Because I Have The Time
March 2020, suddenly my day to day life got rear ended to a halt by a mysterious force. Soon after it felt that all personal, social, formal and informal relationships and activities that were stuffed comfortably into a tightly corked bottle was being shaken violently by the invisible hands of this force. Here then was a storm, like none other ever experienced before. To ride through this, I realized that it was time once again to challenge the most valuable, multipurpose tool I have within, my mind. The power to wield it would be my ongoing zest for life.
Stay at home and socially distancing tidbits
Around the House
Daily chores are now performed by me with a rare calm. A greater appreciation results even as I cut the veggies. The clever design, the symmetry, the arrangement of shapes and colors within and even the sound produced as the knife goes through them to meet the board, is distinct to each kind. The ensuing rhythm is catchy. The odor emanating from different oils is suddenly caught faster by the sense of smell, these days. What is there to elaborate then regarding the wonderful spices shipped all the way from the land of my birth, India.
Patience is practiced in an unhurried way when sorting and folding clothes. No deadlines to hasten the act of sweeping the floors and those trick dusty corners are cleaned with a rare smile on my face. When so called incidents not accidents happen, I find myself no longer angry or frustrated. I engage in conversations with myself where I resort to Kabbalah lessons learned from my Rabbi, years ago. “An overflowing washing machine ? No problem. Apply ‘Certainty’ and tell yourself that you will find a solution. It works. Bumped your head and hurt yourself? Well, what was the last thought you had before this happened? Bet you were angry or frustrated about something. Indeed so true, there I go again!”
Owning a house means constant upkeeping and fixing. I discovered during this extraordinary period of isolation that I do have skills to come up with short cuts and ingenious ways to solve minor fixer ups in the building and in the yard. I have never before accessed the tool box like I am doing these days. Listening to Celtic Fiddle Festival on Pandora, I found, increased the speed and efficiency in washing dishes and cleaning floors. Each time the cell phone goes “ ping ” I no longer rush to look who or what it is. So no interruptions in whatever it is I am engaged in. Sounds from the flame rising in the stove, the nuances in the breezes at different times of the day, my footsteps in the house as varied from those when I step outside, the ticking of the clock, the keyboard variations on my pc, all contribute to creating a variety of sounds that convey messages onto the matrix of a silent mind.
Being a minimalist, I have always bought only when I really needed something, or when an occasion to a ‘giving” is called for. No careless, fun shopping ever. I tend to discard or donate what I no longer need or use. I thought I had reached a plateau in this behavior until this period. Now strangely I find that I am continuing this pattern to a much greater degree. The clean and organized closets, kitchen and even the garage have all become beneficiaries of this time.
West Petaluma is a boon for those who love to walk. Being a passionate walker, I find myself more outside the house than inside. I hardly need to use my car for basic errands. The month of May is the best time to see front yards bursting with blooms. I am amazed at how well the leaves of a plant matches the flower it bears. The color and shape of the leaf highlights the tones of the flower. It is worth stopping to admire the intricate colors and designs revealed in many an opened flower. Often I have found rare plants growing in this section of the city, plants that you do not normally see in Northern California. I figured behind each bush of this kind, is a determined gardener, who has spent much money, time and energy in caring for these. Unusual sights greet me when I walk slower and take the trouble to observe the trees lining the streets. It would do only good if the city folks on English street could fix the treacherous sidewalks, for then one can spend less time looking ahead and down while walking.
On D street there are two cassia trees side by side. About five feet up the main trunk I see healthy pyracantha growing, obviously from seeds dropped by birds. What good hosts they are, the cassias. On 8th street I have seen a beautiful Texas Neem tree, surrounded by its offspring. Angel wing jasmine hedges so common in Southern California line the outside of a real estate office. I wonder why those large and mighty redwood trees have the smallest pinecones?
It saddens me to see fruits wasted. Home gardens have trees loaded with apples, pears, persimmons and grapes. Most of them are left unpicked so they fall on the ground and rot. Why not pluck them or have someone pluck them, put them in baskets and leave them outside for passersby to help themselves. One can earn good karmic fruits for such actions ! I see sidewalks stained by dried plums stepped upon by shoes. Petaluma has more than five varieties of wild plums, that no one seems to care about. I dream of how many bottles of South Indian thokku, a kind of tasty chutney I could be making with them. My neighbors look forward to these preserves, which they use to coat barbecued meats.
During these pandemic days I am seeing more and more homes placing outside their homes, not just political signs but more for social reform and encouraging strength during these trying times. Kids have begun drawing with chalk, messages calling for tolerance and justice. I see more books placed outside, sometimes in quaint libraries perched on posts or simply left in crates near the sidewalk. Few homes even have very creative homemade art objects that adorn their yards. Small groups of friends and families have set up tables outside to share a meal, a respite from staying indoors all the time. Young and amateur musicians strum away their guitars while seated in their porches, singing a variety of genre. Children fearlessly ride their bikes when they are released from distant learning sessions. Younger ones struggle hard to catch up with their older sibling in these bike races. Fathers and mothers have biking teams that they lead. Streets that are blocked to through traffic often have makeshift jumps for young skateboarders. Mothers are seated at either end for safety. All these sights take me back to the works of Norman Rockwell, in whose artwork I see an America that was wholesome and simple.
My feathered friends
I have always been a passionate and keen bird watcher. This is not an exaggeration when I state that, this stay at home period has yielded a heaven for my feathered friends. They are a source of excitement, joy, comfort and peace these days. Their energy level in the wee hours of the morning can send your head spinning. When birds, intent on feeding or drinking, ignore you, even though you are so close to them, take it as a sign that, now you are truly part of Nature. Never seen birds so excited and so much more vocal. Is it because they can communicate more effectively as humans have quietened down? From 8-9am every day it is an exhibition of food frenzy I see in my garden. Many a variety appears then. The main attraction are a couple of feeders that have daily rations of black oil sunflower seeds, a humming bird feeder and two water baths, a big and a small one.
The largest among the frequent visitors to my yard are the ground feeders, the towhees. They are not in the least intimidated by my presence. Their sense of personal hygiene is remarkable. Like young kids in a swimming pool, they go in and out of the bird bath. I have three regular ones that bathe several times a day with no care for the temperature. They take meticulous pride in preening themselves before they take off. Their short and high pitch soft squeaks are the first sounds that wake me up, early morning. Other birds like the finches are more into drinking water than bathing.
Chestnut Backed Chickadee
The tall almond tree is the favorite haunt of these birds. I have often wondered what it is that they find between the leaves of this tree. I was surprised to see that the honey cone wild bird feeder was stripped clean within three days by these tiny birds.
Occasionally I see a pair of turtle necked doves that come to feed on the tiny millet seeds that I sprinkle on the ground. Their moves are so gentle and they do get easily startled. I fear to step outside my sliding door if I see them. Even a distant looming figure is enough to send them in a single, screeching, panic flight.
For years these birds have been frequenting my premises. They have in one year reared a family in a bird house attached to the studio. Some of them have a recognizable raspy tone to their voice. While all other birds split and eat the seeds right in the feeder or the ground, these birds carry them to the nearby strawberry tree and use the branches to perch, peel and eat. No wonder they take such effort to sharpen their beaks. By the way this tree is literally a transit mall for many species. Now that the tree is tall, I find the most relaxing moments when I sit in the rocker, in my bedroom upstairs and watch their antics.
First prize for variety goes to the finches. Purple, gold and house finches visit in batches several times a day. They are the last to leave in the evening. It is almost meditative to watch the manner in which the female house finches eat so calmly at dusk.
I cannot but stop and listen to the adamant yet rhythmic drum rolls of woodpeckers. Their determination to get to the grub hidden in the utility poles is to be admired. Considering how small they are I am amazed at the power behind their pecking.
White crowned sparrows are seen more often than house sparrows, even though the latter have built nests in the school office buildings nearby. I hear the song sparrows but rarely see them as they are often hidden in the gigantic Mediterranean laurel tree near the garage.
In spring these migratory birds used to visit my home in LA in hordes to feed on the pyracantha berries. I have picked up some unconscious ones after they have bumped into my studio window. After nursing I have released them with hesitation after they got over their shock. Here they seem to appear at slightly different times of the year to feed on drooping bunches of prunella berries, provided in abundance by trees that serve as fences. The artistic yet bold markings around their eyes seem right out of Egyptian mythology.
If you experience a startling whizz right past your face, know that it is the daring humming bird and you have entered its territory. Their size is inversely proportional to their speed and aggressiveness. They are very territorial in nature. Many an hour have I spent watching their aerial maneuvers to prove superiority. Surely, they look like jetfighters at war. In other words, do not let their size fool you. In bright sunlight when they take a breather on the strawberry tree, the glowing and everchanging colors they display is truly amazing.
My sacred connection to these birds goes as far back as the 2000s, when I lived in Los Angeles. It is so sacred that on my walks I avoid stepping on even the shadow of this bird, in my path.
This spring I had the curious satisfaction of seeing a pair of tiny wrens entering the small bird house that I had lined with cotton and hay. Their offspring were very quiet unlike those of the titmouse. Their choice of food seems to be hidden on the ground between thick bushes. Perhaps they are pure insectivores.
Dark Eyed Junco
The most striking feature of this bird, is its head. The black color here is so intense. I have not yet seen this bird feed, perhaps it is just exploring or using my home as a rest station.
3 am in the morning, I awake somedays to hear, the hooting conversations between two barn owls, one near my house and the other from across the street. I do wish that they will show themselves to me eventually.
I have been in the past, sad that I could see bluebirds only sometimes. Petaluma High School and the vicinity of Bank of America were the only two areas where I could get glimpses of them, that too occasionally. These Covid days I feel so blessed as I see them perched on the wires even near my house.
These are the only birds that are at the mercy of my claps and threats. Fully aware that they are omnivorous scavengers I feel that they do not belong in my yard. They soil the bird baths by leaving crackers, bones, pizza crust pieces, in the water to soften them while they hunt elsewhere. Oh, and they always return in good time to feast. They are indeed very smart, especially in the way they hurl walnuts from great heights on to the pavement to crack them.
No longer are these aggressive birds as common to my yard as they used to be in the earlier years of my stay here. I do not miss them, as their presence, like the crows scares the more delicate little birds.
Cooper’s Hawk and Hermes
The regular presence of a handsome hawk that perches on a nearby redwood tree continues to affirm my sacred connection with the Greek deity Hermes and my ongoing immersion in Hellenismos, the revivalist movement in the Hellenic tradition and culture, now surfacing in Greece. The piercing cries of this hawk increases in September, reminding me that soon I will be engaged in the worship of the Homeric Demeter in honor of the Eleusinian mysteries, my annual tribute to the goddess that sits on the Petaluma City Seal.
When Covid descended on this earth affecting so many countries and nations, at a time when USA already had been slipping towards becoming a fourth world country, the Hindu in me, mentally stood still. What should I make of this viral pandemic, that is known as Janapadodvamsa in Ayurvedic texts? What messages can I fall back on from my Bharatiya (Indian) heritage? A heritage that has remained vigorous in spite of centuries of onslaughts. Its basic foundation that includes Mother Nature in an integral manner, provides support for belief systems, faith, philosophies and theogony that is totally unlike concocted, and invented monotheistic religions, at the same time free from agenda ridden prophet bound faiths.
Which devata’s (deity’s) power am I seeing here? Which cosmic energy field should I tap into? Diving deeply I surfaced with the recognition of the deity, Shree Mahaamaaree ! She is mentioned in the famous text, The Devi Maahaatmyam, a powerful scripture that highlights the Glory of the Divine, Feminine, Cosmic Principle. Maara is mortality. Maaraka is the facilitator of mortality. However, as Maari, she is both beneficent and a destroyer. She is intimately connected with Time. She is to be respected and feared. Humans who are blessed with intelligence should exert energy and time in understanding the hidden wisdom behind this crisis. The ramifications of our willful and careless actions that transgress universal laws, inevitably produces natural consequences that we have to bear. Adharma must be replaced by Dharma, simply by means of intense introspection, sincere penitence followed by concrete remedial actions.
So as a reminder, part of my early morning daily prayers now, I recite the following in Sanskrit.
या देवी सर्वभूतेषु महामारी रूपेण संस्थिता ।
नमस्तस्यै नमस्तस्यै नमस्तस्यै नमो नमः ॥
I bow again, again and again, to the Divine Mahaamaari, who is stationed in all entities, in the form of the Mighty Killer.