Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hike and Bike trail

Austin's Lady Bird Lake has to be my favorite place in this city. It used to be called Town Lake until last year, but after Lady Bird Johnson's (former first lady) death last year, it was renamed after her, since she was involved in beautification projects around the lake.

This is where our group trains for the marathon. Last weekend I finished my run on Saturday, but Raghav ran on Sunday. So I took my bike and went along with him and got some pictures of Fall colors as I rode around the lake.

The lake is only a 10 minute drive from home, and it has a loop trail around it which runs for a maximum of 10 miles. Several bridges connect the two sides of the lake, and so loops of 3.5, 4.5 and 7 miles are also possible. We do combinations of these, as we increase our mileage in training for the full and half marathons.

The light was low and it was almost sunset. So I got some copper-hued pictures of the sights around the lake. Austin is beautiful in the Spring and Fall. There is a rowing center along the lake too, and many people take classes there. You can rent canoes there as well. This is the view from Lamar Bridge.

With the little bridges along the trail and the ducks and birds, running here is very pleasant and distracting.

After crossing over the lake on the next (First Street) bridge, we come to a water stop. One of the running stores in town sponsors water for runners and so there's always water on our runs. It's so convenient. There is also a dog park here, with lots of wild-eyed, happy dogs running loose.

There's a remembrance plaque for the homeless there, and on this day there were flowers next to it.

Across the lake, the setting sun had lit up the buildings of downtown Austin.

I'll have to leave you here ... blogger won't let me upload any more photos on this post. So I'll continue next time, and we can finish the loop in the next post!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Comic books!

I recently discovered a large stash of Asterix & Obelix comic books in the public library here. And it seems like Raghav and I have lapsed back into the time when we were 10-13 years old and reading these back home!!

Asterix & Obelix is one of my two all-time favorite comic books (the other being Calvin & Hobbes, which I started reading only around when I was ~20). Tintin is a close second.

The setting of the Asterix & Obelix comics is the year 50 BC, in a coastal village flanked by idyllic forests teeming with wild boars, in Armorica, a province of Gaul (a region that is present-day Brittany in France). This little village is the only one that has held out against Julius Caesar and not become part of the Roman empire.

The origin of their power is the magic potion that Druid Getafix brews for them, which makes them temporarily invincible. Asterix and Obelix are the heroes, and they take us on several adventures all over the world, along with little Dogmatix. Here are the protagonists:

Most kids in India love these comics. I also think the Asterix comics served as an art school for me. As a kid, I used to spend hours over weekends drawing the characters from these comics. I still am spellbound at the attention to detail, and the humor in the illustrations by Albert Uderzo. They are genius!

My mother has saved almost all my drawings since when I was about 5 years old. At least, everything that she could get hold of before I tore it up. She had collected them all in a box, and recently made me bring them back with me to the US.

I sorted through them after we stumbled on this stash of comics, and sure enough, I found the ones I'd drawn from Asterix comics, along with others from Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Beetle Bailey, Betty & Veronica, Tintin, etc. etc.

The paper is yellow and brittle, and all kinds of marks have seeped through from the back of the papers - I used to draw on the back of paper my father used to discard from his work. The papers really are this yellow now - it's been about 25 years since I drew them!

But looking at these, I remember vividly how much fun it was to lie sprawled on the floor, and study the lines of the hands and eyes and expressions captured so well by Uderzo, and learn by copying them. Those were good times. :)

Now as we drove over to the public library after finding these books on the catalog online, we could remember exactly how exciting this process of discovering a stash of books used to be when we were young! Nothing has changed, and it's been almost 25 years!

Our bedside table is littered with Asterix comics right now, and we are reading them like our lives depend on it. I don't think it would be this much fun if we just went out and bought all of them. There's something exciting about discovering books unexpectedly. :)

The only way to finish up this post is to do it with a traditional banquet in the Gaulish village. This is how almost all the comics end, under a sky full of stars, when all is well with the world.

So what are your favorite comic book characters from your childhood? Would love to hear about them, so let me know!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ode to a Spider

She came into my life early this summer, in June, when she chose to build her home on the front wall of our home. Her meticulously woven, elaborate web was a marvel and she tended to it fastidiously, picking out debris, and mending it even if it had the slightest tear. I let her be, and admired her web each time I stepped out.

She was a Texas Writing Spider or Argiope aurantia, with the most striking orange and black coloration I've ever seen. Wiki says: "The circular part of the female's web may reach two feet in diameter. Webs are built at elevations from two to eight feet off the ground."

Her web was truly grand, and bore the signature of her species, in neat and confident zorro-strokes right down the middle. She was very young then, a slim and slender girl with long legs.

Wiki says: "Yellow garden spiders breed once a year. The males roam in search of a female, building a small web near or actually in the female's web, then court the females by plucking strands on her web. Often, when the male approaches the female, he has a safety drop line ready, in case she attacks him. After mating, the male dies, and is sometimes then eaten by the female."

She took her time finding a mate, and eventually chose a brave young lad who dared to give his life for her attention. This is how I found him one morning, a month later in July.

She was a woman now and eating for two (thousand). She rapidly gained weight and I often saw her eating large insects that she had caught on her pretty web. She extended her web and climbed higher, so that I could photograph her from inside the house, and capture the beauty of her back.

One night in August exactly a month later, after we had turned off all the lights and gone to bed, she spun a small, secure little net under the moonlight and deposited in it her tightly sealed egg sac which held her babies. She secured it snugly to the wall, and stayed by its side for the next couple of days, protecting it and resting.

Wiki says: "She lays her eggs at night on a sheet of silky material, then covers them with another layer of silk, then a protective brownish silk. She then uses her legs to form the sheet into a ball with an upturned neck. Egg sacs range from 5/8" to 1" in diameter."

Once she was sure that her babies were safe, she returned to her web nearby and remained there for another month. One morning in September I didn't find her at her usual place and got worried. As I searched around, I found her higher up on the same wall, and found another little egg sac by her side. She had secured this one as before, but quite a bit higher, possibly to reduce competition between her babies when they hatched.

Wiki says: "She guards the eggs against predation as long as she is able. However, as the weather cools, she becomes more frail, and dies around the time of the first hard frost."

She came back down last week to her original spot. Now that it's November, nights have become increasingly cold, and we just had a string of very cold nights. I kept a close watch on Argiope.

She had built herself a small, messy web near the wall, close to her first batch of eggs. The small web was torn and had a lot of debris on it. I thought about how fastidiously she used to clean her web in her youth, and knew she was losing her strength.

This week, after a particularly cold and windy Sunday night, I checked on her first thing in the morning, and she was gone. I looked for her, but cannot find her. She spent her entire life on this front wall of our house, so wouldn't have just wandered away.

Her web was in front of the lower right window, and her second egg sac is circled in orange near the top right window.

Over the past 6 months I've grown so used to checking on her as I leave the house, and looking for her as I get back, that it's become a habit. I still do it. Only, her web now hangs torn and messy on the front wall.

Come Spring, her babies will hatch and find their way in life. I hope one of her daughters will again choose our wall to make her home on, and I will have her company all next summer.

P.S. I had posted some of these pictures over the summer, but now that Argiope is gone, I thought it would be good to compile them together and tell her story.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Right to Dry

I've been line-drying my laundry for a little more than a year now. I love it. This is the way we dry clothes in India, hanging clothes on a line on the terrace. I used to love smelling the sun on the clean clothes when in the evening I'd go to the terrace to bring them back.

After moving to the US, I took to using the dryer like everyone else, and it is convenient. But we live in a house with a large backyard now, and I am constantly on the lookout for ways to live more lightly on the planet. So this was the next logical step.

Some of the t-shirts come back a little shapeless, so once they are dry, I spin everything in the dryer for a couple of minutes and they are fine. Most of the electricity here (and most other places) comes from coal, and this is a very dirty form of energy. So any reduction in its use will lessen my contribution to CO2 in the atmosphere.

But this is not a completely noble mission. I have to admit that I love the process of hanging clothes out to dry, feeling the grass under my feet and the sun on my shoulders, hearing the birds in the backyard and watching the little insects that sometimes crawl on the clothes.

I find it very soothing and relaxing. Raghav admitted that there's something very comforting about seeing laundry on the line in the yard. But I'm not the odd one out in this ...

... there is the Right to Dry campaign, where people are demanding their right to dry their clothes on a clothesline. Here's an article that talks about this campaign & the controversy. Many neighborhoods in the US don't allow people to dry their clothes outside. I don't know if there is an issue with this in our neighborhood, but I don't think there is. In any case, we have a fenced yard, and our neighbors cannot see our line. :)

The laundry basket makes woven shadows while it waits for the clothes to dry ...

As the sun sets, we have a basket full of clean, sun-soaked laundry that smells like the fresh outdoors!

Until the next time ...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Painted Mirrors 1

Here are the results of my newest preoccupation ... painted mirrors

I have one more almost done, another one already given to a friend and yet another one half made. Three others wait for their turn while I think of ideas ...

It's rainy and pleasant in Austin. Fat cat sits at my feet, scared. It's ideal weather for some hot pakoras and ginger chai ... yum. :)

Hope your week's going well!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Creative hiking

We had gone hiking last weekend with a group that likes to combine being with nature and creating art. Though it seems like the most obvious thing to do, this was my first time doing this. In all the countless times I've gone hiking, I've never stopped to sketch or paint what I saw or felt! So this was interesting.

We went to the Grelle Recreation Area in Spicewood, Texas. The trail was a short, 2 miles through some hilly land, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were some pretty tall trees there, with plenty of shade - something you cannot take for granted in Texas.

We soon came to our first creative stop. Here we disbanded for about 20 minutes, when each of us went off to observe and create - one person wrote beautiful words, another took photos and yet another person made some sketches. I found this fallen log and first took some pictures.

When I went closer to the log, I found on it lots and lots of prickly seed pods!

They had all burst open already, and were scattered all over the log along with small dried brown leaves. As I looked at them, it seemed as if I was looking at a bunch of discarded fake eyelashes!

The more I thought about them looking like eyelashes, the more they seemed like little tree-eyes to me! The image of a tree with lots of seed-pod eyes popped into my head and so I put away my camera and started a sketch, which I later finished at home. Raghav thinks it looks creepy. :)

The seed pods were so amazing that I wanted to bring some home with me. I almost did, but then it didn't feel right to move them from this place where they belonged, so I took some pictures of them to take with me.

We continued the hike after this first creative stop. The trail was quite wooded and pretty.

One cannot go into the wilderness in Texas and not see cacti!

At our second creative stop, I took a bunch of bark pictures. There were several interesting trees there with totally different types of bark. I will save those pictures for another post. Raghav got this interesting shot of a tiny jumping spider!

Further along the hike, I was amazed to see Fall colors - here in Texas!

Towards the end, the trail flattened out to where there usually is a lake. It was totally dry that day though, but the ground was covered with these little plants that smelled absolutely heavenly! No idea what kind of plant it was.

As we finished the little hike, the landscape was flat and open. Very serene and the perfect image of Fall.

I think I like this "hiking for the creative types" group and am looking forward to the next trip already!