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Ancient Water

IMG_7754Last week, A and I took a grueling hike to see the surreal Harding Ice field in Alaska, whose acres and acres of ice date back to the ice age.

On the way down, we filled our water bottles from a melt water stream. Fresh and chilled by nature, true mineral water.

I exclaimed, “This is ancient water we’re drinking!”

But A simply said, “All water is ancient.”

Something to think about.

Close encounter with a red fox

Ever had fantasies of being the hero in a real life emergency? Wait till you come face to face with a fox, and you realize you’re the first to make a run for it.

A few days ago, my Knight in Shining Shorts, Adi and I were vacationing in the San Juan Islands, WA, enjoying the solitude, the nature and ‘so few humans’. On the last day, we decided to go to the lighthouse near American camp, where you could sight baby seals and sometimes, whales. The rocks were steep but we managed to climb down to the gray, rocky beach 20 ft below. We caught a glimpse of a sea otter running across, and then, a fox ran across, carrying food in its mouth. His beautiful fluffy red coat made him look quite big, the size of a German Shepherd.

Fox ahead!

Fox ahead!

We trekked to a nice view point and sat down, only to see that the fox was behind some logs, just visible in the distance (picture is on max zoom). He alternated between peeking up at us and chomping his food. “So cute!”, “He’s so cuddly!”, “What will he say?” we joked and left him alone to eat his food in peace.

He then finished his food and became very curious.

Hello, Strangers!

Hello, Strangers!

He walked across the logs and made his way closer to us. We ignored him until at about 40 ft away, we decided to stand up and look bigger, while sending him “We’re not here to harm you” vibes. He looked straight at us, not threatening, not docile, just looking intently, inching his way toward us. We wondered if people had been feeding wildlife. Was he just curious, or hungry?

Let me take a closer look

Let me take a closer look

What are you doing in my land?

What are you doing in my land?

All the same, we decided this was enough, and clapped. Startled, he scampered up the slope. We started walking back the way we came, but he came back down the slope overlooking our path, at a good vantage point.



Vantage point

Vantage point

We were nervous to cross when the fox was right up there. We decided to wait it out, maybe he left his food back there, since he kept looking back nervously to some logs near our entry point. But he patiently, confidently, inched closer, looking us straight in the eyes. What does the fox say? Nothing. He just stares, not snarling, not moving, and slowly breaks you with his cool confidence. It was a game of nerves, and he was slowly winning. We were in his territory, and he was blocking our only way out. When he stood on the path before us about 15 ft away, I buckled (and messed up a potentially uber-cool picture). This was the final stand-off. After this he would be establishing alpha, and despite our experience with urban wildlife and wild herbivores, we didn’t know anything about foxes except that they can be ferocious if they are protecting their kits. He (She?) now fed on my scared vibes and was now almost ready to come closer and…what? I frantically went through my memories of all my dog bites, some violent, some not, but couldn’t come up with a game plan in case she attacked. We were bigger and much more heavier, but she was wilder, and had sharp teeth and claws. We could easily push her away but she could still inflict serious damage if she wanted to.

15 ft away and in our way, and my messed up picture

15 ft away and in our way, and my messed up picture

The rest happened very fast. Adi spotted a rather steep but climbable gravelly slope and asked me to make a run for it, he’d hold down fort. I made a dash for it, and saw the fox dash too. Now panicking that the fox was chasing us, I sprinted up that 75-degree slope in 5 seconds flat! Forget a hero, fear made a mountain goat out of me!

Turns out panic had made me delirious. Adi saw the fox darting backward and toward something it was protecting, it never chased us. Still, we continued to jog, huffing and puffing through the knee-deep grass, until we saw some hikers. I’ve never been happier to see humans! We immediately composed ourselves, acted all cool, talked about the weather, and ‘calmly’ warned them, off-hand, about a fox that was ‘quite bold’ and to skip the beach, and walked on till we found the road. I’ve never been happier to see a tar road. Civilization! I felt like a sailor spotting land after years of being lost at sea.

Looking back, it was a thrilling and brag-worthy experience with a rather comical end, but we know that it could have easily gone either way. We read later that foxes do have their kits around this time, so if that fox was a mom, there was no way she’d have let us cross so close to her den. Maybe we over reacted, many tourists have encountered begging foxes on Cattle Point Road or maybe she was just protecting her food. But I am certain this one wasn’t begging for food or show us tricks.

It is humbling to realize your place in the world. Looking into a hunter’s eyes make you understand the meaning of ‘survival of the fittest’. And you realize how maddeningly defenseless you are against the wild. You develop a different kind of respect for nature.

From now on, we are carrying our trekking poles and a whistle on our hikes. We are also going to leave our whereabouts with a friend so if the unforeseen happens, someone misses us. And lastly, I’m getting a DSLR so I can capture these photos better next time.

On the bright side, I did lose my irrational fear of caterpillars that has plagued me for decades. Look at this one, it looks like a baby fox’s tail!

baby fox tail

I’m wooly and I know it!

Ex-Home Sweet Ex-Home: An nrI in Bangalore

Having lived outside India for more than 8 years now, going home is recharging and stressful at the same time. A list-maniac, I’ve tried to break down the experience into the following stages.

  • Nervous excitement: Before I leave Seattle, I fret a lot. Will they say I’ve become fat? Dark? All relatives happily tell you (repeatedly) if you’ve fattened up or darkened, but never seem to notice the opposite. So one month before my India trip, I hit the gym like a podgy bride-to-be and avoid the sun like a vampire. I also abandon my meticulously prepared gift list and hit all the sales in town, grossly overspending and over-packing.
  • First impressions:  Three things grab my attention when I step out of Bangalore Airport—Girls, Gold and God. Indian Fashion is forever in the Spring mode, and the bright clothes on the local women wake me up pleasantly. Gold dazzles everywhere. Everyone wears at least gold earrings and a chain, and the billboards scream of new gold designs, gold loans and gold shops. And Oh my God! Right from my taxi’s dashboard to tens of temple gopuras/churches/mosques to every home’s gate, I see images, idols and chants of a multitude of gods, in all forms and colors. But who am I mocking? As soon as I get down from the airplane, I wear my gold mangalsutra and touch the Indian soil. Really.
  • Bewilderment: It’s only been six months this time, but life in Bangalore still bewilders me for the next few days. It’s expensive! It’s chaotic! It’s crowded! It’s polluted! It’s even more stressful because I’m trying hard to fit in and not be that NRI. I’m a closet NRI, remember? So I quietly cringe when the cashier coughs into my bill, and quietly cringe when people huddle so close in queues that I can smell their deodorant (or the lack of it). I try to look cool when I ride along in a car, closing my eyes and trying hard not to shriek every time a vehicle does something unexpected and risky. I either fall asleep or end up with jaw tension. I hold dad’s hand, ostensibly with love, when we run across the road, avoiding vehicles like an obstacle-course video game. I wistfully wish for my quiet, sleepy town from years ago. Culture shock hits me too. I blink when relatives brag about their expensive shopping sprees, and surreptitiously move my Old Navy slippers under the sofa. I’m aghast at youngsters like me blowing up their paychecks and their fast dating lives. I feel a generation older than my peers and my unconventional love-story seems as daring as a 1950’s movie.
  • Adapting and swalpa adjust madi-ing: That’s week 1. By week two, I’m again a Bangalorean. I reassure myself that I’m not an N.R.I, but an n.r.I. I talk and cuss like a Bangalorean. I fight with autorickshaw drivers and use three languages in the same sentence. I chumma say chumma. I’ve arrived.
  • Soaking it all in: Then comes the richest part of my experience, the part that keeps me going until the next vacation. I absorb my world like a sponge. I happily play with street dogs and hug cows. I visit temples. I pig out at my favorite eateries. Through it all, I observe. This year’s observations:
    • Money is the mantra now. Although there is an overall increase in wealth, I see tailors, cobblers and vegetable vendors working hard all day for appallingly low incomes while my generation does as little as they can do for appallingly high salaries. The gap is growing, and that explains the crime rate in my previously safe city.
    • Despite their fast-paced lives, I appreciate that a majority still have a dormant grounding force—that anchor for our souls. Be it religion, tradition or blindly following ‘culture’, they have a grounding force that will rescue them in times of crisis. I make a note to reinforce my anchor.
    • I see the hassled senior citizens, trying hard to catch up to the traffic, the inflation and the change in public attitude. I hope my generation, charging on with brash confidence, will notice them too and slow down every once in a while.
    • I see the huge gap between the modern and the conservative, even in my own generation. A part of the society has evolved, a part has retrogressed and the rest straddles both precariously.
    • I curse ‘outsiders’ for coming into my city and ruining it—they use my city for wealth and a good life without even trying to adopt our culture and our language! And then I realize why other countries resent Indians. This is immigration on a smaller scale.
    • I appreciate how societies are self-balancing. We have managed to prosper and grow even in this chaos. But it’s not been easy, and I know I took the easy way out.

It’s a lot of observation and introspection, but in the end it recharges my soul.

  • Withdrawal symptoms: Vacations always end. At the airport, I take a lungful of the damp, earthy air and memorize the scenery with coconut trees (conveniently erasing the omnipresent pollution, mismatched buildings and noisy vehicles from my memory) one last time. I manage not to cry at the airport, but when the airplane takes off, I feel an overwhelming sense of loss. I sigh at the thought of returning to my picture perfect world. For even though my world is clean, pretty and orderly, I will still be on the outside, looking in. I wonder whether I’ll ever be able to move back home to Bangalore; I’ve become such a comfort-bug. The answer leans toward No; I’m not tough enough for this life anymore. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to truly be a barbecue-loving, football-fanatic  American; the answer is unequivocally No. I cringe at the thought of having ABCD kids. I wonder whether I’ll find peace 30 years from now. What use is an anchor when it’s 10,000 miles away? I think I already know what my mid-life crisis will be about.

I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. For now, there’s living to be done and bags to be unpacked.

A bit of Motown in New York

You know those umpteen sweepstakes that always promise you those dream getaways, and you eagerly enter, say a ‘pretty, please’ to the Universe and then daydream, fingers crossed? Turns out, sweepstakes aren’t really a black hole of entries. Real people do win sweepstakes. Really! Last month, I won a trip to New York to watch the new Broadway show ‘Motown the Musical’ recently after clicking into a Facebook promotion at the last minute.

I couldn’t believe it when I got the winner notification in my email. I actually checked for scams on the internet before I realized this was a Ticketmaster sponsored sweepstakes, and was safe. We were going to New York! We were going to watch our first Broadway show! And it wasn’t a show I knew nothing about—I had grown up listening to some of the artists featured in the show! I felt like pumping my fists in the air and bursting into a Michael Jackson-style, “ow!” And I did.


The paperwork was surprisingly simple, and my contact at Ticketmaster, Jessica King, seamlessly coordinated all aspects of the trip—the paperwork, the flights, hotels and of course, the show. Right from our accommodation at the popular Sheraton Times Square Hotel to our romantic dinner at the Glass House Tavern, the trip was planned to pamper us and make this a getaway we’d always remember fondly.

Although we obviously knew about Berry Gordy’s life, we didn’t know just how much he had achieved until the show told his story, delightfully woven in with lively music and witty dialogue. We had the best seats in the house, which felt more like a medley of concerts. We were enthralled by the sheer multitude of colorful sets and beautiful, captivating characters. The actors were multi-talented—they moved with the groove, sang as well as their characters and gave us a remarkable déjà vu of watching music videos of legends such as the young Jackson Five, Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder on MTV many many years ago. They even involved the audience in some numbers and made it feel like a real concert, showing us just how deeply they had stepped into their characters’ shoes.

And then came the best part—meeting the cast! Kristen Rathbun from took us backstage and we were amazed at how small it was; the entire backstagWP_20130315_016e area was probably as big as the stage itself, and it had been shared by the multitude of the cast, the crew and the sets! It was exhilarating to meet the friendly Valisia Lekae, dressed in a modest white sweater when we’d just seen her as a diva in a dazzling golden dress, taking the spotlight with her easy confidence and making us forget that this wasn’t the real Diana Ross. Playing the sometimes funny, sometimes poignant Smokie Robinson, Charl Brown was talkative and cheerful. Everyone we met was so warm and made us feel really welcome, and one of them, Jamal, had actually gone into the trouble of learning to say my ridiculously difficult, 14-letter first name! Seriously, even I can’t say it right all the time!

WP_20130315_015My husband and I are West Coasters, so we always find excuses to postpone that long-pending trip to the East Coast—their winters are too cold and our summers are too beautiful to miss. And so it took a gentle nudge from Lady Luck to fulfil our wish to see a Broadway show. Thank you to the folks at Ticketmaster, Funjet, Sheraton and of course, Motown’s cast for making our first Broadway show an unforgettable experience—we’re thoroughly spoiled!

To top it all off, our return journey had a stop-over in Detroit. As we looked out the window from the slick airport, we felt a fond connection to a city we’ve never ever stepped foot in—after all, we’d just seen a part of Motown’s soul.


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