Pluvial Pleasures

It had been one of those week-ends that started off with a weather report that issued a Hydrological warning.

The son & I exchanged looks. In the wake of a spelling bee at the son’s school, the word gave us no amount of pleasure. It must be exciting being a lexicologist.

Water bodies could swell? A torrent of moisture could swoop in? What magical things could a hydrological warning bring in its wake? Atmospheric rivers? Our own stream-like river could swell into a proper river?

river

“Hmm – maybe we should check out the riverbed nearby. And for good measure, I think I also shall take a bike ride and check out the dried out lake beds from a few weeks ago”, I said. 

The children shook their heads. 

“This! This is why people call you a nature kook, amma!” , said the son.

The daughter took a stronger stance:“No going biking in the rain Mother!”

“If you are going biking, try to be back by 3 p.m. – that’s when the rains are supposed to start. So, don’t go off all over the place, and forget the time. Watch the clock and get back!”, said the husband. 

Now there was a man who knew a lost cause when he saw one.

Accordingly, off I went. I whistled as I biked along the sparkling Earth. The birds stopped their squabbling and looked to see how an asthmathic milk-cooker took to biking (in my mind, I was whistling ‘These are a few of my favorite things’ song), and I smiled back at them. Wasted of course. Hydrological warning or not, geese do not smile, the wrens are joyous but don’t care much about you, the pelicans are barely curious. The wood ducks – they stop enough to see where you are going.This musing got me thinking about one little curious bird that we had seen on an off-roading adventure with the brother. I’d like to name the little thing, Birdingger Coothwart.

He (the brother I mean, not the bird) had jaunted us off to a hilltop somewhere south of Bangalore, and the world was soaking in freshly squeezed north-east monsoons. 

Now, there was a hydrological warning if ever there was one. Lakes overflowed, rivers leaped, streams gurgled, rivulets flowed, and the rains lashed down.

This little bird, no bigger than a wren, with a bright green and beige plumage followed the car. We had first noticed it as it swooped joyously over the tree-tops while his x cylinder, 4 tyre all-wheel drive terrain vehicle with XD pumps or whatever-it-is the nephew tells me about slowly muddled its way down the steep muddy grade. 

“Going down is harder than going up see?” , said the brother, and we nodded. None of us could drive that thing down that hill anyway, so what was the point in knowing how fast it could go, and long as it went?

The little birdie, however, wanted to know. It dived alongside the car peeking to see what kind of animal it was, and how it rumbled along on the road. Was it because this little one, whose flight range was probably far from the bustling city of Bangalore did not get many combustion engine visitors or was it because it craved the company of its occupants? Seeing that rhinoceroses were scant in this part of India, and there were no elephants in the vicinity the car must’ve been one of the largest moving things it had seen. 

As one can imagine, I had taken a dozen useless photographs with little luck. Ornithologists and bird photographers have my immense respect – for I got a great many pictures of boughs, (zoomed in, not zoomed in), tree trunks, branches, and even bushes, but not one of the little bird. I am not even aware of the kind of bird it is. Usually, I rely on Google’s image recognition software to help me with bird names (Those ML/AI engineers have no idea how much joy their little model brings me). But even Google draws a blank if you don’t have a picture. Maybe wildlife photographers in Bannerghetta region could help me out. At one point, seeing how persistent I was, the brother stopped the car and tumbled out himself to try to get a picture, but the bird had had enough. It was one thing to see a great big animal rumbling along peacefully, quite another to see other animals come out from this one, and it flew off. However, we caught sight of the little thing just a few hundred meters later. I swear there was a laughter in its flight, and I would like to be a bird like Birdingger Coothwart one day: joyous, free-spirited, curious, and prudent within limits.

These beautiful musings bought me to the dried lake beds on the opposite side of the Earth, and I was happy to see that the rains had at least filled one of the lake beds. 

vintage_point

I cycled back home, keeping a sharp eye on the clock, and I must say, had I not stopped to take that brilliant photograph of that tree, I might’ve made it before the rains started. As it was, I made it to the neighborhood and the sharp, pelting droplets as they plopped all over me really made admire those who predict the weather. I mean they said 3 p.m. the rains would come and one could’ve set their clock by their predictions. 

Hmm. In one bike ride, I’d wanted to be a bird, a whistler, an ornithologist, a wildlife photographer, a botanist, and a climatologist (or whoever predicts the weather). A day’s work done, I piled into the house. Birdingger Coothwart may not have craved tea, but I did after those vigorous musings, and the fresh, cold air against my face. 

Tweet Talk

The cheery morning had us all chirping – much like the world around us. A beautiful, bright, sunny November morning around the time of Thanksgiving is always a special time. The glorious world around us transformed into multi-colored hues, and the auditory world rich with the orchestra of birds made our human companions on the trail more friendly as well. Every single one of them cheerily greeted one another on what a lovely morning it was. The world seemed to be in harmony.

Geese lifted out of their slumbering fields and flew squawking great big messages to one another as they splashed down into the lakes and rivers nearby. The blackbird murmurations overhead trilled and flew flashing their streaks of red in marvelous patterns overhead. The californian blue jays swooped among the marshes and the trees, their brilliant azure feathers twinkling and shining in the rays of the sun. The great blue herons and egrets stood waiting in their great cloaks of grey and white, relishing their solitude and just being part of the great lovely world around them. 

I read somewhere that people who were among many birds were generally less stressed in life, and I could readily imagine why. The joyous chirps, blending together in a great, harmonious orchestra along with the swift usage of wings to fly up and above, taking one’s spirits with you is enough to reduce the stress. 

I sniffed rapturously and we walked on. The ponds in the marshes seemed perfect for reflection, and the mind wandered. I took some pictures: not too many, and certainly not of great quality for posterity. There were talented photographers  for that. I have several friends whose photographs have that essence of transcending the current space and time and tranporting you to that very moment they captured. How they manage to catch the birds in flight is beyond me. I said as much to the son, who gave me an amused look at yet another blurry picture I took of a nesting heron in the marshes. 

Seeing how enamored I am with our winged companions in this world, the daughter got me a book titled Bird Cottage – by Eva Meijer for my birthday. I look forward to reading it. I looked at the son as we walked on in companionable silence, and told him so.

“Now, I am reading a book on hummingbirds.” 

“I am sure you are!” He said with a smile on the corner of his lips.

“Less sass young man. It is a fascinating book. “

“That’s what I meant. You would like to read a whole book on hummingbirds. What’s it about?” he said indulging me as he walked on.

I was proud of the fellow. He had been promised a short, zipping bike ride with the wind blowing against his face. Instead, here he was on a long walk. On the trudge back, he said, “I think I am going to go home and replace my legs with another pair. They hurt!”, and he laughed raucously at his own joke.

“It would be nice to fly on home, wouldn’t it? Become a hummingbird so we can fly swiftly and purposefully home every few minutes if you so wish!”

I told him about this person who lives in Marin County who takes on orphaned hummingbirds and nurses them back to life. “They need to be fed every 20 minutes all day every day till they are strong enough to be released into the wild.” I said.

“Wow. Why do they eat so much? They are so tiny!”

“Well! They are tiny and almost fully lungs – so you have to give them tiny portions every few minutes, so they can survive and thrive. A hummingbird mother is a very busy one. She has to fly in and out of the nest every few minutes feeding, and looking after her little ones, till they are strong enough. Just like most babies.” I said. He looked confused and awed. I addressed that look and said, “Even human babies need to be fed every couple of hours throughout the day for the first few months. You know that?”

He had a vague idea until then that babies were work, but he had no idea they needed to be fed every 2 hours.

He was quiet for a few moments digesting this piece of info. I swooped in, and gave him what the early days of human baby care looked like. I rounded it off saying, “Yep! You do all that, and what do they do? Sass you on walks, and roll their eyes when they are teens!” He laughed raucously frightening a goose nearby, and we spoke of this and that, the great web of life, and the fantastic nature of living.

Cacophony for Biophony, Socialization for ?

The day was cloudy and cold as I stepped out for a walk.  As I neared a spot where there are wide grasslands, I paused here and there to see two warblers, an American robin, a goldfinch, sparrows, and blue-colored scrub jays. It was as I was panting near what I thought was a red-breasted robin that it struck me, as to how much biophony has reduced in the areas of our habitat. I am no ornithologist. In fact, I am a bird who is seldom right about birds – for all you know I may have been watching two sparrows, a bunch of bullfinches, some doves and a bluejays. You see, birdwatching is a hobby that requires patience, and I start to hum before I am properly stationed with the binocs. That would hardly do to the elusive birds waiting for peace and quiet before emerging from the bushes and so on. No sir. You would not find me waiting with a pair of binoculars behind any tree for the life of me. That kind of joy requires patience and I know best of all, that I am as restless as a hummingbird. Despite this, I love watching birds when they are not shy enough to stray across my path. I love their peckings and their cooings and their general sense of industry.

Birds
Birds

I listened to the bird calls for a few minutes and thought about how much I miss the sounds of birds. The only sounds we hear often is the Angry Birds background music that is both irritating and jarring from some multi-media entertainment channel. We have truly substituted cacophony for biophony. What is biophony? A word I was interested to learn about as I listened to this recording of noises in a California forest over the past 10 years.

http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2014/10/16/listen-as-a-california-forest-grows-quiet-over-time/

It has happened so gradually that many are oblivious to the change, and now happily go on with their lives. Save for a pang now and again, we don’t set aside another thought to the missing birds in our life.

In other news, I read recently that children exposed to inordinate amounts of screen time are less tuned to reading people’s emotions and acting accordingly. Apparently, they miss subtle body language and facial clues, and blunder on to make things worse.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/08/how-screen-time-affects-kids_n_5765568.html

If we ever need to get a peek into what society will be like when that transformation happens completely, all one needs to do is seat themselves in front of any appalling soap opera on Indian Television. The maudlin entertainment pulled my attention when the parents or parents-in-law were here several times. There the heroine is:  impeccably groomed, dressed like she is going for a party, to receive her abusive husband or to confront angry relatives or something-that-will-ensure-she-cries-buckets-in-minutes. But there is something else here for us to observe. She babbles on completely ignoring the cues that are emanating from the person she is conversing with. There is nothing but brooding silence, or desperately angry vibes that are coming from the other person. Of course, no good can come from this, and pretty soon, everything thuds to a stop with an explosion of sorts. (The same thing could have happened with a man, but Indian TV prefers crying women.) The glycerine acts immediately and there are tears and dubious sentiments on culture and I gag (once again) in the confines of my home.

This saddens me. Is this not what society is headed for if we lose the ability to study the subtle hints that body language gives us? I truly can’t think of a bleaker future than one where we regress to live like folks in Tamil TV serials. If you had told me that we would have to adopt the babboon-way-of-life again, I would have been less sad, for we might have evolved into humans once again.

The problem is that, it will be a slow process, one in which one generation of parents finds a subtle change in their offspring and another change in the generation after that. We may, in the meanwhile, categorize these mystifying changes to a generation gap and only realize three generations later when a great grandparent talks about a time when he used a subtle cue to decipher a situation.

Just like we cannot bring the biophony back, what if we cannot bring one of our most useful social skills back?

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