Sunday, August 17, 2014

Le Grand Canyon

You may have already seen this video. You're probably thinking it's been a week of talking about the same thing over and over. Maybe you think it shouldn't be as big of deal because I am not the first and definitely not the last of the millions who have already been or will go to the biggest hole in the earth. In my defense I state, some thoughts and experiences need words to be pictured and conveyed. Especially, if you may the kind to sit around imagining water horses and sunshine in a bottle.
I had been looking forward to this trek since I came to the US. Before that, it was never within reach. The magnificence and scale of North American landscapes was sequestered in pictures and Geography textbooks. After the Big Bend I almost certainly thought we'd be able to go to the Grand Canyon soon. That was two years ago. Maybe this was fated to be my soul cleansing exercise after defending my PhD. Then again, is life a Shakespearian proverbial play where we are pawns, or a cosmic game of chance? hmmm.... I'll think about that some other Sunday afternoon on a lawn under a balmy sun.
The soul cleansing aspect of hiking is absolutely true though. Those three days I was away from work (or as I call it: life) were worth a great big three week vacation. For no more than fifteen minutes on the whole did I think of where I am in life or where I'll be over the next couple of months. The relief after having defended my PhD is melting away under the salt sprinkle of having to find a job, the next step in what I want to make a glorious journey. I was ambitious in thinking I could go to the foot of the North Rim from the South Rim. Ambitious because it was nearly 50 degrees celsius in the basin. I felt a little like my fruit flies that die at 30 degrees celsius. I was going to write something I thought of titling, 'Romancing the Road'. This road wanted a restraint order on me ASAP.
Grand Canyon Park rangers, another group that heavily selects against the y chromosome, advised us to just camp at the basin and see how much we were up for the next day. When we did start hiking, looking down into the basin where hikers looked the sized of bed bugs, it looked very doable.
One's knees or quads, depending on your gait suddenly demonstrated their presence in each stride on the steep downwards hike. My shoes garbed in light brown, then pink, then red and brown dust were having their own little fashion try out. Armasquillos... I haven't said anything about them yet, but hang on. For the longest while, we didn't see any kind of wildlife except the Armasquillos. These were fat fur ball squirrels whose fur seemed to have an armadillo plate like pattern. They are so used to and comfortable around people that they could be used in movies without much training. Down in the basin were these black lizards with tails twice as long as their bodies. Annoying Ravens the size of large rabbits were everywhere. Their presence was freaky, almost warning hikers of their impending recycling to dust/raven poop if they weren't careful. On the way up, large raptors soared, which we guessed were condors.
However, humans appeared the most abundant species down there. After the deer, of course. Deer hung around the trails and campgrounds with the nonchalance of dogs and cows in a busy Lingampalli market. Among the humans, the vast majority of hikers weren't speaking English. The majority of that subpopulation were speaking French without the delicate sounds that embellish a Parisian accent. The french speakers also had a distinct odor, probably to ward off predators on the trail and evil in general. A smell so potent it crept into the title of this piece. What amazed me were the seven to ten year olds hiking the trails. Yes, their parents must have come prepared but their doing the hike without whining was remarkable none the less. It's good for children to start appreciating nature early and these were prime examples. The respect all hikers had for the environment was laudable. I remember getting into an argument with my aunt for not letting my niece throw a candy wrapper on the ground at Pachhmarhi. No one need have had such an argument here. People to the 'leave no trace' policy very seriously and lugged the tiniest bit of trash with them unto the rim. It's something we, my people on the other side of the globe, need to take more seriously.
Lugging the twenty kilos up and down 2 km vertically and 15 km horizontally was trying though. It may not have been if the thin straps of my bag weren't biting into my flesh. Throughout the trip and after, us boys who easily were different characters from a buddy movie had fun, though we didn't agree all the time. I thankful to the powers that be for feeling such camaraderie. 
As you can clearly see, this isn't the story of the hike. It is the sum of effervescent feelings for nature, friendship and a respectful nod to temperature. I recommend the mix to everyone who is curious. ;-)

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

It's a Richer life

Two days ago, I defended my PhD Thesis. And just like that I get to add "Ph.D" after or "Dr" before my name. In many ways one wonders if the title matters. But why give up on title if you're being offered one. I thought I be inspired by AC DC and go around yelling "P H D... I'm Dynamite! PHD!!" What prevails however is tremendous relief: that it's over and that I can move on. 

These past six years have been full of all kinds of education. In research I've learnt there are never enough controls for an experiment. In addition to research, a lot of life happened in the lab. People making science happen, people getting in the way of science and that nature doesn't conform to the whims of people. I won't philosophize it right now though I have a license to :D

The next step is waiting to be found. I don't have a job yet because the labs I'm interested in either don't have space or or don't have money. It's time to put my head down and make the best of what I have, or will have. We'll see how it goes.

Immediately after the Defense and the little party that followed, I drove to see Noshi again and it was the most relaxing drive I've made so far.  Eight hours of uninterrupted good road and me! The last time went I wasn't in a good frame of mind. Without podcasts I could have become unstable. This time was different. Just me, Dimples and the road. Dimples with her new timing belt, tires and aligned wheels rolled along on tarmac. I did hear a clunk from the front right side as soon as I left Dallas though. A hundred miles out I HAD to get a red bull to avoid dozing off at the wheel. I was talking to the guy at the counter of the gas station and stepped out to stretch for a bit before driving seven hours straight. The gas station guy stepped out too and asked me if I want to pop the headlight back in. I had no idea what he was talking about. Turns out Dimples was sprinting on the highway with one eyeball popped out. He fixed the problem with duct tape. The fix lasted me my entire drive back. Jugaad, I say, is a wonderful thing. The sun set as I drove and the moon shone later. On stretches of road near the Kansas border, I was the only soul within the horizon and the stars as big and dense as ants in a nest, beamed down. The moon was showing off her gold negligee, but as I am accustomed to now, I avoided the distraction.

Just chilling with Noshi was fantastic! Like I've said before, we really don't have to talk to have a good time. Most of the two days I was there was spent waking up, going out to eat and taking a nap. He got me a copy of the complete stories of Sherlock Holmes and Nietzsche's "Thus spake Zarathushtra". The guy at the counter at Barnes and Noble was surprised that two brown boys picked up the mother Nazi philosophy. The other thing we did together was to attend Kansas City's... wait for it.. "Tamil Sangam"!! Yes... complete with Vadas, Bhel poori, Adai, idyappam, Masala chai and so on. It was a Mela with my people. Families hanging out, kids being themselves... I need such a feel from time to time. It felt just like home, without the dirt and smells.

Time will tell what happens next. I'm excited but sans anticipation. I feel grown up somehow. A bit of soul building in the Grand Canyon this weekend should be good. It keeps getting richer and richer!