Category Archives: nature

We drink and breathe in Mumbai.

Nine of us sat down one day in a very popular restaurant where everything looked clean and spiffy, even the classy uniforms of these waiters who were in abundance to meet our needs. Kate’s (American) Indian friend who was visiting from Saudi Arabia brought us to this place because they had the wonderful South Indian food, different from the Punjabi fare you typically get in the U.S., they say.

While we began to look at the menus, glasses of water arrived on our tables — but were sent back to the kitchen immediately by our host with instructions to bring us bottled water. The glasses were removed, and a couple of liter bottles were brought. The same glasses came back, having been emptied but with drops of water clinging to the insides.

So all our party without comment grabbed paper napkins and began drying the glasses thoroughly, after which we filled them with the good water. Maybe the restaurant water was good, too, but who knows? Water quality is one of the things critical to health that is not reliable in India.

In this household we have a large distiller with a tap from which we take all of our water that is used for cooking, drinking, and teeth brushing. For a month I have been practicing not doing the thing I’ve done once or twice a day my whole life through, to the point where I don’t think about it at all: Turn on the faucet in the bathroom and wet my toothbrush. Now I have to think about it with all my power, and be methodical and slow. So far I don’t think I’ve forgotten, in the bathroom. Then there is the kitchen. Even though the distiller is right there, I have once or twice begun to rinse vegetables in tap water at the sink.

Talking about washing things, we do wash dishes in the sink with that common water, and use them again when they are dry. The kitchen here has one of those handy drying cupboards above the sink.

Breathing is a human activity even more fundamental than drinking, and I have always had a generally healthy respiratory system, and have not stopped breathing without thinking, or comfortably. But if you have asthma, it would be best not to live in Mumbai or Delhi.

For most of my stay the air quality has been typical for wintertime when there are no monsoons to wash the air — that is, the worst. My first week here we took a little trip to the Bandra Fort area where you can look across Mahim Bay to see South Mumbai on the other side of the causeway. Sometimes, but not that day. Tom found an old photo to show the contrast with last June.

Tom and AQI contrast

I got my own view of South Mumbai across the bay last week, and it was middling.

I’d guess the air pollution is the worst thing about living in Mumbai. Heat and humidity are forces to be dealt with, but they are not unhealthy in themselves. The particulates in the air cause respiratory illness and worse. Most days when I see it the Air Quality Index is between 100-200, but a few times it’s been under 100. This site www.aqicn.org starts you in India, but has a search tab that makes it possible to compare various cities of the world that use that particular formula and guide. Here is one of the pages pertaining to Mumbai showing real time information this afternoon when I am writing.

If you haven’t had to be aware of the AQI where you live, you can be thankful! Many Indians who live in Mumbai have their head in the sand about the situation and call the white skies “fog” — because what can they do? In Delhi, where children have been seen throwing up out of school bus windows and schools must close on the worst days, they can’t so easily ignore the realities. I haven’t seen anyone wear a mask, and I haven’t worn the cute one that Kate provided for me as a good expat host must do here. But then, I am not out and about for more than a few hours at a time. When I am, I notice my eyes burning.

In the apartment we have several air purifiers, so we don’t suffer while we’re home. Air conditioners keep the temperature down, and dehumidifiers reduce the moisture  in the air that would cause everything to get moldy during the monsoon especially. Even in this dry season, the one in my bedroom sometimes collects a gallon of water in less than a week. These helpful machines collectively emit plenty of white noise, which people living in cities usually count a good thing.

The difficulties of air and water were some of the stresses I was anticipating coming here, but I have suffered little, for which I am very thankful. Water and air — what simple and delicious blessings they are!

100 degrees, oldest to youngest.

In Wisconsin, where I spent the holiday with my oldest daughter Pearl, we had a freezing Christmas, with unexpected light snow. I’d never experienced subzero temperatures before; when I came out of church on Christmas Day my cheeks seemed to stiffen within a minute.

The view from the big breakfast room windows was soothingly white and still, until we let Dog Jack run out to exult in the snow by rolling in it and barking the announcement of joy to the neighborhood.

I was slated to travel from Pearl’s to visit my youngest daughter Kate, and a couple of days before that journey my son-in-law noticed on the weather page that it was 100 degrees hotter at my destination than at their house at that moment. So warm… because Kate lives and works with her husband Tom in India — and now here I am in India, too!

It’s not a country that I ever had any desire to visit, and even after I bought my plane ticket, it was only the thought of seeing my dear daughter that overcame my aversion to the dehumanizing strain of traveling to the other side of the globe.

From Chicago I flew to Toronto, and then on to Mumbai, or Bombay, spending 15 hours on that last leg of my journey. Some of you have heard me tell of my anxiety about that long long flight, but I have to admit that it wasn’t really bad! As soon as I joined the group of people waiting to board Air Canada’s Boeing 777, nearly all Indian folk, I felt that I was part of a congenial and helpful community. I had a good seat on the aisle, the perfect seatmate, and they fed us three comforting Indian meals.

Daughter Pippin had given me a splendid neck pillow designed for air travel, and it worked so well, I slept three times during that period that was like a time out of time, crossing about ten time zones and being carried into the future, and into another world.

I’ll be here several weeks, where winter temperatures range from approximately 60-90 degrees. I’m really happy to miss out on the dark days of a more northern January this year, though Bombay’s air quality is so bad — 195 on the index my first day — that the light is blocked out somewhat.

I have been busy these first three days of my stay with Kate and Tom, with just a minimum of minutes in which to scribble a few notes on things I don’t want to forget. I hope I can write here about some of the thousand things that have impressed me so far, and the experiences I have yet to encounter in this vibrant land.

But for now, I just wanted to check in,
and also to wish you a blessed new year of 2018!

When I looked up, I saw — much beauty.

I heard an unusually big sound of wings between me and the creek this morning, and looked up to see a pair of Bald Eagles!! I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen this bird before ever, and were they actually right here a few steps from my own house?

Yes, they were. They were leaving the branches of a tree as I walked by, and flew low through the creek bed a little farther, lit again briefly, and then lifted up into the blue sky above me where I got a movie with my phone, of them circling around me and the treetops. They are not too high and small in the movie to recognize their markings and confirm who they are. I can’t get over my astonishment, but I don’t mind it hanging on to me longer….

Also down by the creek many of the trees have colonies of mistletoe like this. One day I counted several dozen “decorated” trees, and when I went back in the evening the light was perfect for documenting the clumps that I normally don’t pay attention to.

Much prettier sights are also to be seen looking up:

I heard a lovely choral Christmas concert performed in our church last week. Beforehand all the electric lights were turned on, and looking up there one could see the dome brightly even though it was night! For the winter liturgical services we still only use candles, even at night, so it was different to get this view:

I have started cleaning up the garden in preparation for the dormant season. The sunflowers are still blooming, but I don’t want to wait until a frost hits to try to stuff them all in the bin, so I am filling it with sunflowers weekly. These Delta Sunflowers are the best! The birds adore them, too — Every time I go out the front door, a dozen are under the thicket, where a million seeds must have fallen by now and are still dropping.

 I brought in the last bouquet:

In the back garden, Christmas is more obviously on the way!

Staying with the moon.

Thinking back on what happened early this morning, I’m all at once surprised, pleased, and disappointed, that I didn’t take a picture. The fact that the idea did not occur to me shows how the moon was saturating my soul with its bright reality, leaving no entrance for something as intangible as the future with its theoretical possibilities.

A night or two previous, I had caught a brief glimpse through my bedroom window of the moon waxing gibbous. But it was 4:30 a.m., and my eyes soon closed again in sleep. Last night before climbing in to bed, I saw on the Moon Phases app on my phone that the moon was full! Might I see it again, I wondered? Would I wake at the right time, or would clouds hide it from me? Several times I did wake, and saw only the blank, midnight blue sky.

But around six o’clock, I sat up to find the moon shining in on me, hanging bigger and brighter than a streetlight, right in the middle of my big window that faces west. So I lay on my bed to watch it, and wondered if I might stay with it until it sank below the horizon. Could I actually mark its descent? Well, yes, I could very easily do that, because the blinds over my windows were not drawn up all the way; the slats made lines across the picture, by which I could mark the steady movement of the white moon.

I thought, how sweet, how rich a gift, to be awake at just this moment, to be with the moon in its fullest display, loving it. The moon may be full every 28 days, but I certainly don’t see it every month. To not have to crane my neck, or stand in the cold, but to enjoy its presence from the comfort of my bed – well, who knows if I’ll ever have that chance again.  But this is real: I watched the moon last night until it was just one bright spot above the neighbor’s roof, and then it was gone.

This is what that window looked like at close of day when the sun had gone down:

And because it doesn’t seem right to publish this post without a single photo
of our dear moon, here it is as I once saw it in the evening:

I know some of you were also watching that moon
at some point in its course across the sky;
it is surely a wonder, a regular and familiar, beautiful thing in our world.

Glory to God!