Category: reading

Whether we want them or not, the New Year will bring new challenges; whether we seize them or not, the New Year will bring new opportunities. ~Michael Josephson

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Trip to Barrow, Alaska- The top of the world

Life is God’s gift to you.The way you live your life is your gift to God.

It wasn’t just another trip this time. I would rather call it a very unique adventure of a lifetime. For our July 4th long weekend we had planned our trip to Alaska long long ago in November 2012 but was uncertain if we ever would be able to make it.. me being 6 months pregnant. But having got the green signal from my Ob/Gyn we decided to go ahead as planned but Barrow was a long shot. I had no knowledge about the place but hubby dear had done some research and was very enthusiastic about it. However he had left it entirely upon me to decide whether to go ahead or not.After a hectic bus ride at Denali National park, we headed to our Mckinley creek cabin to rest for the next day’s flight. I was all wobbly and dizzy the next morning and was distressed that we wouldn’t be able to make it. However, after a little rest I managed to convince myself that all was well and am glad we could make it.

 

Our flight from Fairbanks took a break at Prudhoe Bay airport.It was an extraordinary sight to view the 800 mile pipeline from the air,a true testimony to engineering feats, that  allows contraction and expansion of the 48″ pipe on the tundra. We also got a glimpse of the famous Dalton Highway, one of the most isolated roads in the United States. My hubby has the greatest desire to drive through this road someday specially during winter when the road is frozen.The view of the permafrost terrain (permanently frozen ground) from the air was exhilarating.

As soon as we landed in Barrow, the whole scenario changed. It was a totally different world from the rest of Alaska or US. The airport was pretty small with just one room used both for departure and arrival as well as check-ins etc. Once we stepped out of it everything seemed to be isolated and rustic. I felt at a loss at first as the streets seemed to be desolate and not many people or vehicles were around. Following hubby out of the airport, we at first thought of picking up our rented car but didn’t know which direction to go. The google map too wasn’t working and it was pretty cold outside after having come from 70/80 degrees F at Fairbanks. Fortunately we sighted our hotel(Airport Inn) and decided to check in first. The hotel wasn’t that fanciful but had a warm welcome atmosphere with all the modern amenities except for the outdated TV set and two small twin beds.


After resting for awhile we walked through the town in search of our car rental agency. I was desperate and irritated as the place was all empty and desolate and the cold wind added to my vexed feelings. I was wondering if the trip was worth it. To make matters worse, when we reached the agency, (a worn out unpolished house rather just a room in some small building) not far from the airport, no one responded to our calls and the door was locked too. I was in no mood to keep walking and was literally angry with hubby. Just then as if god saw our desperation, a car stopped by and inquired if we were looking for rental cars. He was the owner of the car rental agency. I was so relieved that I immediately jumped into his car and we headed to his office.

Barrow isn’t a big place and one can see around mostly on foot too if you are good at it. It is located 300 miles (480 km) north of the Arctic Circle on the Arctic Ocean. The tiny village holds the distinction of being the northernmost settlement in the United States, and the northernmost settlement on the North American mainland. The residents are primarily of Inupiat (“Eskimo”) descent.(courtesy wiki travel).

Because of its extreme location Barrow receives 24-hours daylight from May 10 to August 2 as well as 24 hours darkness from November 18 to August 22.

Barrow wasn’t a very welcome sight at first with the unpaved roads and the desolate looks of dark and gray with no greenery around except for the small grasses. after picking up our rented car, we headed towards the Tundra Top of the world hotel where we were to join the tour group. We boarded a small bus with 15 other tourists. The driver took us along the beach road to as far north towards Point Barrow as you can go without a permit. We were about 4 miles away from point Barrow, the northern most point of the American continent.We learnt that the hunters dump all their whale bones at Point Barrow in order to keep the Polar Bears out of downtown Barrow but they still come into town during the winter months. One need to pay extra to go to point Barrow as well as hire a private ATV or car to get there along the rugged unpaved road.

To be able to make to the top of the world is a thrill unexplainable in words.It was pretty exciting to be so close to the arctic ocean.It was a sunny afternoon and the water was gentle. There were several icebergs floating around though most of it had melted away by now. We also saw some pretty big colorful jelly fish. Amidst the excitement, one tourist suddenly stripped naked and dived into the icy cold ocean water while we all stood on shore not daring to even dip a finger.Everyone started laughing and clapping. Definitely, he made to the polar bear club membership, a tradition of some people to swim in the icy waters. We were a little disappointed to have missed seeing a polar bear though.

We continued our journey as the driver narrated stories and showed us almost every part of  the town of Barrow,including the one and only gas station and grocery store, the lagoons and fresh water lakes,the hospital, the two local cemeteries, the elementary school, middle school, and high school, the Barrow High School football field on the road towards Point Barrow, the local government buildings, the Will Rodgers/Wiley Post Memorial and the airport named after them and the Inupiat Heritage Center, which provides information on the history of the Inupiat people as well as displays of artifacts and cultural events. We also got to see “Satellite City”, an area outside the town where all of the satellite dishes are located. Interestingly the dishes point at the horizon, instead of up in the sky.  In order for them to work properly, there can’t be anything in front of them.  Luckily finding empty space  isn’t much of an issue.

Because of the permafrost, no vegetation could thrive in the region. The houses too were built raised from the ground to prevent from melting the permafrost.There were junk piles and old boats and broken down snow mobiles everywhere. We also saw a water truck that constantly splashed water on the road to keep away the dust during the dry season.

After the tour, we picked up lunch from Pepe’s Restaurant, took our car and headed back to our hotel. We rested for a few hours and then decided to tour around on our own. It was quite astonishing to see the sun quite above us even after 9 pm.We went back to the Bowhead Whale jaw bone Arc point and Welcome to Alaska, top of the world sign and took several more pictures. The ride was even more bumpier in the car than was in the bus. The weather was cool and sunny but thanks to the chilly wind from the Arctic ocean,that made it impossible to stay out of the car for long.

We also went to the grocery store mostly to check the prices and also get some water and snack bars. I can understand why the prices were so high there as definitely it wasn’t that easy to get all items to such a remote area. The price of things up here in Barrow were way higher than anywhere in the world, since everything had to be flown in or brought in by boat.

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Arctic Pizza restaurant

We ordered a medium size pizza for dinner from Arctic Pizza restaurant, which we found bigger than our normal large size pizza. It was quite tasty and sumptuous for dinner. Exhausted from the day’s rides, we soon fell asleep even when the sun outside was high above us. We woke up next morning and got ready to catch the flight back to Fairbanks. We left the place with a sense of achievement of seeing a unique and historic destination and being above the Arctic Circle.

” I figure life’s a gift and I don’t intend on wasting it. You don’t know what hand you’re gonna get dealt next. You learn to take life as it comes at you… to make each day count.” ― Jack Dawson

Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly. — Langston Hughes

Waking from Drunkenness on a Spring Day Li Po (c. 750, trans. Arthur Waley, 1919) “Life in the World is but a big dream; I will not spoil it by any labour or care.” So saying, I was drunk all the day, Lying helpless at the porch in front of my door. When I woke up, I blinked at the garden-lawn; A lonely bird was singing amid the flowers. I asked myself, had the day been wet or fine? The Spring wind was telling the mango-bird. Moved by its song I soon began to sigh, And as wine was there I filled my own cup. Wildly singing I waited for the moon to rise; When my song was over, all my senses had gone.
Waking from Drunkenness on a Spring Day
Li Po (c. 750, trans. Arthur Waley, 1919)
“Life in the World is but a big dream;
I will not spoil it by any labour or care.”
So saying, I was drunk all the day,
Lying helpless at the porch in front of my door.
When I woke up, I blinked at the garden-lawn;
A lonely bird was singing amid the flowers.
I asked myself, had the day been wet or fine?
The Spring wind was telling the mango-bird.
Moved by its song I soon began to sigh,
And as wine was there I filled my own cup.
Wildly singing I waited for the moon to rise;
When my song was over, all my senses had gone.

“The human voice can never reach the distance that is covered by the still small voice of conscience.” Mahatma Gandhi

 

“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

A miraculous escape

“Miracles do not happen in contradiction to nature, but only in contradiction to that which is known to us of nature.”

We got a few snow showers in the last few weeks which were an indication of the advent of winter season. It’s not that I don’t like snow or winter but just the fact that it brought back to memory a chilling incident that happened to us 2 years back.
That dreadful day, we were returning from Escanaba, MI to Chicago, after having spent the long weekend of President’s Day traveling around Lake Michigan. We had a great time skiing at Treetop ski resort. We also visited the Mackinaw City and the frozen Tahquamenon falls. The weather forecast had warned travelers on that route of a snowstorm the previous night. However, that morning, as we left our hotel, the weather seemed to be quite pleasant. Just before reaching highway 41, following the google map, I directed my husband to take a wrong route (of course unknowingly). Soon I realized the mistake but we were almost 15/20 miles away. As we drove back, the weather seemed to turn gloomy.

 the doomed car

the road mistaken

Unfortunately for us, this was the first time hubby was driving on snow and had no knowledge of the hazards of snow till then. When we had left Chicago, the weather forecast showed a pleasant weekend ahead and no signs of snowfall anywhere along our route. To add to our gloom, we had not seen the forecast for green bay area that day.

snowfall on the way

the dreary road

There wasn’t much traffic on the way and so hubby confidently set the car on the cruise control mode (never do it on icy roads…a lesson well learnt). I was feeling a little uneasy for reasons unknown but I put my thoughts back and decided to take a nap. Hardly did I close my eyes when the car swirled to the left and as I opened my eyes to enquire what was happening, the car swiftly swirled to the right again and skid off the road to the ditch by the side. Were we lucky that the ditch was filled with fresh snow? Can’t say at all…

For the first time in my life I was glad I had my seat belts on when I found myself hanging upside down in the car. Dazed at the quick turn of events I looked around at hubby and found him in a similar position (seems so funny now). I was in a shock and so was hubby. However, he quickly searched for the mobile and tried to call 911. We tried to get out of the car but the snow seemed to have blocked the door. Luckily, we heard someone outside and found a man helping us out. He quickly led us away from our car and was generous enough to let us wait in his car till the police and ambulance arrived. I was shivering like hell not just because of the incident but also because I had my jacket off while inside the car. It was freezing outside. The Good Samaritan, who was just behind us, had immediately called 911 when he saw our car topple off the road. In about 10 mins the police and an ambulance arrived and we thanked the man and his wife for the kind gesture and shifted to the police car.


This was the first time I got a look at our car. I was horrified at the condition it was in and thanked god we got out of it without a scratch. The policeman took about 20/25 minutes to prepare the report and then he dropped us at a nearby gas station. Our car was towed away as it was in no condition to be driven.


Our misfortune continued further when even after several calls at our car agency, hubby couldn’t manage to get another car for rent. Because of the bad weather in that area, many flights were cancelled and it seemed people had taken rental cars to drive to their destinations. It was getting dark and we were stuck at the gas station for nearly 2 hrs now. The girl at the counter sensed our distress and like an angel from nowhere came to help us out. She went out of the way to call a cab for us to take us to a nearby hotel. We accepted her suggestion and decided to stay there for the night.
It was only when we reached the hotel room did we realize the dreadful situation we came out of. I burst into tears and was uncontrollable for some time. Hubby too was feeling sorry and guilty of having put me into such danger. But I consoled him saying that we were lucky to have got away so easily and for some unknown reasons, both of us had not a single scratch.
Next day, we went to the grey hound bus station in the hotel shuttle and headed back for Chicago. Once home we again thanked our fortunes of having lived to see another day even after such a harrowing accident. It was a miracle indeed.

After this incident, we try to abstain from driving during snow but for unavoidable circumstances hubby has made a thorough study of such situations. Its always better to stay prepared than wait for miracles to happen.

“To be alive, to be able to see, to walk…it’s all a miracle.”

“Nature is not only all that is visible to the eye.. it also includes the inner pictures of the soul” Edvard Munch

The Park (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

The prosperous and beautiful
To me seem not to wear
The yoke of conscience masterful,
Which galls me everywhere.

I cannot shake off the god;
On my neck he makes his seat;
I look at my face in the glass,
My eyes his eye-balls meet.

Enchanters! enchantresses!
Your gold makes you seem wise:
The morning mist within your grounds
More proudly rolls, more softly lies.

Yet spake yon purple mountain,
Yet said yon ancient wood,
That night or day, that love or crime
Lead all souls to the Good.

My first lonely morning walk

John Muir rightly said “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

Never did I venture out alone during my 3 yrs stay in the US. I was always accompanied by someone in my evening or morning walks. It’s not because I was scared or something but it just happened to be so. Earlier, when we lived in Chicago, 2 years back, I happened to meet a lady with whom I became friends and together we used to plan our outings after hubby left for work. Then, when we moved to Minnesota, for a while I had stopped my exercises due to my back pain and soon became sickly. Hubby decided to motivate me to walk again and joined me in my evening hikes. He would drive me to different lakes near our home   (after all Minnesota is a land of 10,000 lakes) and then after parking the car we would walk round the lake. But that didn’t last long as he often had to come late from office. So my walks stopped again.

But after many a distressful shopping blunders, the realization daunted on me that I need to do something of my ever growing potbelly. So, I decided to take advantage of the good weather and start my morning walks after hubby left for work. So, bidding him adieu, the other day and armed with a water bottle and my Samsung galaxy, I stepped out of my cozy den. I could feel the fresh air against my face after being inside the warm heated apartment. A cool breeze was blowing and I was glad I wore the thicker sweatshirt. You don’t know the outside temperature unless you step out and very often I had suffered because of my miscalculations.

I felt confident and happy to have taken the decision and with a hidden smile on my face I took the familiar path round the lake just behind my apartment. There is a small wood at the very entrance of the path where I often went with hubby to click photos.

But today was slightly different as I was alone. I was expecting more people to be running and jogging but perhaps I was one of those few who stayed at home while others rushed to work at that hour. However, I started my walk speeding up my pace and slowing down in between not to get tired. As I reached the densest part of the wood, some creepy feelings disturbed me thanks to the horror movies and thriller serials that I was addicted to. As I approached a fork, I heard voices and saw two men approaching. All the weird and crazy images from the Criminal minds serial came into my mind and I even had visions of my battered lifeless body lying amidst a huge pile of fallen autumn leaves. I held tight to my phone and water bottle in case I needed them. Unaware of my thoughts, the two men walked past me as they chatted away with each other. I caught my normal breath only when the men disappeared in the opposite direction.

From then on I relaxed and decided not to listen to my thoughts and enjoy the scene along the way. I realized that Fall was not yet over and there were colorful trees all around. I took out my Samsung and started clicking photos. Seeing me do that, a cyclist stopped to comment on the view. This time fortunately my mind was cleared off of all the thriller scenes and happily responded to him. I even clicked a photo of him riding away which made a great picture.

I continued my solitary walk and was just halfway through when I heard a gagling noise overhead. Through the leaves of the trees, I saw a flight of migratory birds in a skein. I was so mystified and fascinated by this aerial spectacle that I forgot to click and by the time I could, they were out of range. I was almost depressed when suddenly I could hear them again and this time I didn’t want to let go the chance and quickly got a few pictures. I felt as if they heard my sadness and returned to make me happy. I felt so thankful to them.

Happy at my accomplishment I continued my journey enjoying everything I saw.

A man was cleaning away the fallen leaves.

The bushes along the roadside seemed to fire up.

I was tempted to rest for a while on the bench when I saw the following sign. It seemed to indicate that if you want that size then go ahead and sit. I felt a kind of sarcasm on whoever had made that drawing but also felt thankful and my desire to rest vanished immediately.

It was a 3 ½ miles walk round the lake and at first I was doubtful of completing it. But I didn’t realize how time flew as I was busy clicking pictures all through my hike.It seemed even nature around me was inspiring me to go on.

As I approached the end of my walk, I felt a kind of victory of having accomplished something. Yes, my first solitary walk and I enjoyed it to the full.

‘The sum of the whole is this: walk and be happy; walk and be healthy. The best way to lengthen out our days is to walk steadily and with a purpose.’ Charles Dickens

It is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free… By William Wordsworth

It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquility;
The gentleness of heaven broods o’er the Sea;
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder—everlastingly.
Dear child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouched by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham’s bosom all the year;
And worshipp’st at the Temple’s inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.

A raindrop upon a petal, a teardrop upon an eye, we will think of you now and forever, until we meet in that endless sky.

There is dew in one flower and not in another, because one opens its cup and takes it in, while the other closes itself and the drop runs off. So God rains goodness and mercy as wide as the dew, and if we lack them, it is because we do not open our hearts to receive them.
James H. Aughey

Garden of the gods

Poem of life

Life is but a stopping place,
A pause in what’s to be,
A resting place along the road,
to sweet eternity.
We all have different journeys,
Different paths along the way,
We all were meant to learn some things,
but never meant to stay…
Our destination is a place,
Far greater than we know.
For some the journey’s quicker,
For some the journey’s slow.
And when the journey finally ends,
We’ll claim a great reward,
And find an everlasting peace,
Together with the lord.

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walk with me…

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Walk hand in hand with me through all eternity
Have faith, believe in me, give me your hand
Love is a symphony of perfect harmony
When lovers such as we walk hand in hand

Be not afraid, for I am with you all the while
So lift your head up high and look toward the sky

Walk hand in hand with me, this is our destiny
No greater love could be, walk hand in hand
Walk with me

Be not afraid, for I am with you all the while
So lift your head up high and look up to the sky

Walk hand in hand with me, this is our destiny
No greater love could be, walk hand in hand.

…Andy Williams

The Quibbling Soul

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Once in a while I make a trip to the land of religion. Truly, just once in a while like many of us do, I too make the excuse of being an eremite…wandering alone through the wilderness of life. Once in a while, when the dreariness of the vastness of life overtakes me I seek solace in the shades of God to get a way to enter reality again…with renewed vigour… to criticize life. When again I get tired and frustrated with this real life criticism I cringe to my god not for faith but to criticize his ways…of handling my life.

Criticism is all that I can do. It’s not that I criticize everybody and everything around me alone but the poor myself too. I hate ‘the everything’ of me. People envy me for what I am or who I am and I should be proud of that. But the disgruntled soul in me doesn’t allow me to lead a contented life. No matter how hard I try, the disparager in me finds all ways and means to castigate everything around me and make my life miserable. When I am exhausted by my own cynicism and overtaken by chagrin then again I realize I have to make my trip to god’s land and comfort my weary soul. For god alone can understand the turmoil within me and forgive me for my deviations. I argue with him for no fault of His and blame Him for all my tears. I feel gratified by my victory as I have all the saying. Impressed by my victory, my confidence is renewed and I recoil to my world of criticism to vie upon my preys.

Being a Hindu I have the choice of offering my grace to any of the 32 crores of gods and goddesses. But for myself I count them as one and pray to the almighty whoever He might be. I am often baffled by the number but I feel the sages of the time who created them discerned the multitudinous Indian population and fostered to their requirements accordingly, hoping and praying for peace and prosperity for their posterity. I envisage their magnitudinal vision and venerate their sagacity. But being a quibbling soul I find ways and means to fuss on matters that do not matter at all.

This trip to the land of religion, once in a while makes me wonder about my belief. How true a devotee I am to my religion… but I know am neither an atheist nor a loyalist. My fickle mind doesn’t allow me to have a stable belief and questions even the actions of god. This constant vendetta keeps me engaged and however unproductive and uneventful my life may seem to me, I am gratified to know that I can be the source of inspiration of many a tormented soul.