Thursday, May 24, 2012

Darter: The hug me bird

Darters are large sized slender bird that can be found sitting next to water body with its wing spread as if to hug someone. In reality these birds like their closer cousins cormorants don’t produce oil that water proof their feathers and so has to dry their wings constantly, so much so darters found in America migrate to get bright sun. The reason for lack of waterproof feathers is that like most birds they are light and have to increase their weight, waterlogged feathers allows it to dive easily and helps faster underwater movement. However, once they emerge from the water, they need to dry themselves. They also squeeze their feathers through their bill to remove excess water and repel water with oil from their enlarged preen gland at the base of the tail. It has great difficulty getting off the water if it attempts to fly while its wings are wet and takes off by flapping vigorously. Darters are widespread without being common. They inhabit either fresh or brackish water and can be found in lakes, rivers, marshes, swamps, estuaries, bays, lagoons and mangrove swamps. It prefers tree trunks, branches, stumps or posts fringing the water, for resting and drying its wings.Darters got their name as they use long (about twice the length of the head) sharply pointed bill to spear or thrust prey when they dive, the fish is pierced from underneath, brought to the surface where it is flicked into the air and then swallowed head first. Smaller items are eaten underwater and large items carried to a convenient perch and then swallowed. Darters are also known to spread their wings and tail underwater to lure fish into the shade underneath, before spearing them. They are also referred to as snake bird as they have snakelike head and a very long curved neck, and often swims with only the neck above water, with side to side movement like a snake ready to strike. They have short webbed feet making them excellent swimmers, submerging without even a ripple (10 on 10 effort in Olympics!!) their eyes are set in the beaks for efficient underwater hunting. While its gait is clumsy on land, it can soar gracefully to great heights on thermals, soaring on motionless wings, it makes cross-shaped silhouette when flying giving an impression of a glider.
These birds belong to the family Anhingidae. In south Asia the commonly found darter is refered to as Oriental Darter (Anhinga melanogaster). There are four living species. The word "anhinga" comes from the Brazilian Tupi language and means devil bird or snake bird. The stamp posted herein is from Liberia (President of liberia Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is Africa's first elected female head of state), the painting of darter is from Audubon collection.

I came across these lines by Nobel Laureate Richard P. Feynman (1918-1988)

"You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world,
but when you're finished,
you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird...
So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing - that's what counts.
I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something."

How precise!!. Feynman was an American theoretical physicist who was widely regarded as the most brilliant, influential, and iconoclastic figure in his field in the post-World War II era. He was one of the celebrated and revered scientists of modern times, he was multifaceted and had interest in many fields. Feynman remade quantum electrodynamics—the theory of the interaction between light and matter. The problem-solving tools that he invented—including pictorial representations of particle interactions known as Feynman diagrams—permeated many areas of theoretical Physics in the second half of the 20th century. Feynman invented a theory of “partons,” or hypothetical hard particles inside the nucleus of the atom, that helped lead to the modern understanding of quarks.

In his memoir Feynman mentions the reason for being in the Manhattan project. He says he felt the possibility of Nazi Germany developing the bomb before the Allies was a compelling reason to help with its development for the U.S. However, he goes on to say that it was an error on his part not to reconsider the situation when Germany was defeated. Feynman also talks about his worries in the atomic bomb age, feeling for some considerable time that there was a high risk that the bomb would be used again soon so that it was pointless to build for the future. Later he describes this period as a 'depression'. (all inputs taken from Net).

White browed fantail flycatcher: the restless dancer

No other bird will surpass its liveliness and elegance. This is one bird that doesn’t sit still it pirouettes about the shady branches of trees incessantly fanning its tail like a dancer who is restless to dance and doesn’t mind if there is an audience or not. The moment it settles down after a sortie to catch flying insects –that in itself is a delight to watch- its  body jerks as if it cannot go without another round of dance and takes one dainty step here one step there, drops its wing, up the head, and spread and close the delicate round fan shaped tail. You will be mesmerized by the bird for few more minutes and then off it goes. Fantails don't have any qualm about human presence, indeed is quite bold. So any readers of this blog happen to spot a fantail be an audience you will cherish for a long time. And yes it is a good singer too and is also known for beautiful nest it makes.

Wislawa Szymborska: Isn’t sunset a little too much for two eyes!!

It was I think in the year she got the Nobel that I came across the name Wislawa Szymborska, and really loved the way it sounded …of course people found it amazing that I could recall these complicated names!! (they should have known that remembering names is what I am really not good at…I go by how it sounds and I can recall hundreds of sounds which in turn are names!!). So here I was enjoying the sound of the name and very soon I had started to read her poems. She probably is the most exciting contemporary poet in the world, I am also very much influenced by her thoughts (encapsulated in her Nobel Prize speech that I have read many times). Wislawa Szymborska was born in Poland (1923) she worked as translator for sometime. Her poems have charming understated irony. “Excess of kindness could kill us” is how she describes the wonders of nature “Isn’t sunset a little too much for two eyes”. O yes!!. How much I love these lines.

While trying to plumb what the void's inner sense is,
I'm bound to pass by all these poppies and pansies.
What a loss when you think how much effort was spent
perfecting this petal, this pistil, this scent
for the one-time appearance, which is all they're allowed,
so aloofly precise and so fragilely proud

These lines from ‘Silence of Plants”. It is a kind of poem when you read you admire so much that can be in danger of being possessive “now now that is something I should have written!!”

But how does someone answer questions
which have never been posed,
and when, on top of that
the one who would answer
is such an utter nobody to you?

Undergrowth, shrubbery,
meadows, and rushes…
everything I say to you is a monologue,
and it is not you who's listening.

A conversation with you is necessary
and impossible,
urgent in a hurried life
and postponed for never.

The war zones we have seen so many tines in TV, people stranded…

They abandon something close to all they've got,
sown fields, some chickens, dogs,
mirrors in which fire now preens.

Their shoulders bear pitchers and bundles.
The emptier they get, the heavier they grow.

What happens quietly: someone's dropping from exhaustion.
What happens loudly: someone's bread is ripped away,
Someone tries to shake a limp child back to life.

Few more line from the same poem (it is not right to dissect poems like this but then it will make the blog too long)

Some invisibility would come in handy,
some grayish stoniness,
or, better yet, some nonexistence
for a shorter or a longer while.

Something else will happen, only where and what,
Someone will come at them, only when and who,
in how many shapes, with what intentions.
If he has a choice,
maybe he won't be the enemy
and will let them live some sort of life.

These lines from “One version of Events”.

We were besieged by doubts.
Does knowing everything beforehand
really mean knowing everything.

Is a decision made in advance
really any kind of choice.
Wouldn’t we be better off
dropping the subject
and making our minds up
once we get there.

We looked at earth.
Some daredevils were already living there.

A feeble weed
clung to a rock,
trusting blindly

that the wind wouldn’t tear it off.

A small animal
dug itself from its burrow
with an energy and hope
that puzzled us.

We struck ourselves as prudent,
petty, and ridiculous.

In any case, our ranks began to dwindle.
The most impatient of us disappeared.
They’d left for the first trial by fire,
This much was clear,
especially by the glare of the real fire
they’d just begun to light
on the steep bank of an actual river.

A few of them
actually turned back.
But not in our direction.
And with something they seemed to have won in their hands.

This my favorite “The little on the Soul”. I have read this many times, it is an assertion that is part of all of us. It is so much fun this one…

Periodically one has a soul.
Nobody has it all the time and forever.
Day after day, year after year
can pass without it.

Sometimes only in rapture
and in fears of childhood
it dwells within longer.
Sometimes only in the astonishment,
that we have become old.

It rarely assists us
in strenuous pursuits,
such as moving furniture,
carrying suitcases
or tromping through a road in tight shoes.

While filling in forms
and chopping meat
it usually takes the day off.

In a thousand of our conversations
it participates in one,
and not even necessarily in one,
preferring silence.

When our bodies start aching more and more,
it silently leaves the ward.
It's fussy:
it doesn't see us immediately in a crowd,
it sickens at our attempts at mere advantage
and the shrill clamor of business.

Joy and sorrow
are not all that different to it.
Only in the combination of them
does it stand up.

We can rely on it,
when we are certain of nothing,
and when everything seizes us.

Among all material objects
it likes best clocks with pendulums
and mirrors, which work fervently,
Even when nobody looks.

It doesn't say where it comes from
and when it will disappear next,
But it clearly awaits such questions.

It looks like,
as much as we need it,
also it
needs us for something too.

Waking up to the call of Malabar Whistling Thrush

There is a whistle that echoes through the morning mist of Western Ghats. Wafting the ravine forest and churning mountains it resonates in unmistakable gaiety. The resplendent rising sun is hummed to a bright new day. It’s the Malabar Whistling Thrush adding its oral aesthetes to the verdant visual. Whistling schoolboy is an alias that adds to its nonchalant splendor, the boyhood of yore. The lines from James Whitcomb Riley’s poem ‘To a Boy Whistling’ was never so apt    
O happy boy with untaught grace!
    What is there in the world to give
    That can buy one hour of the life you live
Or the trivial cause of your smiling face!

Malabar Whistling Thrush aka Myophonus horsfieldii are endemic to Western Ghats. It carries its shiny patches of blue on the forehead and shoulders with aplomb.    

James Whitcomb Riley: We are not always glad when we smile!!

James Whitcomb Riley (October 7, 1849 – July 22, 1916) was an American poet and writer, who after a squalor origin gained immense popularity in US that he elevated to the status of national poet. The book titled the Rhymes of Childhood was his most popular work. I am putting some of his poems here that I found interesting, of course many more can be read in the Net.  

Plain sermons

I saw a man—and envied him beside—
    Because of this world's goods he had great store;
But even as I envied him, he died,
    And left me envious of him no more.

I saw another man—and envied still—
    Because he was content with frugal lot;
But as I envied him, the rich man's will
    Bequeathed him all, and envy I forgot.
Yet still another man I saw, and he
    I envied for a calm and tranquil mind
That nothing fretted in the least degree—
    Until, alas! I found that he was blind.
What vanity is envy! for I find
    I have been rich in dross of thought, and poor
In that I was a fool, and lastly blind
    For never having seen myself before!

If I knew what poets know

If I knew what poets know,
    Would I write a rhyme
Of the buds that never blow
    In the summer-time?
Would I sing of golden seeds
Springing up in ironweeds?
And of rain-drops turned to snow,
If I knew what poets know?
Did I know what poets do,
    Would I sing a song
Sadder than the pigeon's coo
    When the days are long?
Where I found a heart in pain,
I would make it glad again;
And the false should be the true,
Did I know what poets do.
If I knew what poets know,
    I would find a theme
Sweeter than the placid flow
    Of the fairest dream:
I would sing of love that lives
On the errors it forgives;
And the world would better grow
If I knew what poets know.

Song of the New Year

I heard the bells at midnight
    Ring in the dawning year;
And above the clanging chorus
    Of the song, I seemed to hear
A choir of mystic voices
    Flinging echoes, ringing clear,
From a band of angels winging
    Through the haunted atmosphere:
        "Ring out the shame and sorrow,
            And the misery and sin,
        That the dawning of the morrow
            May in peace be ushered in."
And I thought of all the trials
    The departed years had cost,
And the blooming hopes and pleasures
    That are withered now and lost;
And with joy I drank the music
    Stealing o'er the feeling there
As the spirit song came pealing
    On the silence everywhere:
        "Ring out the shame and sorrow,
            And the misery and sin,
        That the dawning of the morrow
            May in peace be ushered in."
And I listened as a lover
    To an utterance that flows
In syllables like dewdrops
    From the red lips of a rose,
Till the anthem, fainter growing,
    Climbing higher, chiming on
Up the rounds of happy rhyming,
    Slowly vanished in the dawn:
        "Ring out the shame and sorrow,
            And the misery and sin,
        That the dawning of the morrow
            May in peace be ushered in."
Then I raised my eyes to Heaven,
    And with trembling lips I pled
For a blessing for the living
    And a pardon for the dead;
And like a ghost of music
    Slowly whispered—lowly sung—
Came the echo pure and holy
    In the happy angel tongue:
        "Ring out the shame and sorrow,
            And the misery and sin,
        And the dawn of every morrow
            Will in peace be ushered in."

To Annie

When the lids of dusk are falling
    O'er the dreamy eyes of day,
And the whippoorwills are calling,
    And the lesson laid away,—
May Mem'ry soft and tender
    As the prelude of the night,
Bend over you and render
    As tranquil a delight.

We are not always glad when we smile

We are not always glad when we smile:
    Though we wear a fair face and are gay,
        And the world we deceive
        May not ever believe
    We could laugh in a happier way.—
Yet, down in the deeps of the soul,
    Oft times, with our faces aglow,
        There's an ache and a moan
        That we know of alone,
    And as only the hopeless may know.
We are not always glad when we smile,—
    For the heart, in a tempest of pain,
        May live in the guise
        Of a smile in the eyes
    As a rainbow may live in the rain;
And the stormiest night of our woe
    May hang out a radiant star
        Whose light in the sky
        Of despair is a lie
    As black as the thunder-clouds are.
We are not always glad when we smile!—
    But the conscience is quick to record,
        All the sorrow and sin
        We are hiding within
    Is plain in the sight of the Lord:
And ever, O ever, till pride
    And evasion shall cease to defile
        The sacred recess
        Of the soul, we confess
    We are not always glad when we smile.

From my scribble pad… 

Sun after the rain
It’s like a faint touch of soul departed
revealed in a prospect.
An apparition hanging within the indolent cloud
the glint on each leaf magnifying the vividness of it.
All my life capsulated in this instance
in this lone moment
when death matters the least