Seeing The Himalayas

This was my first time taking a direct flight from USA to India without an intermediate transit stop somewhere in-between.  The flight path was close to the great circle route. Screenshot_2019-02-02 Great Circle MapperIt took us north over Greenland, the Scandinavian Peninsula, and Russia, and then south through Uzbekstan, perhaps Tajikstan, and then Afghanistan and Pakistan. The map above is a polar projection.  This is how the route looks on the more common map that uses the Mercator projectionScreenshot_2019-02-02 Great Circle MapBecause of the nature of the flight path, and because of the time of departure of the flight, we went through a sunset and sunrise over a short period of time.  The flight took off in the early part of the morning and within three to four hours the sun had begun to set somewhere over Greenland.  (The generally easterly direction of the flight shortens the duration of both daytime and nighttime, but the bigger impact on the daytime was because we were closer to the North Pole at that point, where days already are shorter in wintertime. (Time to open up a geography book!))  At sunset, as we were heading north, my seat on the right side of the aircraft was facing east, away from the direction for optimal viewing of sunsets. This is the kind of view I got.P1250029.jpgAs the aircraft headed south during the second half of the flight, I ended up facing west, away from the direction of sunrise. Nevertheless I got a few pictures that seemed interesting. Here is one engine of our Boeing 777 aircraft. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANotice that the nacelle of the engine is lit up by the rising sun from below and not above.  Because of the angle of the rays of light at sunrise, because of the aircraft’s altitude, and because of the size of the engine, the rays of light are able to reach out under the aircraft to the engine on its other side first before they are able to reach over the top.  Even though it may not be obvious from the picture, the engines on this aircraft are massive, and would even touch the ground once landed if it was not for the height of the landing gear.

Although I could not see the sun rise directly, I was able to see its impact on the ground indirectly as we flew over the far western end of the Himalayas.  Here are some pictures.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is indeed an awesome sight. This may be the only time one gets to experience the thrill of the Himalayas.

The timing for this flight was the best I have experienced in all my travels from USA to India over the many years.  The return trip also promises to be advantageous in this regard.

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.

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 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.

When God Spilled His Coffee

It a was a windy morning in Destin, Florida, and God was quite cranky.  The citizens had been partying too much last night, and it had taken all his efforts to keep things in order.  Besides, this was one of those nights he felt like it would have been nice to take a nap.  Even God needed a break!

But there were things that needed to get done.  Those humans were incapable of taking care of themselves.  Where is my coffee, he roared! (You know, God always roars when he is in a bad mood!)

The angels were afraid to respond, but there was one who was concerned about the bad things the would happen if God did not have his coffee.  Angel Norah knew that if she did not do something there would be a storm that would destroy everything in the town of Destin, even its wonderful white beaches.  There would be thunder and rain, and a wind that would shake the very ground that the trees and buildings stood on.  The citizens of Destin could be in for a boatload of trouble.

The Angel Norah rose to the occasion.  She knew that decaf would not be good enough this morning.  (And God also loved his cream and sugar!)  And the coffee had to be fresh.   The decoction coffee from the previous evening would not do.  She found the percolator, and some fair-trade coffee from the Congo, the best coffee there was!  An extra spoon of coffee powder went into the machine and, also, a special filter that was supposed to have magical qualities.

The coffee brewed while God tried to shake the cobwebs away, grumbling to himself all the while. Those crazy humans.  He wished he had never created them.  They had been nothing but trouble so far!

The coffee was ready, finally!  Angel Norah looked for a cup to pour it into.  It had to be big enough for God.  She felt that he needed a lot of caffeine that morning.   The coffee cup with the picture of the tasmanian devil was the biggest one around, but Angel Norah did not wish to get God even angrier.  After all, he hated the devil in all its forms.  So, she settled for the cup that said “Have a nice day”, hoping that it would put God in a better mood.

The coffee was poured.  Some skim milk was added.  (Whole milk was out of the question. God had to watch his weight!)  Angel Norah looked for the brown sugar.  She could not find it.  She would have to settle for the regular refined kind.  But even that was hard to find. Darn, she said!  (Angels have to be careful about using swear words, you see.)  There was only Splenda around.  That would have to do.

God was still mumbling to himself when Angel Norah brought his coffee to him.  Her hands shaking, she handed a full cup.  God took a sip from the steaming cup.  He had been looking forward to this.  A strange look came upon his face.   It began to turn to purple.  Sparks began to fly from his beard.  Lightning shot into the sky from his hair.  I fear the Splenda was not to his liking.

He turned his head and spit the coffee into the Gulf.  He threw the rest of the coffee into the water.  The pelicans flew out of the way of the falling coffee.  The waters of the Gulf of Mexico turned to brown.  The waves rose angrily and raced towards the shore, and washed the brown water on to the beaches of Destin.  And the white sand turned to brown! And people who were walking on the beach (those that had not partied the previous night and caused all these problems) wondered what was going on on.

But, you and I know that this is what happens when you make God angry and  he spills his coffee!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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!