The Heart As a Compass 🧭

My heart is a compass – By Deborah Marcero

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Here is a book that spoke to the very depths of the child in me. I am sure many of us have spent time with just this sort of activity, and may be not with such fantastic results to show for it. 

I distinctly remember :

 ❅ ❄️❆  Drawing snowflakes of every shape I could fathom ever since I learnt that every snowflake was different. Considering I had never seen snow, that seems like a pretty bold endeavor, but that right there is the charm of childhood and imagination. I am not sure if I would like to find those pages of doodles now – the memory of those warm afternoons is more beautiful than anything I could’ve conjured up. 

🍃🍀🍁The shapes of all the different leaves. The leaves themselves dried and carefully preserved within the pages of books. All that remains now is the memory of this precious activity and of course the inestimable happiness of afternoons spent drawing the beautiful shapes into notebooks, after the glorious wind swept mornings collecting them.

🌷🌺🪷The nosegay bouquet of wildflowers plopped into brass vases that spotted the house. How could one not look at that and remember the ladybugs clinging to the leaves, the spider webs wet with dew, the scents of eucalyptus that decades later can still send one back to the beautiful countrysides scented with the fresh rain against the eucalyptus trees?

It is always a marvel to me how our mental maps form around these seemingly innocuous objects. The raspberry bushes by the little cave, the eucalyptus trails by the deserted bridge. If only, we had the foresight to etch these into little maps like the lovely little girl in My Heart is a Compass does. What a treasure that would have been?

The book starts off with a young girl wanting to show her most precious innovative unique possession for show-and-tell. But what is it?

Could it be a trip to the stars?

Or a dive into the wonders of the ocean?

Or a marvelous hike through the enchanted forests?

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Pic from her preview on Amazon

By the end of the book, Rose wants to showcase the very best things in life for her friends to see. So she comes up with a marvelous map with the most wondrous her imagination can come up with. (Which can be the most beautiful or the most terrifying, and in this beautiful book is nothing but intriguing and promising)

I set the book down and wondered again why that beautiful feeling of childhood curiosity and the tendency to look at the world as a magical mystical place wanes with time. The imaginary overtaken by reality, knowledge overtaking intuition, logical vs emotional. Our heart is a compass, and in an ideal world should lead us towards happiness. 

In the long journey of life, if only there was a tonic to never lose that wonder, but constantly add to it, how marvelous the adventure of living would be!

Magique Français

There is a charm to traveling at this time of the year. We had decided on an Europe trip with 3 countries thrown in to the mix. Which is to say that the rest of the nourish-n-cherish household of spoilt folks enjoyed a trip planned meticulously by the husband. 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. 

The whole way to the Airbnb from the Paris airport, the radio was on and the hosts chattered on in French. Considering that I was the only passenger in the car who had ‘learnt’ French, I must say I was aghast that I remembered almost nothing of the beautiful language (except for tidbits such as – one mustn’t pronounce the last consonant, unless the next word starts with a vowel, or the river is feminine while the museum is masculine) I have always been little lost with languages that attribute a gender to everything. 

Is a croissant masculine or feminine? I don’t know. 

Both Le Croissant and La croissant sound right to me, but DuoLingo assures me that croissants are masculine and therefore Le Croissant is correct. Sigh.

I must say languages and brains are curious things. I was sincere, if not successful, in my attempts to learn French in 11th and 12th grade. I would’ve thought that some things would surface through the foggy decades as I heard the spoken language, or saw the words written in the menu cards in the little French cafes. But nothing happened. I recognized ‘avec’, ‘le’, ‘la’, ‘and words that had a passing semblance to the English language and could thus be fathomed. As I stumbled my way through the language  I realized that I had never really spoken French, though I seemed confident enough to butcher the pronunciations. For instance, I confidently addressed the Louvre as the ‘Loo-v-rrrr’. 

Apparently, I had it all wrong. 

Humbled by this revelation of my poor French, one day on the metro, I was trying my best to listen to the announcements and map the name of the stations to the pronunciation. I can understand my not getting a name like Champs-Élysées – Clemenceau or Maisons-Alfort – Les Juilliottes, but I didn’t get Grands Boulevard. That hurt. Now see, I pronounce it is Grand-ss Boo-lay-vard (so no letter is offended or feels less important). But the French pronounce it as Gron Boolevaar. With the overhead crackling that is a requirement for most metro systems,  I heard it as ‘groan bole’, and was looking around at people before the husband said it was time for us to get out and hustled us out.  I leaped out before the doors closed behind me and was rattled till the sortie (exit).

The French trip you up in more ways than one. I trust it is their way of having fun with us poor sods who haven’t a clue about the language. For instance, there were so many names that sounded like food, it was astonishing. Who wouldn’t like to get out at Madeleine station? I found myself drooling a bit about the buttery m-s and missed Grands Boulevard. 

I remember the husband telling me for an entire hour that we had to go to Rue Ravioli. I thought to myself and smiled that I had never seen this many streets named after food in any other country. I mean how often have we seen a Hamburger boulevard, or a Tomato-Bisque Road? Even in countries that enjoy their foods so much like India, I had never seen a Roti Street or Dosa Boulevard.  As I was feeling cleverer and cleverer with the inspired line of thought, I found that the husband was truly hungry was all. It was Rue-de-Ravoli, not Rue-de-Ravioli (the cheese filled pasta).

Nevertheless, the names had a marvelous ring to them. 

Liberte

Bonne Nouvelle

Strasbourg – Saint-Denis (a big hyphen followed by a small hyphen)

I found myself nodding vigorously and agreeing vociferously (making the French doubt my capabilities even more) as I read Bill Bryson’s Neither here nor there: Travels in Europe.

Bill Bryson on French:

I took 3 years of French in school, but learned next to nothing. The problem was that the textbooks were so amazingly useless. 

They never told you any of the things you would need to know in France. They were always tediously occupied with classroom activities : hanging up coats, cleaning the blackboard, opening the window, setting out the day’s lessons. Even in seventh grade I could see that this sort of thing would be of limited utility in the years ahead. How often on a visit to France do you need to tell someone you want to clean a blackboard? How frequently do you wish to say: “It is winter. Soon it was will be spring. “

In my experience, people know this already.

Bill Bryson

But language has a way of morphing and conjoining, and by the end of the day, the daughter was speaking in lilting French accents, and I was very impressed with her, and unimpressed with myself for I understood next to nothing. Then, she chuckled and told me that she was just spinning her Spanish in French accents. I tell you! The nourish-n-cherish household really knows how to capture the magique francais.

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 Gingko’s Wisdom

The gingko trees have all spoken to each other, and the lovely trees have shaken off their golden robes all at once. I passed the stark trees on my daily walk and stopped suddenly. I remember stopping to admire the fresh green gingko leaves as the year started out. 

One year. 

One paradoxical year.

One tumultuous year.

One <Please-fill-in-the-blanks> year.

Yet, the gingko trees went on as before. They grew leaves, they displayed them in their glorious green, and their resplendent golden yellows, till they went back to being stark stumps again. 

Another year. 

Another year of the unexpected?

Another year of surprises?

Another <Please-fill-in-the-blanks> year.

As I pulled the husband along on a cold, rainy walk, I told him that the same time last year when we stopped to consider the bare branches of the gingko tree, we had no idea what the year would bring. The same way that we don’t know what the year ahead would bring. I shuddered a little (I’d like to think it was the freezing winds of the storm). The young gingko nearby withstood the winds without a tremor.

“Well…”, I said, donning my philosophical face. “Whatever the new year brings, there is comfort in the fact that there is a constancy in nature. The gingko tree’s seasons.”

“Pesu (talk!)!” Said the husband and laughed looking at my sincere face. I joined him. It is so easy to say these things.  Why is it then so hard to practice?

Maybe we need the tree’s lessons to be more than philosophical. A little more neurological: Belonging with Trees.

Read also: The night of the Gingko : By Oliver Sacks in the New Yorker magazine.

Magical Novembers

Novembers in Bay Area are magical. There is a promise of rain in the air, the fall colors are out and the dry sordid months of summer finally seem to be behind us. The trees burst forth in a sudden splash of color. Octobers are to Prince Edward Island in Canada as Novembers are to California. So, I have absolutely no problem in gushing like Anne of Green Gables : “I love a world with Novembers in them.” 

The son and I had were taking a short break after a bike ride. We stood there admiring the way the leaves seemed to be flipping as the wind went through them when an ornithologist found us. We politely made space for him on the park bench. After a few minutes, we went on to having conversation on nature based hobbies and such. 

He had with him one of those cameras and lenses that can zoom upto 714 times. The son & I exchanged glances. Could that pelican sitting on that small island in the lake be seen well with that lens then? Jack (the ornithologist cum photographer), told us indeed he could and he went on to take a few photographs to show us. We were more than suitably impressed, and he was gracious and generous in showing us how his lens worked.

I have always been in awe of those who were able to get fantastic photographs of the birds. I have several friends whose photographs have me yearning for their gift of composition. With landscapes, while I still admire the artistic compositions, with moving targets such as birds, I find the whole process fascinating. My attempts at hummingbird photography have proved to me that (a) hummingbirds are very fast – research says they can flap upto 50 times a minute and (b) my phone is usually unable to capture them flying. 

But my new phone and Jack’s attempts at the photographs were inspiration enough for me to go back to mooning about the lakesides and riverfronts looking for birds. I suppose these birding photographers do this all the time, but when I did, I felt like I had developed wings myself and fluttered away – whether as an angel or a devil did not matter.

I got my first picture of an Anna hummingbird (albeit one resting on a tree), but I got a picture nevertheless. I also captured on my phone,  a mockingbird, a siege of herons, a pod of pelicans and an assortment of wood ducks, grebes and coots.

The skies, in the meanwhile, look like nothing I’ve seen before( although my phone best to differ based on the number of pictures it classifies as ‘Similar pictures’). I would love to be a crepuscular artist knowing fully well that I could never aspire to the true artistry that is on display every day for us – especially during the rainy season. 

I suggest everyone take some time to enjoy the rains and the clean skies and earth afterward.

I sat in the car watching the rain pouring down and feeling the sense of life’s stresses washing away. Californian rains are whimsical: one minute they beat down, maybe even give in to a thumping hailstorm, but in the next few minutes, the clouds scud away as quickly as they gathered leaving a jaw-dropping sort of blue and white clouds behind them. It is magical. 

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”

Henry David Thoreau

The Magic of Just Being

The world of news was being rocked once again. The company I worked for had already endured hard times in the news and the general feeling was one of anxiety and exhaustion. 

Over the week-end, I had come for a walk by a water body that the son & I lovingly christened Reflection Pond – for you could see the skies reflected in the waters, the world from a different perspective.

There were 2 deer peeping out from within the mist and a rustling nearby indicated the hares were getting ready for some morning exercise as well. 

There were a pair of pelicans who took insouciance to a different level. Yet, as they gracefully paddled on that lake, I thought of that little piece in the Fox, Mole, Horse and Boy. 

“How do they look so perfect together?” Asked the boy.

‘There is a lot of frantic paddling going on beneath’ said the horse.

The Fox, Mole, Horse and Boy

As I walked back, my attention went again to the digital town square that is the sign of the times we live in. I had one of those moments that Henry David Thoreau chastised us against, for it was obvious that I brought the village (or in this case, the town square) with me. 

When I realized what I was doing though, I shook myself out of this and firmly pushed these thoughts aside telling myself that  shall attend to them when the time was right. I looked up from the previous posture of a head bent with woe, and that is when I saw the pelicans take flight. 

There is something majestic about large birds taking flight. The little ones flit and twit with ease, while the larger ones seem to be much like our cargo aircraft. Huge, but still not half as unwieldy as our man-made designs during takeoff or landing.

By the time I fumbled for the phone for the pictures, the pelicans had flown leaving me with a sense of awe.

The clouds that paint a different picture for us every day had painted a lovely dragon or an enormous swan taking flight that day. The crescent moon in its waxing phase was shining amidst all this glory.

The pink hues against the light blue skies were enough to make the heart rejoice. As the pinks turned to orange and then grey, my spirits lifted slowly.

I had an idea for a lovely children’s book that has since morphed and evaporated like the clouds that day.

A few deep breaths made me realize that fresh air, beautiful clouds, a time of transformation are all things we take for granted, but when we do stop to think about them, they fill us with a sense of contentment.

Nature had worked its magic yet again: There is no better place to learn the lesson of Just Being.

I realize that I cannot quite capture the serenity of a walk such as this one. But I can jot down the gratitude for this magnificence so I may be able to dip into it at will.  

The Spider’s Vision

The son and I had embarked on a lovely bike ride. The autumnal equinox means that the sun sets earlier and earlier in the day.  It was still early enough in the evening and we biked along amicably talking of this and that. 

When we finally decided to take a short break by a lake, the son climbed a nearby tree, while I sat myself on a park bench. All was tranquil. The pelicans went about their ballet dance of coordinated fishing in the distance, the hawks and turkey vultures circled high above in the skies. Out in the distance, a dog ran on the shore chasing the birds and squirrels. Overhead, hundreds of ravens were flying and making their way home. 

It was in this world that I called out to the son and pointed out a visionary at work. We sat side-by-side in awe. For it was obvious, from conception to creation this would’ve daunted most competent engineers to undertake a project of this size alone, and here was this lone spider doing so : competently, peacefully and apparently with engagement.

In spider terms, it was the equivalent of building a bridge across a bay. From one tree to the next on the other side of the looming lagoon, a large suspension thread held the intricate web forming in the middle. How strong must the thread have been to sustain and hold the weight of the structure in the middle? Not to mention its prey.

When finally the spell was broken, the sun had set further and the spiders web was now bathed in a golden light. In those few moments of magic where nothing but weaving and creating was happening overhead, the earth around had changed its hue. From a bright blue sky, the pinks and oranges were thrown with abandon. Pretty soon, it would be getting ready to cloak itself in the inky blues of the night. 

The son and I got up – a sense of reverence and humility restored in our proud human spirits of achievement. Here was a lone spider, envisioning a humongous structure, creating a web of art and material integrity to withstand prey probably three times its own weight and going about it in a symmetric and beautiful light of the setting sun. What’s more? It was a design that was biodegradable and all the earth could be covered in this soft, silky web with nothing the worse.

Whether as materials for clothing, or structural integrity such as design of bridges, or the bio degradation of our products, a spider’s web is an inspiration for biomimicry based designs.

Biologically inspired materials could revolutionize materials science. People looking at spider silk and abalone shells are looking for new ways to make materials better, cheaper, and with less toxic byproducts. 

Janine Benyus, Biomimicry

Sometimes, a bike ride is all that is required for perspective to take its throne. 

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 Woodpecker & The Tree

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.”

William Blake

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.

Tok-tok-tok-tok-tok-tok-tok

Tok-tok-tok-tok-tok-tok-tok

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.

Tok-tok-tok-tok-tok-tok-tok

Tok-tok-tok-tok-tok-tok-tok

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. 

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/woodpecker-skulls-dont-absorb-shock-like-previously-thought-180980426/

About 12 thousand times a day, woodpeckers drill their beaks into trees to search for food, make nests or communicate with other birds. 

Article linked from the Smithsonian Magazine

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.

Oh Lovely LadyBugs – What a Loveliness!

We were crouched on a beautiful trail overlooking the bay on the west, and the beautiful golden hills on the east. A flock of birds flew overhead, while an egret stood in the shallow waters below. 

We were a cacophonous group at times, gregarious at others, fast and slow either by choice or the lack of it. The cousin and family had come a-visiting and we were enjoying their company. The laughter, wisdom of the different ages, and the quirks of life that make for fun and interesting times were in plenty. We had already walked a good 5 miles, and were heading back home. 

Suddenly, the son crouched. I knew at once that a small role-poly or lady bug must’ve stopped him in his tracks. I headed over to see, and just as I thought, it was a lady bug. A red beauty. We had seen an orange spotted one on a mustard bush a few minutes ago, and here was a red seven spotted one moving slowly. It had crawled up a cliff, and was justifiably slow moving. 

https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/facts/ladybug

Our companions, braver souls than the son and I when it came to fauna, gave their hand nearby and the ladybug crawled on. Watching it maneuver the contours of the fingers and hands was a joy to watch. If they did have a fear of heights, it wasn’t apparent. What they did seem to have is a remarkable spatial orientation – when the degree of the hand tilted, it moved quickly towards stabler slopes. 

Slowly, however, we let the creature dawdle on by the bayside – away from pedestrian traffic. However, the image of the little creature is a striking one. Was it aware that it was on a beautiful trail overlooking a Bay of the Pacific Ocean? Real estate prices, climate change notwithstanding, the lady bug was a gentle reminder to live in the present. To be a part of life that fills this planet with beauty. To be a red thread in the rich tapestry of life.

Regular readers know my curiosity about the collective nouns for creatures:

Well, I was delighted to know that a cluster of ladybugs is called a loveliness.

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