Mad Thoughts on July 4th

I had decided to take the week off from training since it was so close to the start of the longer bike ride that is starting on Sunday.  I did not want to overdo it.  But restlessness took over early in the week.  A couple of days of staying at home when I could have been outside biking in nice weather was more than I could handle mentally.  Although it is easy to become lazy, I also had a sense that there had been opportunities that had been missed.  I finally broke down and went for a long bike ride on Thursday, July 4th – Independence day.

I left early in the morning having decided that I wanted to be back home at a reasonable time after the ride.  The streets were quiet on account the holiday.  It was somewhat jarring on this particular day to come across a pan-handler at a road intersection holding a sign that indicated that he was a veteran.  My first thought that it was quite ironic that my first experience on Independence day was something that made a mockery of the sentiment of independence.  The veterans were the guys who were willing to face danger in the preservation of independence, but we were failing them and not taking care of them.  Yet, we were having a celebration.

Our eyes locked for just an instant.  The moment did not last long. I was just driving past.  I suppose I could have pulled over somewhere to engage with the person.  That may have been the right thing to do, but it seems that the easiest thing to do is to try to put encounters with the less fortunate out of our minds.

There were many cars already parked in the lot at Great Falls by the time I arrived.  That was not normally the case on a regular weekday.  I found a spot for my car further away from where I was used to parking, got my equipment out, and started to ride towards the trail.  I could see that a yoga class was underway next to the river.P7040078.jpgPeople were also already on the trail, many walking towards Olmsted Island to see the actual waterfalls.  I headed south on the towpath towards Washington, DC, on my bicycle.

My goal was to get to Fletcher’s Cove, and then take the Capital Crescent trail to Bethesda.  I estimated that this would give me a moderate distance of about 30 miles for the ride.

As I got closer to Fletcher’s Cove, the urge hit me to head right into Washington, DC, to investigate what was going on with regards to the July 4th celebration there.  The primary concern with following up on this urge was the fear of possible crowds of people on foot on the path on which I was trying to ride my bike.  My strategy was going to be to immediately turn back and retrace my path the moment I hit trouble.

I was able to ride along the C&O canal all the way through Georgetown without interference. I then got on the trail that went past Rock Creek, to get to mile 0 of the towpath.  The city was still very quiet at that time of the morning.  There were fewer people about than I had expected.  So far so good!  I decided to keep on biking further along the river, in the direction of Lincoln Memorial, and to cross over to Virginia on one of the bridges across the Potomac at some point.  I would then head back north through Virginia, and finally cross over back to the other side of the river at the Key bridge.

I did not have to bike far before I encountered a roadblock. It was just before the Kennedy Center.  Both the trail and the road beside it were closed, and a police car and a dump truck were blocking the way.   I could either go back the way I had come, or try to find another way around the blockage.  Remembering that this blockage was in the direction of the Lincoln Memorial, and that a big event was being planned at that location in the evening, I saw no point in continuing.  There was no way the authorities were going to let people, even an innocent bicyclist, get closer.

Seeing a sign for Interstate 66 and Virginia at this point, I decided to take the bridge over the Potomac to Virginia instead.  I biked up to the front of Kennedy CenterP7040084.jpgand looked around. There were no people around. The few scattered guards around the building appeared to be in a very relaxed frame of mind.  There was no concern about my standing there all by myself taking pictures.

I found the bicycle trail leading to the bridge.

The bike lane on the Interstate 66 bridge across the Potomac was clearly not part of the original design of the bridge.  It was narrow enough to be dangerous.  I saw a person coming towards me lose his balance while trying to pass some people, and hit the railing on the river side of the bridge in the process.  The railing was not very high – once again not designed with bicyclists in mind.  Luckily, the person did not fall off the bridge.  I proceeded with additional caution.

There were cars at the parking lot for Roosevelt Island on the Virginia side of the bridge. By this time people were beginning to come out to the park in significant numbers.

I made my way over the Key Bridge back into DC,  and then biked back to Fletcher’s Cove on the towpath.

The ride on the Capital Crescent trail was my last opportunity for some uphill biking as part of my training.  It felt good.  I felt strong.  Things seem to be in good shape for the ride.  There were plenty of people on the trail by the time I got there.  The laid-back spirit of the July 4th holiday was in the air.

The towpath was completely crowded with holiday-goers by the time I got back to Great Falls at the end of the ride.  I had to slow down to a crawl and call out to people on the trail regularly to warn them about my approach.  Folks were in good spirits.

I got in about 40 miles of riding.  It was more that I had wanted to do in the beginning. I was a bit tired.

It was a news article that I saw online that I wanted to talk a little more about in this blog. The article indicated that Mad Magazine was soon going to cease publication. Coincidentally, I had been thinking about Mad Magazine during the last few days.  I had been an avid follower of the magazine in the 70s. One of the regular features that I used to enjoy was a comic series (I have not been able to find the author’s name) that attempted to showcase regular Americans going about their everyday lives.  It was a caricature, and it pointed out the ridiculous nature of some of the habits of the regular folks, and the mindless and asinine things people do as a matter of habit without even thinking about it.   Although I did not know it at that time, the drawings were quite accurate and cutting in their depictions.  I found this out only later when I came to the US myself.  The drawn pictures of the people were themselves quite priceless, and also ridiculously accurate in their representation. You could see what a typical American looked like in his or her living environment, and it was sometimes quite ridiculous.

My thoughts then wandered towards how America has changed since the seventies.  Specifically, I was thinking about people like me, Indians who have settled down in the US, people who have grown in our numbers. I was thinking about how we now represent a significant chunk of the local population that is easily recognizable.  We have our own recognizable  place in the American experience in the cities and in suburbia. (This is perhaps less true in the rural areas.)  We have our own quirks.  The interesting thing is how Indians have adopted to the existing American way of life, and also how Indians have impacted the social experience and the culture in places where they exist in large numbers.  We can be as American as they come, but in our own way.

It was in this context that I was thinking about my American experience, and consequently about Mad Magazine.  I was thinking about the opportunity to make fun of people like me, the Indian American, and my manners and looks. I am sure we have our own foibles that would be worthy of laughing about if we became more self-aware.  It could perhaps take an “outsider” to point these out to us.  Yes, we could perhaps be downright ridiculous in our ways if we really thought about it.  And this would also be a unique part of the American experience.  And it would be great to capture this in comic form, just the way Mad Magazine could.  Indeed, they might have done so already without my knowing it.  How would Mad Magazine try to caricature a person like me?  That would be interesting to know.  Would they consider people like me to be full of crap?

I will end with a thought about the July 4th celebration. It is about the fact that for the first time in many years they had a show of military power at the celebrations in Washington, DC.  The show included Air Force One flying overhead as the president spoke.  It is easy to forget that all of this material stuff is temporary.  The picture below symbolic of what eventually happens to all of this over time.   The aircraft below once used to carry the President of the United States.  It has now become a museum piece, somewhat sad looking in its current location and appearance.P6170040.jpg(This picture was taken from the Mt. Vernon trail, from under the Wilson Bridge.)

It is the spirit that really matters in the end.

PS.  If you do not know anything about Mad Magazine, and are interested in getting a better context, you should watch the video in the link that I provided in this blog.

Here and There and Everywhere

Who are my people, who are my brothers and sisters?

I am back home after more than a month of travel through Peru and India.  I now have a break in the travels. I am finally in a position to start preparing for my bike ride in July.  The training has started in earnest.  Here are some pictures from the last three days of bike rides.  It is great to be back in a familiar place!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Pennyfield Lock
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Four Mile Run in Virginia
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The turtle on the towpath

Visiting a lot of places in different parts of the world in a short period of time can be a jarring experience.  People and their circumstances are different everywhere. Life in relative isolation in suburbia in the USA is very different from life in a big city in India with the constant human interaction, which is again different from the life of a farmer or miner living on the Altiplano (high plains) of Peru.

Most “common” people in the world are busy every day dealing with their own life circumstances, basically dealing with their day-to-day needs.  I think that people try find some kind of comfort, and maybe happiness, in their own life circumstances, without necessarily trying to compare themselves to their better-off counterparts in some other part of the world.  The only kind of world they really know and understand is the one that they have experienced during their lifetime.

Many of us are products of our circumstances in life that were beyond our control – where we were born, who our parents were, our family background, our friends, the culture around us, our religion, where we ended up in due to various circumstances not entirely in our control, etc..  We have developed a sense of values and morals that came out of our upbringing and experiences.  We developed our own philosophy for living our lives based on our experiences.  Perhaps we even find ourselves comfortable in life without too much struggle.  It takes guts and determination to break out of a place that we find ourselves in “naturally”.

People in different parts of the world are going through similar adventures in their lives, but they do so in different environments primarily because of life circumstances outside their control.  I do not think there can be one formula that works for all of us when it comes to determining how we should all live our lives.  The question I have for myself is if I have the ability to be comfortable outside our own comfort zone in life? Am I able to understand what somebody else living in another part of the world is going through when I interact with that person?  Can I find a way to empathize with people whom I am unfamiliar with – people from a different land?  I think we can all learn, but perhaps it is easier to not take the trouble, and perhaps even find a way to condemn.

We may be ready to condemn people who are different from us, even when it is very likely that we would act the way they do if we happened to have been born in their shoes.  It may be best not to judge other people blindly without getting to better understand where they come from and what drives them.

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.
**********************************************************

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.