyes to detect color indicate that whales, seals and many denizens of our blue seas cannot perceive the color blue and may well see the teeming coral reefs as grey on grey.
That made me feel blue – I am not going to deny that. (Though I must admit the color blue has never made me feel blue, so I wonder where the expression comes from.)
This book has re-awakened a dream of two science-based books that I have been meaning to write for children. One on colors and another on how different creatures perceive our world.
When can I become a mermaid?
To explore the forests of kelp
Or a butterfly
Or a blue jay or a hummingbird
So I can see the gardens of life abound through their wondrous roving eyes.
I am enormously grateful that I am moved by the beauty and strength of a tree. I have spent many (but not quite enough) tranquil moments watching and admiring trees. Trees provide an unassuming, grounding presence for restless spirits such as mine.
I remember one day not too long ago when spring had turned to summer, and I stopped short and quite abruptly in front of a gingko tree. The tree was now fully covered in green leaves – when did the bare winter transform to full grown summer? I don’t remember the quiet miracle of life marching on though I passed the tree almost everyday: The efficient leaves photosynthesizing and nourishing the tree.
I am reminded of William Blake’s quotes on trees:
“To some people a tree is something so incredibly beautiful that it brings tears to the eyes. To others, it is just a green thing that stands in the way.”
How sagely they bear the scurrying squirrels, the boisterous monkeys, the birds who make their homes in them including birds like woodpeckers who must be a noisy presence, the army of insects, and so much more? Even in my most whimsical moments, I cannot envision an angry tree or even an annoyed one. A tree is always what it is: steady, useful, beautiful.
I was watching a woodpecker peck steadily at a tree branch one day.
I stood there taking in the beauty of the suns rays, the straight angle at which the woodpecker was perched on the tree (really – how was it holding on like that without ropes, and banging its head against the tree all day long?), the beautiful red of its feathers glinting against the rays of the sun, contrasting with the light green of the trees leaves.
I remember wondering why the tree didn’t just shudder a bit to shake the bird off. But it didn’t. The woodpecker for its part seemed to be so happy at yammering at the tree like that it shocked me. For such a small bird to absorb the waves created must be quite high even if it was self inflicted.
Musings like these are music to the soul. For I came back and the internet gave me plenty to read up on woodpeckers. Coming from the human world, I assumed a design structure such as shock absorbers for the woodpeckers to endure the yammering. But nature surprised me yet again. Biomimicry as a discipline continues to hold me in awe. Woodpeckers really do not have shock absorbers. Instead their skulls are designed to endure the impact much like a hammer takes the impact of a bang. Given their size, the impacts they make are just enough for them to absorb throughout the day.
When pecks arrive through the day, I think of the tree, and the happy woodpecker. Even though all those who knock and peck at my attention are not exactly happy to do so, I assume they are happy like the woodpecker, and I try, poorly, to act the part of the sagacious, gracious tree and all is well.
When I picked up the book, The Peace Tree from Hiroshima, I felt a familiar flutter of hope. The title promised a story about the best aspects of humankind. But little did I realize how moved I would be by the book. Published by Tuttle Publishing, which was set up to promote Asian stories in America post World War II, this is a heartwarming tale of a tree that became a symbol of peace between Japan & America.
The Miyajima or pine tree was handpicked in about 1625 when Mr Yamaki’s great great … great grandfather, Mr Itaro, went hiking in the mountains of an island, Miyajama – nicknamed the Island of the Gods for its scenic splendors. Ever since the pine lived in the home of the family: carefully tended for and handed over as a legacy from father to son. 400 years later, when the nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, somehow this family and the bonsai tree survived.
I had heard of Bonsai & Ikebana art, but did not truly understand what went into creating and preserving such magnificent specimens. When it comes to art forms with flowers and trees, the Chinese and Japanese have such a rich heritage.
In what is the most moving gesture of humanity, on America’s 200th anniversary, Japan gifted America with 50 bonsai trees (one for each state). The bonsai trees were special ones including 3 from the Emperor’s collection. This 400 year old Miyajima tree from Hiroshima was also part of that gift and now lives in the Arboretum in Washington where it has been christened The Peace Tree. This tree that saw humankind go through industrial revolutions, technological advances unseen before, and the worst blemish in warfare is now a Peace Tree. I hope I can visit the Washington Arboretum one day and be in the presence of this little 3 ft tree with a powerful message of hope, resilience and forgiveness.
It truly became The Little Bonsai with a Big Story
This little bonsai’s story along with the Cranes of Hope, will hopefully be a reminder to us on the horrors of war.
Towards the end of the book, the author writes a note indicating which parts of the story were fictionalized and which parts were true. They also include pictures of several bonsai trees including one that contains 11 trees in one arrangement, created by Bonsai artist, John Naka. Apparently, one of the longest living bonsai, Fudo, lived over 900 years old. It was bought by the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, but unfortunately this one did not survive the new conditions and died.
How could the miniature version of the magnificent large pine tree outside our house live as a bonsai tree for upwards of 400 years? Wonders never cease and artistry comes in so many forms.
Previously, when we’ve dipped our senses into another world, it was while being firmly rooted in our own. Peeking into the aquariums and viewing areas so painstakingly built for us by the ecologists and marine scientists, I always sent a wave of gratitude to those who enabled these magical moments.
It was with excitement and trepidation that we stood there listening to the instructions from our guide. Contrary to most snorkelers in the region, we were not experienced swimmers. As we slipped our feet into the paddles, a gurgle of hilarity hiccuped its way up and the children & I exchanged glances and started laughing. We did look ridiculous.
Getting a peek into the world of the ocean has always been a dream. Reading essays such as the Enchanted World by Gerald Durrell made the desire stronger.
Any naturalist who is lucky enough to travel, at certain moments has experienced a feeling of overwhelming exultation at the beauty and complexity of life
But there is one experience, perhaps above all others, that a naturalist should try to have before he dies and that is the astonishing and humbling experience of exploring a tropical reef. You become a fish, hear and see and feel as much like one as a human being can; yet at the same time you are like a bird, hovering, swooping and gliding across the marine pastures and forests
Gerald Durrell – Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons
While it had been so easy to slip our flippers on and off on land, the moment we had gentle waves lapping against us, simple tasks became a comedic trial of incompetence. I was glad to see that experienced swimmers struggled just as much as we did with this task. I may have smirked, and if I did, who could blame me.
As we moved on looking into the waters and observing the fish, there were moments when the flippers propelled us forward, and moments when the lungs rebelled with the excessive sea water that we were drinking in with each breath.(It takes some time to find the right degree, adjust the valves etc).
Whether we were watching the fish, or they were watching us was a philosophical question for I felt the fish swim by in delight and make several loops and gags around us. Schools of them – probably curious, and laughing at our inefficiency with the waters.
The fish frolicked, the humans shuddered; the schools of fish glided and gurgled happily while we sputtered and choked; the fish changed direction seamlessly while we struggled. If we entertained our piscine friends, I am happy.
Several minutes into our dip and frankly embarrassing foray into the ocean, our guide came gliding up like a fish himself and signaled us towards a large turtle (she-turtle he said), and we nodded. “It is illegal to touch a turtle these days, but you can see it from afar.”
We changed course (which is to say we all spat out some sea water, gulped some air and water, sputtered some more and set out in the approximate direction) flipping those comical looking flippers hard. And there, right in front of us was a large turtle with elegant fins swimming graciously in the waters. For those brief moments, we weren’t bumbling sea-water drinking sputterers lost in the ocean, but mesmerized and equally graceful spectators to one of the most elegant creatures on the planet.
This was magic. Days afterward, I can flash back in my mind to that clear image of the turtle with its large fins swimming on by us. A face structure that enables it to look like it is smiling and amused with life, the turtles smooth motion as it cut through the choppy waters of the Pacific Ocean was amazing.
How do bone structures, ligaments, tendons, and all the things that hold an organism together evolve by design to function thus? What marvelous creatures sentient beings are? Nerves, neurons, cells, tissue, blood, ligaments, flesh and bone- but all of this coming together to become thinking beings with intent.
I obviously have been looking for pictures of all that satisfies this marine curiosity ever since. My curiosity was rewarded by this book :
What an enormous wonder it is to be a sentient, logical, and functioning being in this complex world? For that one marvelous dip into the world of the sea creatures, I am grateful beyond words can describe.
The week at Kauai in Hawaii was beautiful. During the days afterward, the little island images would flit in and out like waves on a beach. Sometimes the imagery so powerful that they would refresh and restore from afar. The turtles would swirl in the ocean waves, the turquoise waters would gently lap the golden sands, or splash against the rocky beaches, the birds would chirp merrily, and every now and then the school of fish or that large turtle- would flash up an image from the reefs below.
The flowers of the island, Leilani pua would gently sway in the ocean breeze, the sounds of the rains that were difficult to predict and never long to endure would patter into one’s consciousness.
The general light of the island would be suffused into the surroundings.
As life settles into its usual routines, there is a rose-tinted tinge to the world that is slowly but steadily fading. I now have to recall the turtles, as opposed to them showing up unannounced. I cling on though.
Looking back at the pictures from the vacation, I realize that tropical island vacations have a timbre and light that is wholly separate from the rest of the world. Who was that who said that No man was an island? Imagine a world where each of us is an island.
(Words from the book, Imagine A Place – Words By Sarah L Thomson, Images by Rob Gonsalves)
I stop to admire the roses, and compare and contrast their multi-layered rose-scented beauty with the elegant and highly simple-structured plumerias in the Hawaiian islands.
How complicated and simple life can be – and how beauty to be found in both aspects of life.
The island doesn’t leave you, and it seems to remind me of the importance of the solitude and refreshing nature of this little island in oneself, to be pulled up at will when life tugs you in every which way.
In the book, a child leaves the environs of the city to go and live with his grandparents in the countryside. The lake and forest nearby look inviting and the child starts exploring on his own.
Usually, when I take a color photograph of a luscious green forest or a beautiful waterbody, I prefer the picture in all its glory. Even if it does seem over-saturated at times. But in this book, the muted colors do nothing to diminish the relaxing feel of the book.
The author says that she wrote the book after a week back from a relaxing sojourn with nature and the moment I came back from a vacation in Hawaii I picked up the book. In the book, it is the lake the boy dives into. We dipped into the ocean, and the height of the skies we explored with a helicopter ride.
In one glorious day we soared to the skies and took in an aerial view of the beautiful island of Kauai – soaring over the cliffs of the Na Pali coast and diving into the rocky coral reefs for an afternoon of snorkeling.
Not all of us in our group were good swimmers. So, in order to experience the joys of the oceanic creatures, we learnt swimming everyday in the past month.
Was it worthwhile? Resounding yes! We swam in the sublime beaches of Hanalei Bay and during snorkeling were able to see schools of fish and a large sea turtle swim right by us, along with marvelous creatures such as parrotfish, sea cucumbers etc.
We could not take our phones while snorkeling, so this is a pic of a turtle while I sat on the rocks above.
The height of the sky and the depth of the oceans are both within us.