The Turning of the Seasons and The Return of Spring

When you think about it, the existence of the seasons on our planet is a pretty amazing phenomenon.  I say this even though we know why it happens.  As most of us are aware, there is a solid scientific explanation for the seasons.

But, even with your knowledge of how things work, you can also look at things from a somewhat different perspective.  Our planet is very, very, far away from its source of energy, the sun, averaging a distance of about 93 million miles in its elliptical orbit. In spite of the distance, just because of the nature of the earth’s axis of rotation with respect to its plane of revolution around the sun, we experience the phenomenon of the seasons.  The variations in the amount of energy from the sunlight falling on the earth at different latitudes at different times of the year leads to localized changes in climate on a tiny speck of dust in the Universe, the earth, even though it is million of miles from the source of the energy, and furthermore the impacts are still quite predictable.  One should stop and think about that. Also consider that in the grand scheme of things, this energy could be considered minuscule, indeed it is an almost insignificant fraction of the total energy being spewed out from the sun.  And this energy is continuously changing because the sun is not static. But even the second-order differences in this small amount of energy at different times of the year at different latitudes are so well defined as to give us the seasons.  All because of the tilt of the earth’s axis!

And this little bit of the energy that the earth receives from the sun is just the right amount to create our lifeforms, and also impact them in different ways in different parts of the world in a manner that we can understand.  Too much or too little of this little tiny bit of the continuously changing energy of the sun and things would be very different.  It is crazy amazing!

As Spring arrives in our parts, the energy from the sun has warmed the ground and revived the latent life that has remained hidden in our vegetation through the winter.  Brown is turning to green.   It may seem to be happening suddenly, but there is actually a process that carries on through the year.  Things happen at a certain pace in keeping with the change in the energy received from the sun.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe energy of the sun brings flowers to life at this time of  year.  Redbuds and dandelions, and a multitude of other flowers of many different kinds, bloom along the towpath.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt this time of year the Spring Beauty can even take over some areas of the woods.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Other lifeforms also seem to be celebrating the return of Spring.  For some reason the turtles in the picture below have shells of different colors even though they are all of the same kind. It looks as if one is wet, one is dry, and the third one is in some state in-between!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe snapping turtle below raises its head from the water, and proceeds to spit out a stream of the water.  I wonder what it was doing under water. I also saw a second snapping turtle with its head underwater for a long time.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd the woods echo with the endless songs of the birds.   The colorful cardinal stands out in the foliage.  Its music follows a repetitive pattern that is not that simple.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The restless tapping of the woodpecker on the dry branch of the tree resounds loudly through the woods.  It is a drummer in a marching band tapping out a rhythm of nature on its instrument, its beak.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd as I walk through the woods, I also receive the gift of the energy in a different way.  I can also feel the change that seems to be being celebrated all around me.  The feeling is palpable.  If I choose to, I can also become one with the remarkable transformation that is taking place around me. And I can immerse myself in the feeling.  I can try to feel our oneness with the other life.  I can try to understand how we are all a part of this Nature.  And I can act accordingly, in a harmonious manner. In a sense, this could be a sacred place of unity.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe are all a part of the same experience of life on earth, an earth that is but a speck of dust in the vastness of the Universe.  Our behaviors on this earth ought to reflect this truth.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Incessant Cacophony

Imagine for a minute that you are an alien being, an intelligent species from somewhere out there in the universe, somewhere far, far, away, from a very distant galaxy.

Imagine that you are the alien being searching for signs of life in the universe, listening to patterns in the radio waves that whiz past all around you. You are capable of recognizing not just emissions from point sources, but also all the kinds of signaling that exist in the universe, both simple and sophisticated. You can certainly recognize all the simple forms of signaling invented on Planet Earth.

Imagine that one day you hear something from a very, very, distant source that seems to make sense to you. Somebody is trying to send some “information” to you about itself. And you are curious….

You focus more of your resources on tracking this new source of “information”, and you are able to pick the fainter signals emitted from this source. You begin to separate the many signals and the patterns in them. And you recognize that there are many, many, different kinds of signals, at widely varying signal strengths, being emitted. And embedded in these various signals are many different kinds of information coded in many different ways.  This information seems to be more sophisticated than what you first detected from this source.  Since you have zoomed in, you realize that information sources are clustered around a central location which seems to be generating most of what is being sent out into space. But there are also emissions from the space surrounding this central location, and the intensity of the emissions is  reducing gradually with distance from the central source.  Indeed, there seems to be some form of “communications” going on between the central source and the surrounding space.

And, you, the alien being, get even more curious. You find a way to focus even more of your resources on this source to find out what is going on. All of sudden, you are hearing a cacophony of signals that are getting more and more difficult to make sense of. The signals are in all kinds of frequencies and at varying signal levels, and the ones you can extract from this cacophony are of many different kinds. A lot of it is difficult to make sense of even when decoded.  There could be a lot of communications going on within the source, but it all seems so random.  It seems like chaos.  It seems like a mess. And, the intelligent creature that you are, you wonder what is going on. This source is generating a whole lot of what seems to be noise. Is it some form of pollution?  How is this being generated?  Is there a purpose? How much of the energy of the source is being used generating all of this noise?

And, perhaps, intelligent being that you are, you are concerned. This seems to be pointless, and maybe even self-destructive. Is the planet radioactive? Where is all the energy coming from, all to be expended into nothingness?  All of this cannot be sustained for too long a long time. What is going on?  What is the point?  Is there a purpose?

The Universe in Verse: Astrophysicist Natalie Batalha reads “Renascence” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

via The Universe in Verse: Astrophysicist Natalie Batalha reads “Renascence” by Edna St. Vincent Millay on Vimeo

Context and poem text: brainpickings.org/2018/08/03/the-universe-in-verse-natalie-batalha-edna-st-vincent-millay/

Return from Washington Adventist (7/12/2008)

I have have been thinking about posting this e-mail for a long time.   I sent it to family and friends back in 2008.  A few of you have seen it already, and may even remember it.  It is now a part of my life story and history.  More than ten years have passed since then, and I can now reflect on how this has effected the way I live and my outlook towards life.  Perhaps you will find something interesting.
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Dear Folks,

I am very happy to be back home this Saturday evening.  Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers. As many of you already know, the fact that I had to stay overnight at the hospital is an indication of the fact that they indeed found some blockage in the heart and some work had to be done. The news, in short, is that two stents were introduced into the arteries feeding the heart – one in the first obtuse marginal artery (OM1) which was about 95% blocked, and another on the Right Coronary Artery (RCA) which was about 70% blocked. A drug-eluting stent was used in each case to try to prevent the arteries from re-closing. I feel fine right now, but have to take it easy for the next few days so that the femoral artery through which they inserted the catheter can heal completely. My daily Asprin and Lipitor dosages going forward have been increased and I will probably have to continue to take this medication for life. I also have to take Plavix, an anticoagulant, for a year.  These are the consequences of heart disease. But I will be back to my activities as soon as I am given the green light. It would seem that I have been given an extension of sorts, and I should make the best use of the additional time. I feel fine.

You should probably not read past this point if all you wanted were the facts, and you are not interested in the gory details of the trip to the hospital. In fact you should not read past this point if you have a tendency to get distressed in general. An overnight stay in a hospital, as some of you know, makes you a humbler person. You are basically out of your comfort zone and for the most part you are dependent on others. It does not help that you wear a gown that is open at the back. If you happen to be connected to an IV line you also cannot move around easily without help. You depend on the nurses for almost everything. You could feel out of sorts even if you are physically OK.

The catheterization procedure itself went smoothly. It was interesting to be awake during the process and be aware of what was going on, feeling no pain, and hearing what sounded like distant conversations – with an occasional request from the doctor to hold my breath. He informed me of what he was going to do before he inserted the two stents. I was done with the procedure and back in the recovery area before noon. I had been given an anticoagulant drug at the completion of the procedure to prevent clots from forming around the stents. Because of this, in order to avoid issues with healing, they waited for a couple of hours before they pulled the sheath (from which the catheters had been inserted into the femoral artery) from the area of the groin. As soon as the sheath was removed from the groin, I had one of my famous fainting spells. I felt the coldness creep in and I told the nurse who was working on me that I was going to faint. As I got knocked out, I saw the guy reaching for the alarm button. Code blue!

Apparently, I flatlined, and the guy kept pounding on my chest while applying pressure to the wound to prevent bleeding. I am told that I was out for about 15 seconds, and when I came to it felt as if I was coming out of a dream. (No, I did not see a white light.) I think I shouted – Where am I?! I saw a bunch of anxious faces in front of me, and one woman was holding my hand in a very reassuring manner. But I recovered quickly after that. I asked for some food immediately because I knew that part of the problem was that I had not eaten since the previous day. (And according to Teresa I was apparently also not well hydrated during the procedure.) I have experienced fainting spells every once in an infrequent while since childhood, and now there is name for this. It is called vasovagal syncope. Look it up. It has to do with bad signals being sent to the heart due to a process with positive feedback within the body. I used to think of my experiences in childhood as some kind of weakness on my part that could be controlled mentally. It actually is something that has a physical origin.

Anyway, because of the drama I had created, I was placed in the Cardiac ICU for the night. I got personal attention, but I had a hard time sleeping, one of the reasons being that I had to lay my right foot out straight through the night. This morning I watched the daybreak out of the window of my room on the fifth floor – with the blues and the whites and the oranges lighting up the early morning sky. I felt things were going to be OK. I was feeling strong. I felt strong enough to sing to myself, but for some absurd reason, tears would come to my eyes. (I suppose “Bridge over troubled waters” is not the best song in these circumstances.) But I had a good breakfast and lunch before Teresa and Christina were able to rescue me and bring me home. The unfortunate episode and the helpless feeling that goes with staying in a hospital are quickly fading into memory. I am feeling great right now. Lets see what the next challenge is going to look like.

Once again, I am very, very, grateful to all of you for all your good wishes and for thinking about me. I am touched, in fact my brain may be a little fried from a lack of oxygen (only joking, OK!).

Sincerely
kuria

A Spider’s Tale

It was the middle of December.  I was brushing my teeth, staring at myself in the mirror in the bathroom. It was then that I noticed the spider on the wall behind me. It was next to a picture that was hanging on the wall. It did not seem to be moving.  I noticed the spider in the same location the next day.  I nudged it gently to make sure it was alive.  It was. Over the next few days the spider moved to different locations on the wall.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe spider dropped out of sight shortly after that.  We then went on our Christmas vacation in Florida towards the end of December.   Shortly after we returned, a few days into the new year, I noticed a spider again.  This time it was while I was taking a bath. I was quite certain that it was the same spider I had seen previously.  It was inside a plastic protrusion in the soap-holder fixture that was attached to the wall of the shower stall.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was very little space for the spider to move in the piece of plastic. Once again I made sure it was alive – this time by tapping on the plastic.

I noticed the spider in the same location over the next few days.  It became obvious to me that it was trapped.  My feeling about the predicament of the spider created the perfect excuse for me to move into action. Perhaps I could free it while also replacing the soap-holder, something I had been thinking of doing for a while.  I installed a new fixture on the wallOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand pulled out the old one, releasing the spider (still alive!) from where it was stuck.  I could not figure out how it had gotten into the little space.

I released the spider on to the wall on which I had first seen it. It disappeared into a little space behind the door of the bathroom.  After that, I did not see it for a few days.  And then it reappeared on the bathroom counter. It was still alive!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA few questions arose in my mind.

Where had the spider come from?  What kind of a spider was this, and how long could it live?  (I subsequently read that it was most likely a common house spider, a harmless creature that is capable of living a long time, even up to a year.)  What do spiders like this live on?  Also, are they able to live with minimum food intake?  Certainly, when it was trapped in the shower fixture, the spider had no access to food.  And the only open food in the bathroom was probably soap!  Curious!  I also read that if indeed it was a common house spider, if I had moved it outside the house (my first instinct!), it would most likely not have survived.

I have not seen the spider for a while since then.  I do not know what happened to it.  It could be dead for all I know, and I would not really feel bad about that.  Did I make any kind of difference in the life of the spider.  Hard to imagine.  Did I make any difference regarding life as a universal experience? Do we really care what happens to spiders? Was there any moral issue involved in what I did? This whole exercise, including my writing of this blog, could seem rather pointless to some.  But in the grand scheme of things,  there are a lot of things that we do, some things closer to home, even some things that are seemingly more consequential, that are ultimately pointless. But still we do these things, sometimes for our own reasons, sometimes for reasons that we may not even be able to explain properly to ourselves.  It may be one of the things that makes us human.

The Siblings

It was on the treadmill a few days ago that I found the quiet time to ponder the Christmas vacation that had just passed.  It was a song by Paul McCartney that was playing in the background that seemed to help build up my mood.  My siblings and I seem to have a good thing going, and it was was a silly love song that brought emphasis to the way I was feeling.

The three of us arrived in the US in the 1980s as graduate students.198687Over time, we began to develop our roots in the country. We started having families.  We have been meeting each other during Christmas time ever since we got here, starting to do this more regularly in the 1990s.   At first, it was not something that was considered particularly important, but it did become a part of our lives, and by the turn of the century, it was already a ongoing tradition.   It takes something very significant, some event with higher priority, for us to miss such a gathering these days.  And even if one of us cannot be there, the others make it a point to get together.  And along the way, over the years, the group that started out as the basic unit of three has grown in its size, with families, extensions of the family, and children – many, many children!  And the bond between us has grown stronger as we keep the tradition going.

Those of us who were young at one time have now progressed into middle age, and a smaller subset of us are already well into the process of passing the ownership of the charge into the future on to others – those who have grown into their own.  Youngsters have grown up and developed their own personalities, and their sense of being, all the time feeling the love from the extended family.   And then there are the younger ones who are still in the process of coming into their own, showing the promise, and that sense of caring.  They are following in the track of their older cousins.  The future is in their hands.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe, the siblings, for some reason or the other, remain an essential element in this slowly expanding group.  It is a place we occupy joyfully.  And I celebrate every moment of it because I am not sure how long this will continue.

We are not very good at coming to a decision about where we will meet any particular year.  Very often, things happen hurriedly at the last minute, but it does happen.   People are able to come to a consensus quickly once the process gets going, and further plans for these trips are in the works pretty soon after that.   There is really no agenda that any particular person wishes to push hard.  So things have been going smoothly thus far.  And love is in the air as people once again reconnect, spend time with each other, and renew their bonds.  Other than a couple of birthdays, and the Christmas celebration, there is nothing significant planned during these trips these days.   But even those few events we celebrate together take on additional significance every year.

Very often, we tend to gather on the seashore.  We can go to the beach, or chill out by the pool, or read a book, or play cards, or listen to music, or go for a walk or a run, or take pictures of the sunrise or sunset.  We can have time to ourselves, or organically congregate into little groups that wander off for walks and catch-up time.  Any time of day is good for some of these activities.  It is all mellow!  Someone or the other seems to step up to take care of the needs.  Cooking dinners is what seems to require the most planning these days, but there may already be a new tradition underway in this regard.

At this time in my life, I am content to push back and watch the action, and the love and fellowship that is shared when we gather in our little corner of the world at the end of the year, where ever that may be.  I do not have to worry, and I just am.

It would take a lot for me to miss this one of these events these days.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Mountains Are Calling

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Canyonlands National Park, Utah

There is something about the nature of the hills and the mountains that has drawn me to them over the years.  I am not sure how this happened.  My first remembrance of such feelings was when I would visit my aunt and her family in the hills of the Western Ghats in Kerala.  From the front porch of their house, in what was then the little village of Dhoni, one could see a hilltop that was untouched by development.  We, the children that we were, made one or two explorations into the hills, trying to follow the informal trails that other like-minded people had created over time.

Years later, I still feel like reliving that feeling, and that moment in time, but the world has probably changed in the meantime for the people of Dhoni and Palakkad.  Also near my aunt’s house was another forested hilltop which was a part of the forest reserve lands of the State of Kerala.  I never made it there, but it has always been a part of my imagination.  I am not sure exactly what lay there, and what remains now.

It was only as a graduate student that I was finally able to actually respond to the call of the hills.  We were able to drive from the university to the Bear Mountain area in New York State for day hikes.  About four or five miles of hiking and we would be completely exhausted because we were completely out of shape.  But it felt really great, especially relaxing with a bottle or two of beer after the whole effort.

And then there was the downhill skiing that I discovered when in graduate school.  When you are standing on top of the mountain – with the wide open snow-covered slopes lined with evergreens in front of you, with a panoramic view of the landscape all around, with the little chalet that is your destination way, way, down below you, you are in a kind of heaven on earth.  As you prepare to launch yourself off the flat top and on to the slope, you take a measure of the nature of the challenge, and the slope that you are about the conquer. As you start your way down the hill, the exhilaration  increases to the next level.  You have a smile on your face and you are whooping with happiness as you speed downhill (carefully!) – even as the icy cold wind blows across your face and freezes the tears that flow from your eyes.

I ski very rarely these years – there is a chance that the joints will not take the pounding.  But I am absolutely certain that if I were to get to the top of that hill on my skis the feeling of happiness will be renewed instantly, even if it is for a short while.  It would be as if I was experiencing all of the thrill of skiing, and of the mountaintop, once again for the first time.

I was diagnosed with CAD many years ago, and at that time I had to undergo a couple of procedures to address the problem.  A good friend from childhood called me then to chat and cheer me up.  We were talking about possible restrictions on my lifestyle in the future, and he mentioned, somewhat jokingly, that perhaps I would not be able to climb  mountains like the Himalayas in the future.  My response was – why not?!  My response was not based on reality, but even if I do not make it to the Himalayas themselves, there are plenty of other doable challenges all over the world.

Meanwhile, the mountains continue to call.  Every time I see a picture of a mountain, I wonder if there is a way to get to the top.  (And I mean get to the top on foot!  Driving a car to the top of a mountain, however high the mountain may be, is not as much fun!)  And every single time I go to a national park, I get the urge to see and experience that trail in the park that can lead to the top of its highest peak.  Of course, that does not happen most of the time these days due to many reasons.  And even I know the risks of trying to tackle a trail like the Angel’s Landing Trail in Zion National Park.  (I do have a natural fear (perhaps healthy) of narrow open spaces at great heights.  My knees get weak even looking at the pictures!)

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Bright Angel Trail, North Rim, Grand Canyon

But the good thing is that I am still able to hike today. And I can walk a trail, and climb the hills, for miles and miles – to get to the highest destination, that mountain top where my expansive view of the world awaits.

I have to continue to answer the call of the mountaintop until I am physically unable.