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. 

Froide a Paris avec Gezellig

The husband planned a meticulous trip to 3 different countries in Europe for the nourish—n-cherish household. Left with all the rest of the work, I stood in front of my bookshelf dilly-dallying on the reading material. Finally, I chose Bill Bryson’s Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe, which was an excellent read.

Neither here nor there: Travels in Europe by [Bill Bryson]

Bill Bryson started off his travels with catching the Northern lights in Norway. We chose France. But believe me, by the time we landed and made our way to the Airbnb , I felt like I was at the North Pole. The high temperatures of the day were 32F or OC. One night while standing by the Seine river watching the Eiffel Tower from a distance, I was so cold, I may have seen the aurora borealis over Jupiter. The daughter’s eyelashes froze, the son with no extra fat reserves froze too. The Seine miraculously flowed on.

Luckily, T’was the most wonderful time of the year!

This feels the time when overuse of the word , “T’was” is a requirement. Europe in Christmas time is a joy. The store fronts in tourist locations have marvelous decorations put up for Christmas and we couldn’t stop admiring the many ways in which people think to spread cheer. It was irresistible to stop and take a few pictures, very well knowing that I may never look at them again.

xmas_decor

Cities in Europe have a charm to Christmas time that is hard to capture. There is music in the air, there are musicians in subway stations, lights strung up everywhere in artistic and beautiful garlands like little bubbles of joy through the cold winter scene outside. Finally, there is a purposeful stride to people as they walk swiftly in their heavy coats looking sprightly, even though we seemed to feel lumberous with all the layers of thermal wear.

Our warm flight attendant on the KLM flight told us that the Dutch have a word similar to Hygge for this particular feeling:

It is called Gezellig.

She said the word was not easily translated, as it encompasses all warm feelings associated with the yuletide spirit (but is not restricted to Christmas or winter imagery) – just read the link above, will ya?

Every now and then, we would encounter a quiet fascinating residential street with plenty of trees. On one such charming street that windy day, the last few leaves from the trees above floated down and I went chasing after them in glee. No surer way to lift one’s spirits or body temperatures in my books!

The ones who impressed us the most though , were the relentless joggers of Paris. In case, any of you missed the gist thus far – Paris – beautiful but biting cold in winter. Yet, here they were, zipping through the streets in shorts and light jackets. I ain’t going to lie : that takes a special sort of determination and dedication and I would’ve taken my hat off to them if I didn’t think my brain would freeze.

Walking past a little pond that had frozen over, we stopped to watch the ducks standing on the frozen waters. Had their other duck friends flown onto warmer climes in Africa or Argentina, while these poor ducks were stuck here? I thought of that passage by Bill Bryson on his winter trip to Oslo to see the aurora borealis: I suppose this was one of those times when I truly felt grateful to be a visitor and not have to live there. I could already feel my feet freeze through the thick boots, and woollen socks, and couldn’t wait to get back to the room to take a warm shower. How were these poor birds standing on frozen water without socks, coats or caps? Yet, they seemed peaceful enough. They did not seem to be anticipating the World Cup Football Finals match later that evening, they did not seem to think anything of the rain forecast later that night.

frozen_ducks

“Are you coming or not? Freezing here – let’s get to a warm restaurant for the match!” , said the husband and I hurried along tucking away my little interlude with the ducks of France. It was time to cheer with the people of France for the football World Cup. France Vs Argentina.

After the freezing days of Paris, as we were bundling ourselves up in layers (yet again) for our small foray to find food, I said somewhat severely to the husband. “I think I’ve had enough of European vacations. Next time, we explore other places – Africa, South America, Australia: so many continents to explore! After a few museums, a half a dozen cathedrals, and a few hundred pieces of art, I am done.”

The husband smiled one of his crafty smiles and agreed, for he knew that I will be the one craving a European vacation first. He just had to sit by, observe, and make bets with the children on the timing. Much like watching a football game.

As it was, so it shall be!

It was the day after the storm. The white and blue of the skies above belied the battering of the previous two days. The torrents of rain lashing down, and the dark clouds seemed like a dream.

As much as I love a rainy day adventure, the day after the rainy day has an appeal of its own. The world seems sparkling and clean, the air still has a lingering moisture in the air somehow making it smell fresher and sweeter. The glistening droplets on the flowers and treetops make for interesting interludes if they happen to drip on your upturned face, and the birds, oh the birds! They make up for everything. Their trilling is fuller, and richer – maybe they are relishing the sweet fresh Earth too.

This particular morning, I looked up at the blue skies with perfectly designed and placed fluffy clouds. There was even a Mickey Mouse shaped one to remind me to smile and think of the happiest place on earth (right then, it was there watching that cloud and taking in all the world around me).

My heart skipped along joyously when I was stopped my tracks by a California blue jay chipping away at the last remaining fruit in a fruit tree. 

I know this statement seems unremarkable. But when philosophers tell you savor every moment, I think they mean moments like this one. There was nothing special or remarkable about it. But it had that ethereal ability to capture the past, present and the future in one shining bubble.

All the leaves had fallen with the last storm, the bird was dry and trying to get at its food. This one poignant image sticks with me – of all the hundreds of photographs taken, this moment was one I did not capture. Yet, it seemed to hold the storm, life after the storm and hints of life during the storm in it.

As it was, so it shall be.

What does one say for moments such as this one? I don’t know. Maybe the reason I enjoyed the moment so much was because I had that childlike wonder of shoshin in me when I stepped out that morning, or maybe it was because the warmth of the sun after a cold, wet few days was striking. Regardless, there we are sloshing through life, and when we stop to admire a blue jay on a bright morning, it seems like all will be well.

The Origin of Dreams

It was a mild day in Jaipur. This time of year means one can walk among the structures of the Jantar Mantar without being fried to a crisp. The guide was explaining the scientific relevance of the structures in front of us. He explained how the latitude and longitudes were determined by the astronomers of centuries ago. As we stood there calculating the angle of the sun and subtracting it from the Indian Standard Time and so on, I missed the son. This is a place that would have interested him enormously – his unswerving curiosity and awe about the cosmos and the nature of time notwithstanding, it was also a propitious time for such musings. 

Earlier that day, I had cheered along with him as we sat on opposite sides of the world and watching the Artemis 1 launch and take off to the moon. Every time the launch had been delayed, he had had a small pang of disappointment. But this time, his eyes shone: “Amma, even if you have a meeting, please just make sure that you watch it. It will be at …”, and he went ahead and calculated the local time for me. Accordingly, I sat in my room watching the launch and cheering with the fellow.

https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-to-share-artemis-i-update-with-orion-at-farthest-point-from-earth

Image credit: Bill Ingalls: Image Source: https://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/sls/artemis-i-launch-0.html

His eyes shone, triumphant as he caught the excitement of the launch with periodic updates from NASA. I told him that I was going to a place that he would really like later that day and he asked me to enjoy it on his behalf. An astronomical marvel from centuries ago. A place where astronomers had mapped the skies with accuracy and skill. 

As I stood there watching the different structures and listening to our guide as he explained how each worked, I also derived small pleasures in seeing that his own narratives often confused astrology and astronomy. (Humans have always been wracked by problems: If, along the way, they tried to understand the sources of their trials and tribulations as something beyond them, who could blame them? ) Nevertheless, it was humbling to see how the astronomers of centuries ago had managed to get their recordings and data accurate to such a high degree. 

That rocket launch of a few hours ago was a cumulative building of dreams and imagining worlds beyond what is known to us. Dreams that started with the ancient homosapiens wondrously mapping the skies, and millennia of human evolutionary interest in the heavens. 

Carl Sagan quote :

“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.”

– Carl Sagan

How many such dreams are being hatched as we speak? I read a children’s book: Ara, The Dream Innovator – By Komal Singh, that tried to capture the importance of Dreams. It was business-oriented even for a children’s book. The startup language of funding and patents and all the rest of it somehow did not quite capture the magic of dreams, but it was a good book nevertheless. 

We do not know how many dreams are being hatched today that have the potential of being realized in the near or far future. So, I am all for going to places that nurture these fantastical sojourns into our dream consciousness.

To infinity and beyond!

What do the Seasons look like?

Out on a walk today – I thought it would be a good way to start the cooling down from what turned out to be a heat wave of the likes that set new records in temperatures. 

While on the walk, I stood befuddled below some trees from which the leaves were falling. There was no cool breeze, and the sun-baked earth looked heavily in need of rains. But the leaves were gently starting to drift earthwards. The dissonance was loud, and the stillness louder. Falling leaves, changing colors, should all signify cooler temperatures, a move towards cozy indoor expectations et al. 

When that thought flitted into my mind, I smiled. For the clarity with which the thought came, belied the fact that for half my life, I had never known the beauty of Fall. Yet, once the brain knows, it does, and how unexpectedly this expectation of seasons took root in me was baffling.

I do not remember when I started observing the seasons – for they are not as stark in California as in the East Coast.

The next day on a bike ride, the son & I took a moment to recover. For the lakes we had seen brimming with water and teeming with fish and birds just a month ago, was now barren and dry. It has been one of the driest summers California has experienced, but even so, the shock of the dry lakes are hard to bear. What would the seasons be like on other planets?

While the rhythm of the seasons is hopefully predictable, I could not help looking for old pictures of the same ponds and lakes from a few weeks ago,

I stood there thinking of the deep comforting voice of Frank Sinatra

“Fly me to the Moon

I’d like to see Spring in Jupiter and Mars!”

Frank Sinatra

How marvelous it would be to get a glimpse into the different kinds of beauty in the universe? Are there other seasons in other planets? What is the music of each season?

The Comedic Snorkelers of Kauai

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. 

Snorkeling for the first time in an ocean was mind boggling.

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 :

The Art of Instruction – Vintage Educational Charts from the 19th and 20th centuries

The pages indicate the anatomy of many marvelous creatures. 

The Anatomy of a Sea Turtle isn’t in this book, but the pictures of jellyfish, cuttlefish, herring fish, starfish, whales and numerous other fascinating creatures makes it a marvelous book to peruse.

Starfish anatomy

For the Sea-turtle anatomy: This is  a useful link

Smithsonian Sea-turtles

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.

🐓 🦆 🦢 Akua Manu 🐓 🦆🦢

Almost as soon as one lands win the quaint island of Kauai, the unmistakable feeling of rural bliss welcomes you with the rooster crowing. As one fellow traveler put it, the roosters of Hawaii are like squirrels everywhere else. They are everywhere, and probably contribute to the seeding and flowering of the habitats near them in myriad ways. 

They ducked and weaved through the airport traffic, just as surely as they waddled into the fragrant plumeria flowers flitting down from the trees above.

The roosters there sure have a comical element to them. Moana’s Hei-Hei could have been a real life characterization of any of these birds.

heart-moana.gif
Hei-Hei of Moana Fame

The children sat inside the car cackling and laughing as I ran out into the parking lot ahead of me to shoo the birds away as the languid car trundled into its spot in the parking lots. Sound effects included: baaackk—buck-buck-buck….shoo-shoo-duck-duck-goose, nene-nene-nene with an inspiring arm flailing and running after the birds. 

“Just one video of this ma! “ said the teenage daughter and niece to many enthusiastic nods from their little brother. I joined them in the laughter but refused to star in a video like this. One has one limits – even if it is to entertain our fellow human beings.

“I love birds too much and these birds seem to be so – I don’t know, bird-brained! Huh! Is that where the term comes from? Makes sense. These birds seem to think the roads belong to them and they sit there – pecking at whatever it is on the roads!” I said.

Just as engaging as the roosters are the red breasted cardinals, the nene (geese), cattle egrets, starlings, mockingbirds, plovers, sandpipers near the beaches , and the marvelously inspiring long-tailed tropicbirds. 

Standing atop the viewpoints of the Waimea Canyon in Hawaii, the long tailed tropic birds gained our attention and admiration. Gracefully traversing the yawning canyon below them in swift smooth flights, these birds seem to fly in and out of rainbows 🌈 . If that isn’t magical I don’t know what is. 

It is no wonder that Hawaiian folktales are so rich with their imagery of birds and ocean animals.  

Every morning, as the sunlight crept in through the clouds, and ushered in another surreal day in the magical islands, The Hawaiian state birds, Nene as the geese there are called, did  their bit and squawked their way into our consciousness as well. 

Some nights I would wander outside to stand under the stars when I’d notice groups of nene sleeping under the stars. ✨ Seeing them under the stars like that made me slightly envious I must admit.

Whether it was the beautiful darting and elusive ‘i’iwi (hummingbird -like creatures that are endangered) or the common roosters, starlings, egrets, cardinals, and nene, the birds (Manu) of Kauai have a divinity (a certain Akua) about them that make you want to soar in spirits with them. 

One morning I caught the daughter sounding very much like me and chastising her little brother who was watching Marvel on the television. “You come to Kauai and watch these super-hero fellows again – no! Nuh-uh! Out!”

“But there is nothing now – just eating breakfast and watching TV!” came the wounded reply from the budding naturalist. But his sister was firm and switched off the television.

The fellow came into the kitchen, and I shushed him, for out on the verandah was a small, and elegantly regal-looking red-breasted cardinal. We watched the bird in awe for several minutes before our spell was broken, and we sighed contentedly and went about the day.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_birds_of_Hawaii

If naturalists go to heaven (about which there is considerable ecclesiastical doubt), I hope that I will be furnished with a troop of kakapo to amuse me in the evening instead of television.

Gerald Durell

🌺 🌹 🌸 Leilani Pua 🌺 🌹 🌸

Almost as soon as one lands in the quaint island of Kauai, in the Hawaiian islands, the unmistakable feeling of rural bliss welcomes you with the rooster crowing and the colors of the flora.

Within hours of being in the island, the phone yearned for some plumeria pictures and before we knew it, there were hundreds of pictures of plumerias, hibiscus and so many plants whose name we knew not, but contributed to the vibrant colors of the Hawaiian islands.

Really! How marvelous flowers are.

“Who was that poet who said something about ‘infinity in a flower’, or ‘universe in a grain of sand’ or something? I think he hit it spot on.” I said burying my beak into a fragrant multi-colored frangipani blossom and sniffing rapturously. 

A flower elegantly floated down from the tree above into the grass below and I ran to catch it with open arms. I proposed to adorn my hair with the beautiful blossoms. The children wondered whether to clip this behavior or indulge it when I picked up a blossom from the verdant green grasses below and gave it to the children. The perfect symmetry of the flowers won their hearts instantly, and they gave into my whimsy, with a smart quip instead.

‘The grain of sand is probably parrotfish poop, but whatever!’ 

How does sand form?

As I looked into the photos of the particularly alluring flora of the fertile land, I fell in love with the flowers themselves as much with their names. I am not one for classifying and categorizing everything to within an inch of their existence. But even I couldn’t resist the poetic beauty of being classified as a Nymphaea Capensis (Egyptian water lotuses in brilliant colors) or Heliconia Bahai (false birds of paradise) 

On hikes through the rain-forest like surroundings, the canopy above invited one to look up, but every now and then some beautiful wild orchids would attract the attention. A slender piece of purple or pink vibrance holding its own in a lush forest of greens, just as surely as the Moa (roosters) held their own on tricky rocky beaches, rainforests and parking lots alike.

Painter’s Palette, Laceleaf, bamboo orchids, purple wild orchids (spathoglottis plicata), milkworts, pink and purple colored thistles, crepe ginger, red frangipani, lance leaved coreopsis, Cooktown orchids, shell gingers, Egyptian lotuses (nymphaea capensis or pygmy water lilies) , birds of paradise (heliconia bahai – the red ones or the false birds of paradise) 

Pua means flowers in Hawaiian 

Leilani denotes heavenly flowers

The most beautiful surprise was the clumps of touch-me-nots (Mimosa Pudica) everywhere. All those warm afternoons of playing with these marvelous plants in the countryside in the Nilgiris as children came flooding back.

The son, who spent a whole hike through a mahogany forest endearingly called The Enchanted Forest, playing with the touch-me-nots said with a contented look on his face. “I think touch-me-nots are my favorite plants!”

I agree with him. They have learnt to adapt and interpret the steady trickle of rain doesn’t need them to close up their leaves, but other external stimuli warrant that. How marvelous?

If ever one needs to be intensely aware of all the things that need to co-exist for a beautiful ecosystem, a well preserved island would do the trick. Being there amidst nature’s bounties only reminds me of Mary Oliver’s quote on attention being our only task.

“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”

Mary Oliver

Birdwatching & Biomimicry

The bike ride was a long one on a hot summer’s day. The sun was rising steadily and though it hadn’t reached its blazing glory across the Californian coasts, it was promising in its ascent. Even within the first 5 miles, we could feel the temperatures rise enough for us to be grateful for the mild breezes continuing to fan the body as we pumped through the trail. 

A little while later, we stopped for a quick peek at the pelicans lazing in the waters nearby. As the hot day wore on, our spirits only grew. All around us were the spritely images of life – birds swooped and flew in the mild breeze. As we stopped to see the pelicans lazing about in a patch of freshwater, a fellow biker and nature enthusiast stopped to share the calm of the pelicans with us. He asked the son whether he’d seen them fishing together like ballerinas. The son flashed a smile at me – a fellow nature lover using the same words to describe the pelicans?

The man told us how to identify harriers, hawks and bald eagles, and we biked on looking for the regulars as well for the new species he had told us about.

Right enough, in just a few miles, we spotted a harrier taking rest on a rock before scouring the fields for prey. There is something joyous in being to able to identify a newly learnt about species even if the species has existed far longer than we may have.

Harrier resting

But the ones that truly mesmerized us were the avocets. The avocets are a joy to behold on a hot day. They fly to a reasonable height, take a second to stabilize and then swoop down into the water below for a quick dip and fly out again. The smoothness of the breaking of the surface tension between the mediums is so flawlessly done. Their sharp beaks assisting them and reminding me of the little tidbit I had read in the book, Biomimicry by Jane Benyus. 

TED Talks by Janine Benyus on Biomimicry

Apparently, sonic boom was a big problem for the fast trains in Japan. The sonic booms were felt as far as a few hundred meters away as the trains emerged from the tunnels, and obviously this was a genuine problem that risked the success of the entire operation.

One of the engineers on the team, on his vacation, sat by the waterside watching a kingfisher swoop into the water and swoop out again with a smoothness of movement that inspired the engineer. How come the little bird was able to transition between mediums as different as water and air so sleekly? That is when the design of the sharp beak stood out. Eons of evolution may have shaped the beak in that particular long shape for a reason. The engineer went on to shape the train’s beak, and solved the problem for the fastest train of the day. 

The more our world functions like the natural world, the more likely we are to endure on this home that is ours, but not ours alone.

Janine Benyus

As the son & I stood there on the bay watching the avocets dive in and out, I told him that the collective noun for these lovely birds is an orchestra, and he beamed, and approved of the name. Their trilling, swooping, and pirouetting were apt.

Watching the little avocets on a hot day was a lovely little reminder of the designs of nature and its many wondrous ways. Not every saunter into nature is bound to solve a problem wracking humankind, but they very well might. 

Dancing Hippos of Loango

The summer solstice was unusually hot this time of the year. 

I was just back from the pool. The children looked at me approvingly as I hummed through the early evening light making dosas for dinner. “Amma is like one of those partying surfing hippos of Loango isn’t it?” said the children, and I beamed.

“Those hippos are so cool – riding the coastline, swimming so well – I want to be able to swim like them. I mean, I sputter and bumble in the pool. Imagine if I could swim like the happy hippos of Loango?” I sang and danced a little hippo jig. 

The children exchanged glances and burst out laughing. “You know? Some moms would be offended if they are called the surfing hippos of Loango. “ 

“Well, I am honored.” said I truthfully. “Fascinating creatures hippos. Do y’all remember the hippo handbag I had? Drew admiring glances a few times that one.”

“Yeah – also pitiful ones ma. That one was falling apart – we know, actually the whole world knew, you liked the hippo handbag.” Said the older eye-roll and the younger eye roll in unison.

I laughed. “By the way, did you also know that Taweret – the greek goddess of childbirth was a hippo?” Said the mythology experts in the house, and I glanced up from my dosas with wonder and curiosity. 

Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taweret

Taweret , a goddess depicted as a pregnant hippopotamus standing upright.

Mankind has for ages gleaned its inspirations from the animal world. All the more reason for us to protect the diversity of life and the planet that nurtures them all. 

Ever since we saw the first episode on National Parks narrated by Barack Obama, we all fell in love with the surfing hippos of Loango, the flying sifakas of Madagascar, the camouflaging coolness of the sleepy sloths that have the potential to cure cancer and so much more.

Watching programs featuring the wild in the National Geographic or the National Parks series make me glad that I am alive in today’s day and age. The camera angles, the kind of cinematography, the explosion of knowledge and sharing, the entertainment options and standards, technology everything is instrumental in a wildlife show. Where previously, we had to rely on the mental imagery through words such as Gerald Durrell’s, now we have the ability to see the guanacos act of survival in the Patagonian landscapes right along side the sluggish sea lions on the Californian coast. If that isn’t lucky, I don’t what is.

I have tried capturing a butterfly with my phone several times, and I must confess this simple act is all it takes for me to gain a sense of awe with the captures of these wildlife photographers and documentary producers. 

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