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 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/

Meditations at Daybreak

It is a good time to find a quiet space for the mind before the hustle and bustle of the busy day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe morning call of the awakening birds greets me as I head for the terrace of the house.  Sunrises in Chennai are a different experience from those that I am used to in my part of the world.  The tones are different, and the colors are more muted. The explosion of light and color that I am used to experiencing as the sun clears the horizon seems to be missing.  But it is a remarkable experience nonetheless.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is too bad that most of us are indoors, either asleep, or preoccupied with getting ready for the hassles of the day, when this phenomenon takes place. I can see myself on a beach or on a mountaintop just soaking it all in. The glory of a sunrise provides a good moment for meditation and contemplation of bigger things, and this is true regardless of where you are in the world.

Super Blood Wolf Moon of January 2019

I had not planned to stay up for this event.  This meant that I was not prepared for taking pictures when it happened.  But Sunday evenings are when I am up a little later than usual because of my weekly chorus practice.  I usually have my dinner after returning while watching some program or the other on the television.  By the time I got ready for bed, it was almost time for the total eclipse.  I got a little curious.

I did not know which side of the sky the moon would be visible on.  I stepped out of the front door not knowing what to expect.  The sky was clear, and the temperature was in the teens (degrees F), with a wind blowing, and I was not wearing my jacket.  It felt really cold!

Almost directly above me was the super blood wolf moon!  I do not recall ever seeing this phenomenon before.  It took my breath away!

I felt the need to try to take a picture of the moon.  Although there had been information that had come my way about techniques to take pictures of the phenomenon, I had not read any of it.  I had lacked the foresight to be prepared.  I grabbed the camera, making sure that the lens that was on it was the one with the maximum zoom capability.  Once back outside the house, I struggled with the camera – with the settings (I needed to lock in the ISO setting to a high value), with the lens’s zoom capability, and with focusing the darned thing on the moon in the poor light.   I had no gloves on.

I managed to snap a few pictures, but the exposure times were too long, and my hands were not that steady! If I had done any planning, I would have figured out ahead of time how to set the camera on a tripod, and have it point upwards in a manner that still allowed me to look at the viewfinder.  As things stood, it was going to take too long to figure out all of that and set up.  The lunar eclipse was already well underway at that point.

I was going in and out of the house in between shots trying to keep myself warm.   I finally managed at least one decent shot after many attempts.  I had to back off from the maximum zoom to allow the camera to focus, and then lean against the front door to keep my hand steady.  This is the shot I got.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe name of the phenomenon derives from the fact that the moon looks big because it is relatively closer to earth (super), because it looks red (blood), and because native Americans call the full moon in January the Wolf moon.

I am quite sure I would gotten a much better shot if I had been better prepared.

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.

In the Cold

We were supposed to do the Feaster Five run on Thanksgiving day, but the temperature turned out to be in the teens (in degrees Fahrenheit), and with the wind it felt like -3 degrees F.  We ended up staying indoors, not even daring to try out the shortened course that the organizers had set up because of the weather.

But one can stay indoors for only so long.  We also had to burn off the calories that were consumed during the Thanksgiving meal.  So, we were out the next day.  The temperature had risen to a balmy 20 degrees, still well below the freezing temperature.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe went to the Weir Hill Reservation.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome of us ran, while the others walked.  We did two loops, each slightly less than two and half miles, around the park.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe survived!

The Fallen Leaves

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA carpet of dead leaves covers the ground, lit up by the bright morning light.  The leaves glow in the warmth of the sun.  There is a beauty in the dying.

Before we know it, the golden leaves will all be swept away.  The winds of winter, even now, renew their strength. They blow our way from the north once again.  Soon we will be scurrying to find shelter from the bone-chilling cold as Old Man Winter reaches out with his icy fingers.

And this will pass eventually.  As Winter fades into Spring, the cycle will start once more. There will be renewal.  All this will happen without a care for what you or I think, and without care for your or my presence…  And so it goes.