Letter to a political party – regarding glyphosate poisoning in Canadian food

A letter sent

To: Mr. Tom Mulcair,

cc: Craig Keating, Ravi Kahlon, Lana Popham
Dated Friday 7th April 2017
Thank you Mr. Mulcair, for the note, and I do not disagree. However, issues raised in your note is of minor importance in my judgment, compared to rising toxicity in foods produced in Canada that makes it near impossible for average citizens to eat without being slow poisoned.

Tom Mulcair, NDP leader

This is to do with rampant toxicity in our food system due to unending use of pesticides such as Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup weed killer.
A few of the past NDP parliamentarians had been aware of the gravity of the situation and had done what they could within their means to resist it or raise awareness. Unfortunately, I do not see any sign of awareness or interest in it among the current NDP politicians that I can vote for. NDP candidate from my riding in BC does not even acknowledged let alone answer email from me.
Here are the basics I would like you to consider.
1) I have studied near 8,000 records of tests done by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, on foods collected in Canada, produced in Canada and imported from over sixty countries, for presence of glyphosate. I am in possession of the records and am so shocked with the results that I wrote an e-book and published on Amazon to alert the people about it . The book is titled ‘POISON FOODS OF NORTH AMERICA’.
2) Conventional, non GMO seed crops that are desiccated with glyphosate are the most contaminated with this weed killer instead of roundup ready GM crops. Most toxic of North American foods are Rye, Wheat, Oats, Chickpea and lentils, all of which carry too much glyphosate in them, way more than in roundup ready crops like corn or soy.
3) I found that english speaking North America produces foods that are an order of dimension more toxic with glyphosate contamination than foods produced by anybody else anywhere else.

Toxicity in North American foods compared to the rest of the world

4) Canada produces foods that are significantly more contaminated with this weed killer than even foods produced in the United States. This makes Canada the epicentre of poisonous foods in the world. There is rising evidence that we are slow poisoning our citizens, ruining our future generations and pushing our wildlife towards extinction.

Ravi Kahlon – NDP candidate

Please take note – the government of Canada has till date has not disclosed actual safety test and analysis reports based on which it decided glyphosate was safe enough to be approved for use in agriculture. According to my understanding of the law, it is illegal to approve a product and allow its release while withholding its safety test data. My repeated efforts with the government to release all safety documents on glyphosate has not produced results. Our government does not say I do not have the right to see these safety results, but continues to drag its feet. Health Canada has been dragging its feet on this for forty years now.
The rate of rise of auto immune diseases because of this in North America and especially in Canada is going through the roof. Our school system is going to be wrecked due rising demand for more and more special need children, as will our health care and economy. Our big game wildlife are being pushed to the edge of extinction due to rising level of birth defects that make rising percentage  newborns unable to reach maturity or produce viable offsprings due to constant use of the practice in aerial spray of glyphosate over Crown forests by logging corporations while nobody has ever seen or approved any study of the effect of glyphosate on environment. Neither our provincial governments nor Ottawa wants to open this pandora’s box. I have butted head with the BC government repeatedly to find out what safety documents it has seen before approval of spraying glyphosate over BC forests without any result.
I am including a small table (above) from my book, which has over 300 such tables. To me, this and all future elections have becomes a more or less single issue election
Scott Hamilton, the incumbent liberal MLA will not respond to my emails. Mr. Kahlon, the NDP candidate, will also not respond. For the first time in my life, I am forced to contemplate not voting for any major candidate and am searching for a third party candidate that might be ready to acknowledge and address this looming disaster. 

Canadian rye the most toxic on earth

A candidate that refuses to face this issue is one that deserves to be an unemployed politician in my view.
This email concerns public interest and not a private matter. Therefore it should be considered as a public letter of grave concern for Canadians. This letter and any response received, or not received, may be included and discussed on social media, my blogs, any newspaper that might agree to post it, and included in future versions of my book. I have had as much silence from political candidates as I can stomach.
Please take this not as an attack, but a sign of extreme frustration with a political process where candidates want people’s votes but will not address people’s concerns.

Scott Hamilton, incumbent MLA, Liberal

I look forward to what you might have to say about it Mr. Mulcair.
Thanking you
Tony Mitra

 A few references
Comment by scientist Stephanie Seneff about glyphosate in food and about my analysis of the CFIA data. This comment is from the book itself:

I believe glyphosate will go down in history as the worst synthetic chemical this planet has ever faced, as a consequence of its perceived non-toxicity to humans and its massive use in agriculture and on people’s lawns with careless handling due to lack of awareness of its insidious, cumulative toxicity.  It is destructive of human health and it is threatening extinction to multiple species, most obviously the bees and the monarch butterflies. I believe it will eventually be proven that glyphosate gets into proteins by mistake in place of glycine, and that this is the key reason for several phenomena going on in the US (and Canada?) that currently are seemingly inexplicable:

  1. the epidemic in autoimmune diseases, most importantly autism and dementia,
  2. the runaway health care costs that are bankrupting our government, and
  3. the epidemic in opioid drug abuse due to chronic intense pain as a consequence of glyphosate disrupting the elastic and tensile strength properties of collagen, and then causing an autoimmune attack on collagen.

Collagen makes up 25% of the body’s protein, and glycine makes up 25% of collagen’s amino acids.  Collagen in pigs and cows fed heavy doses of glyphosate in their feed is the main source of gelatin that makes its way into vaccines, gel caps, jello, and various other food products. Collagen is contaminated with glyphosate and as a consequence so are these derivatives. This easily explains why MMR vaccine today causes many more acute adverse reactions than it did in the 1990’s.

This book by Tony Mitra is priceless because it tells you which foods have the highest contamination of glyphosate, so you can change your eating habits to minimize your exposure. Glyphosate needs to be banned immediately across the globe, if we are to preserve a bright future for our children and grandchildren.

Stephanie Seneff
Senior Research Scientist
MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
 From US scientist Don Huber

“Poison Foods of North America” provides critical information for all healthy, health conscience, infirm and struggling individuals that is necessary to prevent the deterioration in their and their families health as a result of the betrayal of the public trust that was placed in regulatory bodies.

Future historians may well look back upon our time and write, not about how many pounds of pesticides we did or did not apply, but about how willing we are to sacrifice our children and jeopardize future generations based on flawed science and failed promises just to benefit the bottom line of a commercial enterprise.

Don M. Huber,
Emeritus Professor,
Purdue University.

A response received

(Le français suit l’anglais) Thank you for contacting our office. All messages are read and considered. However, due to the high volume of emails received, it may not be possible to respond personally to each one. Please visit our website (http://www.ndp.ca) to learn more about our NDP team (http://www.ndp.ca/team) and latest news (http://www.ndp.ca/news). Thank you again for taking the time to share your ideas, concerns and insights. Your input helps us with our work. All the best, Office of Tom Mulcair, MP (Outremont) Leader, New Democratic Party

A question asked of the election candidates of my riding

Publishing a few books

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Writing is a gift – or is it?

Somewhere down the track where we evolved from apes to hominids with a brain that could handle complex sentences and a language, the basic tools for being a speaker were hardwired in.

I am told that this change essentially distinguishes anatomically modern humans from archaic forms, and that this development is rather recent, perhaps under a hundred thousand years old.

And then, much more recently, a mere five to ten thousand years back, folks started scratching around on the sand, of the walls of their caves, to describe something or other – passing phase of the moon, or the tide, or animals that were around them. And as humans discovered pastoralism and agriculture, experienced perhaps the first population spurt, and started building their own homes and not depend on caves, they managed to figure out how to use those scratchings for record keeping and identification. Written text, or script, was on the way.

And thus, although we have not yet evolved to the point where ability to speak in a language or read and write is hardwired into our genetic construct, and we have come  some distance towards it. A normal child will automatically pick up a language without being expressly tutored, simply by being around others speaking a specific tongue. Writing or reading, unfortunately is something that a human needs to specifically learn. It does not come automatically by hanging around people, or books, or a pencil.

Nonetheless, it is perhaps a fair assumption that a lot of people around the world can read some and write some, in some language. A few fortunate ones are comfortable in two languages, and some in more than two.

And that brings me all the way to my own situation. I had mentioned I knew three languages – Bengali, which is my mother tongue, Hindi, which is India’s national language, and English, which is the language I used in my profession as well as one of the two working languages of my adopted nation – Canada.

The problem these three languages each uses its own distinct script. This means, even if I am conversant in speaking in those languages, I would need to be familiar with three distinct scripts, or letters, to be able to read or write in any of them. This can be better understood if one considers differences between European languages such as English, Spanish and French. They use the same script, with perhaps a small number of special characters in each. If one is proficient in any language, one could more or less read the other, even if he fumbled with the exact meaning of grammar of it. Not so in my case. The three languages use three different scripts. Hindi and Bengali are both derived from a common mother language – Sanskrit and fall in the same language family, and yet their script separated from each other early on, and now one needs to be totally familiar with the different scripts to be able to read a sentence.

Anyhow, I write very little in Hindi, although I did part of my early schooling in that language and my first tentative writings and childhood poems were composed in Hindi.

My later years in a different part of India in a different school system let me lose familiarity with  writing Hindi, while picking up two others – Bengali and English. Today, I can read Hindi and converse in it, but would struggle to write in it.

I type the fastest in english, but that is primarily because the computer keypad is designed for english, and adapting that keypad to other scripts has its hassles, and sometimes I have to press multiple keys to generate a single letter in Bengali, which automatically slows things down and increases chances of mistake. While I can usually type in English without looking at my fingers, I cannot do that easily for Bengali using the same keyboard.

Anyhow, I have a lot of writings done in English and Bengali. And now the time has come I feel, to start publishing some of them since self publication is reasonably easy.

Some years ago, I tried to write a novel, but it turned out to be more a musing of an opinionated immigrant that observed the world around not superficially at the surface, but using What could amount to be a maverick effort at penetration below the surface and check if what we see at the surface is sustainable, or if the root is getting rotten, or in indeed the surface is shiny but is blocking out other parts of our world intending to insert an element of romance, the guy had a Canadian girl with him as they travelled across western Canada. But it was not really up to him to write a romance, and the continuing novella turn out to be a conversation between the two, mostly covering the land, its geological transformation, and evolutionary track of the living world, including man’s involvement is it.

Nonetheless, the total writings might appear to be somewhat curious and did include musings that I believe deserve to be preserved.

Due to sheer bulk of material, the writings needed to be split into multiple volumes. The first volume, covering 133 pages, was put up today. Its sections went as follows :

Captor description : Early writings
Section 1: A vanishing world
Section 2: Missing the world of his father’s paintings
Section 3: Golden
Section 4: An universe for an anchor
Section 5: Quantum mechanics of mass hysteria
Section 6: Storm warning
Section 7: Wish I could write like them
Section 8: Miguel, the Everglades and Lovelock’s warning
Section 9: Eocene Thermal maximum in a bowl of soup
Section 10: When you are right and wrong at the same time
Section 11: Rice in the Vedas
Section 12: Autobiographic blues
Section 13: At the water’s edge
Section 14: How green was my Facebook
Section 15: Suta at the riviera
Section 16: Coffee with a giant rhynoceros
Section 17: Considering Mabel
Section 18: Overload
Section 19: A sunset, mitochondria, peat bog, and a kiss
Section 20: A few pages on a leap year day
Section 21: The ten thousand year old woman
Section 22: The vanishing Y chromosome
Section 23: Cult of Tagore
Section 24: Old woman sacrifices herself.
Section 25: Hello world

And so, I compiled these twenty five blogs into 25 sections of chapter 1 of the book. The book has only one chapter but 25 sections, and is 133 pages long.

And then I converted it into an iBook (epub) format and uploaded it in Apple store.

Next, I exported it to pdf, reimported that for kindle and uploaded it again at Kindle.

Now, I can go have a coffee and plant some more seeds.

An universe for an anchor

“They have remained invisible throughout history. But in my life, their absence have been a heavy weigh on my mind” Neil observed.
They had crossed the 100th Avenue, the main artery of the town, and walking north towards the bend in the Kicking horse river.
Less than a mile to the north-west of them, the kicking horse river met with the Columbia river. These were historically important rivers of southern British Columbia. The province got its name from one. But it was the kicking horse that also fascinated Neil. These rivers and the history attached to them, represented fascinating chapters in the recent past – the formative years that would eventually define modern British Columbia, or indeed Canada.
They approached the bend of the Kicking horse a football field away, over a small grassy park. The park ended at the river bank. Across the small mountain river flowing westward to its end of journey to meet up with the Columbia river, were the tall peaks of the Rockies in the north and northwest, the beginning of Yoho National park.

They could see the rising line of the national highway, Trans Canada Highway, across the river, snaking its way along the valley of the kicking horse, heading east and north. They were going to be on that road tomorrow, heading towards the even smaller town of Field, which was the base camp of Mr. Walcott a century ago, when he discovered the unprecedented fossils of the soft bodied creatures of the Cambrian explosion at the Burgess Shale fossil bed.
Mabel wrapped her arm around his waist. They were by now standing at the bank of the river, which had cut a channel for itself through a frozen river bed.
“What was invisible, in the Paleozoic? And how is Canada both rich and poor with regard to the invisible?”
Mabel had a good memory of things Neil said in bits and pieces which did not always connect up to complete the jog saw puzzle. And she liked working with jig saw puzzles. He was talking, as they crossed the main road heading north, about the invisible explosion of the Paleozoic which left a silent trace in the records of an expanding life form on this planet, and how Canada was both rich and poor in preservation of that history.
Neil lifted his cap and ran his fingers through his hair. The temperature was above freezing. There was no perceptible wind. It was the beginning of April and the air was just fine, with a tinge of cold. It felt good on his face and it felt good to be standing by the water’s edge at the western border of Yoho National Park and the Rockies.
Mountains were all around them. To the west should be the Cascade mountains. To the east, were the Rocky mountains. Not being a geologist, or a geographer, he did not know where exactly the Cascade mountains ended and the Rockies began, but he could make a guess. The Cascade mountains, he knew, were essentially volcanic, and came up relatively recently through tectonic forces that were still actively pushing the oceanic plate under the land of the west coast, and had been the cause of seismic and volcanic activity all along the western shores of North America in the recent centuries, from California all the way to British Columbia. The Rockies on the other hand had been thrust up gradually over hundreds of millions of years, representing changes in the planets arrangement of its landmass over eons of time, that had resulted in pushing up the shallow ocean bed of a tropical sea, inch by inch and millennium by millennium, from under the sea near the equator, to high above the ground, in the northern latitudes of present day British Columbia.
In short, one might find basaltic formations in the Cascade mountains, while at the Rockies one should find sandstone, shale and rocks formed through accumulation of sedimentation in the watery depths of the past.
And it was here, in those shallow sediments, where the invisible part of early life lefts its ghostly traces that was a story of both comedy and a bittersweet tragedy for Canada. This is how Neil perceived it anyhow.
“Paleozoic stood for the ancient era of single cell primordial creatures that evolved in the murky past, the early billions of years of earth’s history.”
Mabel nodded, watching a dipper applying its trade in the shallow but fast flowing water of the Kicking Horse. The bird, the size of a robin but having an all over darker shade, had special claws that allowed it to grasp the algae and moss on rocks under flowing water and hunt for insects underwater. It could apparently swim under water too. It would dip under the surface at one point, and often emerge at another. Neil had mentioned that this apparently terrestrial perching bird has specialized itself into being an insect eater of the fast flowing cold rivers of this land, thus occupying a niche left vacant by the water birds of North America. She had since developed a fondness for this small tireless worker of the shallow, fast flowing cold white water rivers of Canada and the US.
“I think paleo means old, in Greek or Latin. When did this era end and what was the explosion about? And what is invisible and why is the story bittersweet for Canada?”
“Ohh, that” Neil observed. “I was coming to that. Do you feel like sitting down on that boulder by the water? It is so nice here, and so quiet.”
Mabel nodded. As they sat on a large but cold stone, there was a mechanical noise behind them. They turned to look, and saw two teenagers going over dry grassy ground driving their tracked snow mobile, heading for what looked like a barn or a shed in the distance. The sound was unpleasant. It left a faint smell of engine exhaust in the air.
“I think the season for winter sport is coming to an end” She observed. “Soon, as the snow melts, we shall have the season of the summer activities – hiking, rock climbing, and such.”
Neil nodded, “The ‘and such’ should also include exploration of what is left of the fossil bed of the Cambrian explosion, at the Burgess Shale. And there lies the bittersweet history of another aspect of Canada.”
Neil watched a second dipper arrive at the water. He pointed at it and smiled at Mabel.
“Yes, I saw the first one. Amazing bird.”
“Yes indeed. Had Charles Darwin seen it, he would have gotten one more beautiful living example of evolution at work. Throughout history we have seen species cross over from their original habitat and enter a world they were perceived not to be suited for. Land mammals entered the water and became whales and dolphins. Birds entered the southern ocean and became penguins. Small animals went burrowing underground and lost their eyes. Large bears got to the northern ice covered ocean to hunt seals, went totally white with their fur and evolved webs on their toes to swim better, and here we have a tiny bird, the dipper, that dips under fast flowing cold waters and does not get swept away. It insulates itself from the cold and the wet, and is agile enough to grab insects underwater in fast flowing rivers in that condition. Nature working its magic here.”
Mabel smiled. She just loved to hear Neil speak. It had been thus for the last six years, ever since she first met him. She was a sixteen year old teenager at the time. She had never met anybody like Neil before. That first day, at her uncle’s place, he had mentioned the controversy of the origin and spread of Maize, and its fascinating link with the stone carvings of a west Indian temple that showed corn. She was fascinated by the story of that temple, built centuries before maize was supposed to have been discovered by the European early explorers of the Americas.
She had developed a teenage crush on him at the time. She was no more a teenager, but the crush had endured. She was going through a high right now, since the feeling was finally being reciprocated.
She still needed to nudge him, to get him back on track. “So what is bittersweet about the Paleozoic explosion, for Canada?”
Neil pulled her closer. “Paleo may mean old, but each of the eras had a trigger that destroyed and yet created. It shut out one kind of creatures and opened the door for another. The Cambrian explosion was such a remarkable event. It did not destroy, but did the opposite. It triggered an unprecedented explosion of new life forms. It coaxed the slow engine of evolution on to the fast lane for some unknown reason. Suddenly, out of simple small unicellular animals and tiny multiple celled arrangements rose a vast marine world of a myriad kids of larger creatures. Most of these were soft bodied, but not all. The first of the marine creatures with hard external shell, the trilobites, too emerged, as a new family of now familiar early marine creatures of the Cambrian.”
Neil nodded and leaned back on the rock, stretching his legs on the cold stone.
“And you feel strongly connected to about that period, and how the mountains of Yoho link to it. Yes?”
Neil nodded again.
“I feel related. That is one part. I feel sorry that many of the best fossils of the Burgess Shale might no more be in Canada any more, having been transported to the Smithsonian by Walcott, a century ago. That is the bittersweet part of it from my point of view.”

“How did that happen? I mean the fossils ending up outside of Canada? All the fossils or only some of them?”

“I shall tell you the story as I know it. The best of the fossils found at the time by Walcott, to searched and located the main vein of the fossil bed, which was merely seven or eight feet wide and a few hundred feet long, into the mountain slope. He dynamited it till the vein was exhausted, and chose the best of the best fossils to take to the Smithsonian. Sixty thousand of them in fact.”


Neil nodded. “Yeah. Its true. I read about it. There are still fossils coming up there, but unless Canadians found another vein like that one, we are never going to find another fifty or sixty thousand unique fossils of that unique time again. Walcott did that. Great work indeed, but – you have to go to the Smithsonian to see it.”

Mabel thought about it. “Perhaps we should visit the Smithsonian together.”

Mabel stretched her legs too. It was perhaps just as good that the fossils survived, even if it was across the border. She did not consider Americans to be too different than Canadians. Being a liberal at heart, she wished the Americans would be less involved with wars in remote places and more concerned about their own poor. But other than that, Americans were fine people, in general. Everyone in every land was fine, more or less, in her book.

It was also fine, to be sitting with Neil right now. In fact, it was more than that. It felt wonderful, to be able to spend a few days away from work, away from Vancouver, and away from the rest of mankind, just spending time with Neil. It was the first time they were doing this together. Some years ago they had gone with a bunch of others to a fishing trip in the lakes, but at that time, Mabel was a sort of silent observer of Neil, who hanged around more with her cousin brothers. He shared a log cabin with them, while she was with her folks in another cabin.
This time, they were an item. It was established, more or less. She did not know if Neil was seeing other women. She could not come around to ask Neil about it. Neil rarely spoke of women anyway. But as far as she knew, and she did know Neil a bit, he never went out with another woman for a four day trip into the mountains, or any place else, in British Columbia. She had no idea what he might have done while living in the US, or back in Hong Kong or India.
Besides, they were sort of seeing each other now. They slept together often. Actually, it was only about four times in the past two months. But, that was a start – a great start.
Mabel wondered when he might ask her to move in. Unfortunately, Neil was not known to talk about personal matters much. She wondered if she should sort of coax him on to the subject. She did not wish to rush him though. She knew he found it still a bit odd that she was so much younger than him. He still felt she deserved someone younger. That was rubbish, but Neil was old fashioned, she guessed.
“What are you thinking?” Neil glanced at her.
Mabel thought of telling him she was thinking of him, as much as what he was talking about. But she could not find the right words. “I was thinking about those sixty thousand fossils, but more than that – how you might be related to all that.”
“Well, the Cambrian explosion apparently produced all the families of living creatures of today, as well as a few more that are no more with us. It also had the first rudimentary vertebrate, could well be my likely direct ancestor going back half a billion years.”
Neil laid back on the cold stone, and cupped the back of his head in his hands. Above him swayed the near nude branches of a tree that was just now deciding to sprout new leaves of spring. The sky was partially exposed and free of clouds. It contained the signature deep and clear blue of the British Columbia skies, free of air bound particles of pollution and haze. His thoughts wandered back on his favorite topic – his relationship with the cosmos.
“You see, I feel related not just with those creatures of the Cambrian explosion, that Walcott discovered north of the town of Field here in the Yoho national park of today. I feel related also to the silent people that traversed the landmass of this planet long before modern man started etching his footprint more firmly on the landscape, thus turning his presence more into a scar than a track. Animals leave tracks. Early humans left tracks. Modern man leaves scars. Anyhow, I feel related, to those early humans. More than feel, I now know I am related.”
Mabel laid back on the stone next to him and turned on her side, reaching out to move a strand of hair out of his eyes. Neil was different than other men she met. He had the least worry about his appearance. He was about the only man she knew who tried cutting his own hair. The reason he preferred to cut his own hair, or have a friend do it for him at home, was itself unique. He considered going to the saloon and sitting before the barber for twenty minutes when he could not read a book or listen to music or glance at his iPad or do anything other than close his eyes and listen to the snip of the scissors or the electric hair trimmer – a torture. He did not care that the barber might do a lot better job of making him look good. As long as hair grows constantly, whatever the barber does is momentary. In a few days, the hair would continue to grow and assume a natural appearance that was his own. Anyhow, Mabel knew about this little secret of Neil because she had once seem him do a bad job of trimming his hair at the back of his head, and she did it for him. He even thought she’d make a good barber.
“And how do you know you are related to the early people?”
Neil’s face broke into a cheeky grin. “I got a note from the Gene lab recently. My second set of DNA analysis on my mitochondria is over. The result confirms the earlier test, that I most certainly contain two key haplogroups, “M” and “D”. These are sure signatures that on my mothers side, I am very closely related to the indigenous people of Indochina, Australasia as well as the entire north and south American continents and its First Nation people.”
“Really ? Wow. What does those Hapless groups mean anyway ?” Mabel purposely teased him a bit about the terms he used, which might be technically right, but far away from normal folks daily conversation.
“Haplogroup. Nothing hapless about them. I shall one day tell you, or perhaps show you the tree of life when it comes to the evolution of the mitochondrial DNA. But trust me, I might not be an aboriginal person myself, and neither was my mother, or my grand mother, or her grand mother. But, we share a genetic mutation that happened just before a group split away from the rest of the still nomadic population, somewhere in Asia, and went migrating as the first great explorers, generation by generation, hopping island after island, occupying the known lands of Australasia. Once they were there, in those remote islands and jungles, they were cut off from the main gene pool and evolved separately, eventually occupying a separated branch of humanity. They are known today as the indigenous tribes of various places. But they carried that mutation, haplogroup M with them, so that its prevalence in those communities today is very high.

But those that did not go to those remove places, did not evolve separately, and continued to mingle with the rest of the mainland crowd, thus evolved with the main branch. They eventually ended up looking and behaving a bit differently than those isolated populations. Eventually agriculture and animal husbandry reached them first and along with it, a change in lifestyle from hunter gatherer to pastoral and farmer. That brought a rapid change of diet and a rapid rise of population, eventually also leading to rapid rise of a new lifestyle, a civilization, complex language with a larger vocabulary etc. But a smaller slice of these people were part of that group that had the mutation in their genes, the “M” haplogoup. But they were mixed with the larger group that included many others that did not contain that M marker. So, the present non-tribal population has much less people with this particular mutation. These small number of people that carry the same mutation evolved and mixed with the general population, and hence look, feel and behave the same as the rest of the large body of humans. But, they carry in them the tell tale signature of being the most recent cousins of the Australasian and Indonesian and Andamanese aboriginal people and the Indian, Chinese and other Eurasian tribal groups, among the first people of Eurasia.”
“Yes. Indeed. But that’s not all.”
Neil shook his head. “Nope. After the ‘M’, another mutation came up in the same group of people, leading to the ‘D’ haplogroup.”
He turned to Mabel and assumed a mysterious look on his face. “And do you know what happened to this new group of people with the’M’ and ‘D’ in their gene ?”
“What ?” Mabel could feel the sense of adventure, tracing the early footsteps of man through the world map, through the voice and personal observations of Neil. There was just nobody she knew that was even remotely similar to Neil. He was a unique mutation all by himself, she felt. But she did not interrupt him.
“This ‘D’ holding group also split. And the wandering spirit remained in them. One branch of them went on to cross more land bridges and ended up in North America, and then to South America, colonizing the Americas as well. IN the US, they are called American Indian. Here, you call them first nation. And I, my dear Ms Richardsen, contain both the ‘M’ and the ‘D’ haplogroups in my mitochondria, inherited in a direct maternal ancestral line going from my mother, to grandmother, all the way to fifty, sixty or eighty thousand years ago when all this was happening.”
“Double wow”
“Yes. Therefore, I have genetic proof to substantiate my feeling of closeness, that I am related, to the first explorers of our species, people that left those invisible tracks on the ground in all the landmasses that could be reached by early man, including in Canada. And they did it very long before Columbus. Very long indeed.”
Mabel could not help being amazed. He had explained part of it to her before, though it had not fully filtered in for her. She was still unsure of mitochondria and tracing of ancestral movements through DNA mutations. But she was beginning to understand.
“It must feel great, to be related to the whole world” She mused.
Niel considered the statement. “You know, those few markers in my DNA that I inherited from my maternal side, as well as the details I have so far found from my father’s side, helps me understand my roots and my anchors better. It has essentially freed me from narrow boundaries. Its like that poem about the two Bigha Zameen.”
“What ?”
“Well, you know about Tagore, right ?”
“Well, he did many things. Among them, he also wrote a few poems. One of the early ones was this poem about a small slice of land that a poor man of Bengal once owned as his ancestral plot. He lost it through false accusations of debt to a rich landlord, who wanted that land. So, he was rendered essentially homeless, and became a sort of wandering holy man, traveling from place to place. In that poem, when the man lost ownership of his his ancestral home, Tagore penned a paragraph, that goes like this – I’ll show you.”
Neil got up, and fished out the notebook he always kept in his right hip pocket. “I am never without a notebook, you know?”
Mabel nodded. “I have noticed that, yes.”
“Its a habit I picked up from my teenage years. I have gone through a fair amount of notebooks this way” he smiled, and fished out his pen from his breast pocket, another thing he was always never to be found without.
Then, in the fading light of the evening, keeping his notebook on his thigh, he concentrated and wrote a few lines, which Mabel could not follow, but understood he was writing in his own language. She had come to appreciate the handwriting, although he claimed it was not good enough. The thing is, folks did not write much in long hand any more, even in English. She did not have any relative of friend that had a real neat handwriting. Writing by hand was going extinct, as Neil often said – like the Dodo.
Neil finished writing and showed the notebook to her. She took it and tried to make sense of it.
“What does it mean?”

Neil took the notebook back, and slowly repeated what he wrote, apparently in Bengali.
“Money Bhabilam Moray Bhagaban, Rakhibay nah Moha Gortay
Tai Likhee Dilow Bishwa Likhilow, Thu Bighaar Poribortay”
He looked at her and smiled.
She compressed her lips and thought about it.
“Well, it does have some rhyme.”
Neil laughed, pocketed his notebook, and laid back, resting his head again on his palms. He looked up at the emerging stars and translated the few lines in English
“I believed that the almighty did not wish me to have useless attachments to frivolous earthly possessions.
And so, he released me from that sliver of ancestral land, and in exchange presented before me the entire universe.”
“Thats wonderful. What a beautiful expression!” She was genuinely impressed. “I think I should read Tagore sometime.”
Neil nodded. “The problem of reading Tagore might be that if the reader judges them as a work of literature alone, then he or she might miss the underlying tidal current that tugged at the heart of the man, who was, in my eye, more than a poet. That is the basic difficulty of reading Tagore. Most folks might read him as a poet, and that would be a mistake.”
“Well, you can help me, can you not?”
Neil got up again and sat upright. “I am no expert. But those two lines resonates for me. I did not lose any ancestral land, in the sense that I did not have any in the first place. My parents came from stock that were rendered essentially as landless refugees through religious strife fermenting in India for a long time. Their stock moved westward from the waterlogged delta of Eastern Bengal to the drier lands of Western Bengal. IN the east they were religious minority but held most of the land. In the west they ended up among the majority, but without the land. So I grew up without any sense of deep roots. But, thinking back, my growing up all over India, my exposure to Tagore’s writings, my working life all around the world, and now the analysis reports of my genes, they all tend to help me identify with that landless man of that poem of Tagore.”
Mabel snaked her hand in his and looked watched his darkened face in the fading light.
“I have lost my anchor, but gained the universe in exchange” Neil mused aloud.
“And also gained the girl lying on the stone next to you.” She mentally said to herself.
She tried to imagine a time, fifty, or a hundred thousand years ago, and imagine a small band of hunter gathers that might have included a woman that carried a piece of genetic code that was to come down, generation by generation, all the way to Neil’s mother, and then down to him.
“Its amazing. And you being a male, still have that gene from your mother, but cannot pass it on?”
Neil nodded. “This is of course just one way of tracking ancestral lineage through maternal line. All of us, males and females, get the mitochondria from our mother. It was thought to play no direct role in deciding our sex or our traits, since it was not part of the DNA in the nucleus of the cell. I have read papers that claims that mutation in this non-nuclear code of DNA might still affect health of people. For all I know, there may be other ways to track genetic footprints and ancestry through the maternal line. But for now and for me, the links are the M and D type haplogroups in my mitochondrial DNA that makes me related to the first explorers, the tribal and indigenous people of the world – those silent travelers that left a near invisible track on the ground, but a heavy imprint on the trail of human evolution. They were the invisible first explorers, whose descendants today face a dire existential threat, thanks to modern humans need to take their land, their resources and what is underneath their feet. These people with little demands and the faintest of footprints. And we are asking them to move on, and they have nowhere else to go. They are at the end of their rope.”
They lay there, on the stone, and watched the sky get darker and the paler tinge of the slice of sky across the western hills disappear behind the dark outline of the mountains. Somehow, the whole story, Mabel felt, was bittersweet and sad, and somehow leading to a tearful ending, just like those creatures trapped in those sixty thousand fossils that Walcott found a century ago.
A few stars appeared in the fading blue of the sky. The dipper was no more visible in the river. Behind them, the town of Golden had put on their artificial lights, which glowed against the southern sky. It was going to be eight.
She sat up. “Perhaps we should walk that way to the junction of the rivers, before it gets more dark.”
Neil got up too. “Okay, lets do that. We might not get much time tomorrow, as we intend to try to look around the area covered by Walcott a century ago in the Burgess shale tomorrow morning, just a few miles to the east and north of here.”
They walked, arms around each others waist, a new style for them, heading northeast along the bank of the river. They could hear the water, where it joined the Columbia river, perhaps a mile ahead, by the side of the small airstrip that went by the name of ‘Golden Airport’. They crossed what was an unnamed and unpaved road onto another that paralleled ran between the runway and the river, and headed towards the confluence of the two rivers.
It took them a few minutes to reach the point where they could not go further. The Kicking Horse had joined up with the larger Columbia river, and together, the waters turned southwest and downhill. They stood by the shore and watched. A man was walking along the edge of the water with his dog. The night sky still had some light that reflected off the water. They could see the dark shape of the man and the dog in silhouette against the rippling reflection off the water. The breeze was both stronger and colder. They automatically huddled closer, and watched the scene before them as the sky continued to darken by the minute.
Mabel watched the dancing light on the river water, and signed in contentment. Neil heard it and turned to watch her in the dimmed light, bending to kiss her nose. She turned her face and they got into a deep kiss, holding each other.
The dog’s bark got fainter as it and its owner moved further away. The air strip behind them was silent and dark.
An air whistle blew behind them somewhere, from a train.
Neil broke the kiss and looked at her, her eyes looking more black than blue.
He cleared his throat. “We need to find a restaurant”
She nodded imperceptible, and kissed him again. “I love you Neil.”
Neil pulled her closer and chuckled, teasing her. “Is that love, or an infatuation for an opinionated Bengali babu, that talks a lot about nothing?”
“Shut up”. She knew what made a Bengali. But she decided to check up what a babu was. This was not the time though. Whatever it meant, she felt confident the guy next to her was not quite an ordinary man, babu or otherwise. “You were talking about the invisible people and their weight on the history of mankind. You are one that is far from invisible for me, and you will do, Bengali or not.” She linked her fingers in his and strode along the western end of the air strip, back towards the town.
The lights of Golden brightened ahead of them.


They arrived at Golden in the late evening, following the Kicking Horse river, a high plains stream that often broke into multiple paths only to go join up again at a bend or a narrow. The name, Kicking Horse, had a historical anecdote to the early explorers of the place. A series of snow capped mountain peaks arranged in a straight line greeted them. It was a magical hill town surrounded by half a dozen of the most picturesque national parks in Canada – Banff, Glacier, Jasper, Kootenay, Mount Revelstoke and Yoho. They had seen most of those parks in different years and in different times. On this trip, Neil had planned to cover Yoho, Kootenay and a bit of Banff National Parks. To their west lay Yoho, and the small town of Field, north of which was the famous stone quarries at the slopes of the Burgess mound, known as the Burges Shale fossil deposit sites.

They had checked into an Inn with their room overlooking the gorgeous mountain range to the south-west. Neil did not know or remember the names of all the hills and did not carry any backpack map, but the view facing their room was spectacular. It comprised of a mountain range whose slope westward, towards the town of Golden was carved into several deep and parallel ravines. What forces created that landscape, Neil did not fully understand, but these features made him think. He could see, clearly, that men had made mountain roads leading half way up some of that slope, the steepness causing them to zig zag the unpaved road that was dusted in snow cover that was clearly melting away in April. There were tell tale signs of landslide and avalanche, where soil and small rocks had tumbled down and landed in a heap at the base of the steep hills. The roads were likely out of bounds at this season, but might have been open for the right vehicles when the snow was firm, so folks to ski or skate or use snow mobiles. In the summer, those roads should be navigable with all terrain or all wheel drive vehicles, for some spectacular landscape viewing. Right now, they were in a transition season, not cold enough and the snow gone soft but heavy for the unmaintained mountain road. According to the girl at the reception, the show on those roads can be more than a meter deep and would bury most vehicles, hence the road was closed now.

Mabel had gone into the bathroom to freshen up. They had planned to go walkabout in the small hill town, and eventually find a place to have a bite before settling for the night. They planned to head straight into the Yoho National park hills early in the morning after a hefty breakfast. Most of the days, they would skip lunch but carry a fruit and some snacks with them, and a jug of coffee.
Neil relaxed in the settee overlooking the large window and put his feet up on the low table. He tried out the TV, but did not like the shows and switched it off. The room was cool but not cold, so they kept the air conditioning off.
He watched as the light began to fade and the horizontal strips of cloud in the eastern sky turned from orange tinged to gray and then to grayish blue. The sun had set behind them in the west, and it reflected in the eastern sky before him.
“I like the pensive look on you”.
Neil turned his head away from the window. Mabel had emerged, and was drying her hair in a towel. She had another big bath towel wrapped around her. She had pale skin. Neil had noticed through his years of traveling around and meeting folks, that the so called white people, were actually more colored, than the so called colored people, or the Africans.
The issue of race, he now understood, was a non-science. Genetically, most people were quite mixed up, and the racial distinction of features, skin color, shape of nose and eyes, type of hair etc were very recent adaptation of the anatomically modern man, most likely to suit their surroundings. It could also be a certain kind of dominant gene pushed certain populations towards adopting some specific features more strongly.
Anyhow, he had learned that the so called white people could come in different shades, and none of them really white. In his mind, the Mongoloid race, or people of China and surroundings, were perhaps more uniformly pale skinned, and should have been the “white race” instead of the yellow. And the white people should have been the “colored race”. A white man from southern Italy was darker than is own father, from Bengal, India. But a real pale skinned northerner, or a red haired Irish person or a freckled European with colorless eyelashes were the other extreme.
Mabel was not quite that extreme. She did not have freckles, but her skin was paler, her hair was light and her eyes were different shades of green, gray or light blue, depending on the light.
“I like the fresh pinkish look on you” he ended up saying.
Mabel acknowledged the compliment. “What were you pensive about ?”
“Ohh, this and that. I am often pulled by two opposing feelings. One is a sense of joy and pleasure from seeing beautiful landscapes, rivers, animals, birds or stories of the people and animals that once lived here.”
He stopped, and considered his feelings.
“And the other ?” Mabel started drying her hair using a dryer that the Inn had provided.
“The other – is a sense of dissatisfaction, a sense of betrayal. Human civilization as we know it, has let us down, and we are destroying the planet and pushing our species towards doom.”
Mabel watched him somberly. “I can clearly see your positive side. It is a pleasure to just hear you talk about your wonder on this or that item about Canada, about other lands, about the flora and fauna, and about evolution and stuff.”
“And the other side is not a pleasure ?”
Mabel sat down on the bed, still tending to her hair and looking over at him.
“The other side is shows a lot more deeper and darker feelings, justifiable and well thought out, but pickled with a tinge of resignation and fatalism.”
“Well, you do believe that man will bring his own world down. Right ?”
Neil nodded, and got up. “Yes, I do believe that, but it is not a matter of faith or premonition. Man has left tell tale signs of destruction on his path every since he evolved into a being separate from others. Even in our collective genetic history, we share traits with other animals that would, if possible, overdo things till life became unsustainable. But as our ancestors, we were incapable, more or less, to cause maximum damage to the ecology that the modern man can. Do not forget, many of the mega-fauna of the world at the end of the last ice age perished when they came into contact with their first humans. Today they find fossils and permafrost remains of mastodons and wooly mammoth, with clear sign of them being killed or butchered by humans. Same for giant ground sloths, giant flightless birds etc. And we know what happened to the American passenger pigeon or the bison.
“Buffalo ?”
Neil nodded – “Bison”.
Mabel brushed her hair, put on lipstick, and slipped into a fresh set of clothes. Neil got up and moved into the bathroom, to clean up himself. He left the door open, so they could discuss.
“You were talking about the flightless cormorant?” Mabel said.
“I was? When?”
“Earlier today. You know – comparing humans with lemmings or the flightless cormorants?”
“Ahh, yes. The Flightless Cormorants of the Galapagos islands show a curious behavior when faced with the danger of marine iguanas coming to steal their eggs.”
“Really ? What do they do ?”
“Well, we have not fully understood how much of an animals behavior is instinctive in its genes and how much is from rational analysis of situations using their brains etc. We know however, that man is a relatively very brainy creature, but we still have instincts that prompt us to reflexively do things without thinking, when we perceive danger, or example. The same goes for birds. Somethings many of their behavior is coded into their genes and their brains might be incapable of handling situations that they have no program for.”
“Explain please”
Neil adjusted the water in the shower and stepped into the warm stream of water. A soft envelope of steam gathered around him. It felt good to just stand in the warm shower.
“Marine iguanas are not the swiftest of land animals. They come up the rocky slopes ponderously, towards the nest of these birds. The birds themselves are not exactly tiny and they have a beak that could be considered sharp. They could, I think, easily try to fight the iguanas, snapping at their tails and even drawing blood. Usually a female will go to any length to protect its babies, even face great danger.”
“Yes, or course”
“But, not the flightless cormorants of the Galapagos”
“No ?”
“Why not?”
“I don’t have the answer, but I can guess. Living on an island that had no natural predator, the cormorants eventually lost the ability to fly. That same evolutionary adaptation might have also removed the genes that are inherent in cormorants and most other creatures elsewhere – to fierce protect its eggs, chicks and babies.”
“Ohh. So what do they do, when the iguanas come?”
They stand next to the nest, watch the iguanas slowly eat the eggs, and tuck their beaks into their own feather – a sign of confusion, I think.”
“How terrible”.
“Well, thats actually evolution. Given sufficient time, lie a thousand generations more of evolution, if the cormorants do not go extinct, and are not overly protected by man, and if the iguanas too do not go extinct, then it is likely that the Galapagos cormorants of the future would show ability to deal with this new threat to their survival.”
Neil stepped out of the shower, and grabbed a second large towel.
“Hmm, and why did you compare us with them ?”
“What ?”
“You know, lemmings and the flightless cormorants ?”
“Ahh” Neil chuckled. “I was mentioning how people know we are heading in the wrong direction and still ignore it, hoping that the real bad times may come after they are already dead, so the next generation may deal with it. A vast number of others are simply ignorant. Others do not wish to know, since there is no good solution to it. In short, the world remains in denial, and is unable to deal with an impending crisis. In that, I thought their behavior resembles that of the flightless cormorants of Galapagos, when faced with the danger of seeing their future babies killed by a slow moving menace. We too are sacrificing our children’s future to a slow moving menace. But in our case, the menace is our own creation.”
“And this bothers you?”
Neil nodded, stepping out of the bathroom naked. He fished around in his bag and pulled on a fresh set of clothes, and stood before the mirror, combing his hair.
“Ready?” Mabel asked.
“Yes – lets forget the pensive mood, the lemmings, the cormorants, the iguanas and the disbelievers. We shall enjoy the town of Golden on foot.” Neil took her hand, and they walked out towards the elevator.

Missing the world of his father’s paintings

“There was a movie, in Bengali, with that name – Storm Warning” Neil mused.
“Really ? What did it say about the climate? Was it in English?”
They were sitting on a large boulder by the side of a small river fighting its way through an iced up landscape, early in the afternoon on the Easter Friday, in among the Cascade mountains. They had a few hundred kilometers still to go to reach their destination for the night – in the town of Golden.
They had been discussing climate change, and what might be in store for the planet, for the continent, for Canada and for British Columbia, a very loaded subject. They did not have depth of comprehension – but both knew things were reaching a crisis point, and information was not easy to get because the authorities seem to be either in denial, or unwilling to alarm the public. They were not calling a spade a spade.

Neil picked up a pebble and tossed it down the slope to the edge of the water. He wondered about the high concentration of sharp stone fragments below them. These were not pebbles that were pushed a long distance by a fast flowing river, helping to grind and polish them into smooth spheroids. He briefly wondered if these were crushed from the nearby peaks through past seismic tremors, or broken from the rocks by an ancient glacier and left at the current location. They were not exactly at the foothill of a sliding slope, so they did not get here from a recent rock fall or an avalanche.
He sometimes wished he was a geologist, or at least knew a bit more about geology.
His thoughts returned to Mabel’s question.
He had been talking about tell tale signs of impending trouble, and used the term Storm warning to drive a point. It was then that he remembered the Bengali movie. It wasn’t about Climate change. It was a different time, and the warning was of something else equally menacing for the people of Bengal – an impending famine that would kill millions, in the middle of the second world war. It was now acknowledged that the famine was man made, and not by natural calamity. The world war had something to do with it. The British Empire’s handling of the situation which perhaps indicated less regard for life of Indians than lives of the British, also were likely factors.

Anyhow, the name of the movie – by Satyajit Ray, came to him.
“It was not about climate change, but about an impending famine. It was in Bengali, and the name of the film in Bengali was Asani Sanket, which means storm warning. Somehow, the situation now reminded me of that movie. Villagers at the front line of the worsening situation did not have a good grasp of what was happening and why, since there was no draught and drastic drop of food grain production. Things appeared to go on as it always had. But there were tell tale signs, some folks were beginning to starve for no good reason. News was difficult to come by. Folks did not know things were slowly reaching a crisis point, till the crisis actually hit them in the face.”
Mabel was listening, tilting her head as if cocking an ear in a typical way that only she could do. She was also poking at a bit of snow tucked at the corner of a boulder near her feet.
“I’d like to see that movie, if you will explain the scenes to me. And also explain why and how the famine came by.”
“Hmmm… I have to see if its available on line, or if I can get a DVD” Neil nodded.
“Situation with the coming Climate Uncertainty is not too different. We are living in the information age – with the world wired up and news traveling around at the speed of light. And yet, the silence about the impending storm is mind boggling.”
“And you like Mukherjee and Dyer.” Mabel observed.
Neil chuckled. He had told her about another book, by Madhusree Mukherjee, on Churchill’s actions, or lack of it, with regard to the ill-famed Bengal famine of 1943. And Gwynne Dyer had written a book that he had in the eBook format, and often referred to, called Climate Wars. Dyer’s book was written more like a science fiction, written based on a future date. It did not predict what might happen in the future. Rather, the book pretends that it is already in the future, and is talking about historical things that has happened in the past. But the past involves the future for the current Calendar.
“You gotta read Dyer. He predicts what happens to Canada, but more importantly, what happens to the US-Mexico border and what happens to Mexico, when the world runs short of food and more or less stops selling excess grain in the world market. Mexico descends into anarchy and its population shrinks by thirty or forty million people.”
“My God !”
“Well, you should read it. It is not designed as a science fiction, but a very likely scenario with a lot of supporting comments and explanations. Things do not end up well for a whole lot of countries – and not just Mexico.”
Mabel signed. “What is one to do?”
Neil stretched his legs. “Singularly, there may be nothing one can do. Collectively, surely there are things one can do. But I have a feeling even the strongest of the Climate Change believers and sustainable living proponents are not coming clean and not calling a spade a spade. And that, for me, is a bit frustrating. However, I can understand some of the reasoning. One can compare the public with lemmings on one side, or the flightless cormorants of the Galapagos, on the other.”
It occurred to Mabel that Neil probably had a vivid imagination.
“Lemmings ?”

Neil was watching the reflection of the white patches of cloud on calm waters of the river below them.
“You know what they say. True or not, they explode in population till they are so many that they have eaten through the food source and there is nothing left to eat, and the land cannot sustain such large numbers. A big chunk of them must die in one shot. Story goes that they go shoulder to shoulder and jump in the ocean to drown and die. Some folks say this is not correct, and that lemmings are not stupid. They do not commit mass suicide, but are forced to die in large numbers when their super fast reproduction system goes out of control and the populations shoots well past the sustainability level for a lean year. Anyhow, I have never seen a lemming in the wild, suicidal or otherwise.”
Mabel tossed another pebble towards the water, but it landed short, in the snow. Her folks were not too religious. She had a girlfriend whose mom was a liberal activist and passionate about individual rights and human rights, anti-war, feminism, open borders and so on. But Mabel could not remember her talking about any impending doom with relation to climate or human population, or about the constant degradation of the environment, a move from a sustainable plane to an unsustainable one.
“I do not have relatives or friends that talk or think the way you do, about the declining quality of our environment to the extent that it is an existential threat to all higher order animals.”
At this point, Tonu stopped and looked up at the cream painted ceiling of his study. It was quarter to six in the morning of Saturday, a week after his trip to the mountains. It was going to be a sunny day, and he was planning to check out the Squamish estuary area in the morning. It would be a hundred kilometer northward drive along the sea-to-sky highway. The ocean, a tiny finger of the pacific, pokes into the land with towering mountains on both sides. The Squamish river meets the ocean at that point, creating a narrow strip of sea level estuary, rich with its own eco-system and wild life.
Meanwhile, he had woken up at his usual early hour and contemplated writing a few more pages. There was no important emails waiting for him, and the earth had spun a few more degrees without further incidence other than the general degradation of things.
He wondered if Neil, his creation, should be influenced by the paintings of his, Tonu’s, father. Tonu remembered the sketches and paintings his father worked on, mostly following the general theme of simple rural life and landscape that were captured on board. He was a student of Nandalal Bose, the esteemed Indian artist of the first half of last century, who himself was a student of Abanindranath Tagore and was influenced by Rabindranath Tagore during his days in Santiniketan. Depiction of rural landscape and rural lifestyle had priority in their view. He, Tonu, thought of this movement as a theme that had two objectives. One was a recognition that rural background was where India was culturally, aesthetically, artistically, economically and spiritually anchored and rooted. Therefore this back to the village artistic movement was not a backward motion against modernism, but a realization that modernism in India had missed the sustainability bus.
The second part of the movement was to create an appreciation in the collective psyche of the Bengali and Indian middle class, of the timelessness and beauty of things simple and rural. India was fast creating an additional layer of a caste system, between the city dwellers and the villagers. This psychological as well as economic and cultural division, over and above all the other divisions that man had created for himself in the Indian subcontinent, was a further humanitarian blow to the evolving social order in India. Rabindranath Tagore, the poet with a vision, realized that this needed to be eradicated. That vision showed up everywhere, including in the art created in his time and in the immediate aftermath of his demise.
Modernism, however, was going to come to India, and it would ultimately muddy the water about rural and urban divide as well as take the focus away from the village so much, that future artists would be, Tonu felt, hanging in suspended animation, attempting to give their art a somewhat “ethnic” Indian flavor, while same time pandering to the western world for recognition, and take advantage of the recent western accommodation for appreciation of non-western art forms.
The whole thing, Tonu felt, was bizarre. Art was supposed to imitate life. But life itself had gotten so artificial, that this falseness was bound to be reflected in art, especially of the second and third generation of artists that come out of the same school as founded by Tagore and now spread across the globe. And those that still remained anchored to the original theme of rural India, faded in the backwaters in the world of Indian art. Artists that cannot draw a tail on a donkey, but can make false copies of western cubism or impressionism, where the hot topics in the drawing rooms of the new rich. Industrialists that have come into money, and feel the urge to promote art – define art in their own myopic view of India and the world, and the rest, Tonu felt sadly, is history.
However, this sad story too needed to be told, in his own tiny way, as the world, including India, were busy recklessly following a false modernism and sliding down the ever steepening slope of an existential crisis with regard to squeezing the planetary lemon dry.
He was hesitant about jotting down his feelings openly, as he personally knew a lot of people that came out of the art school. Besides, he was no expert in art. In fact, he was no expert on anything. And yet, he was tired of pseudo artists and pseudo writers and false intellectuals, unscrupulous industrialists and phony political ideologues who unnecessarily muddy up any issue till there is no clear perspective left on any topic. He was also tired, in a way, at the hapless public dancing at the end of the trivia string.
But his comments were not directed towards people he knew. It was at the general direction where mankind of taking itself and the rest of existence as humans could perceive it. To him, these are connected. He could relate to the changing scene in Canada, to that in India, or USA or Africa. And most of it was man made. Most of it was unsustainable. Most of it was a direct result of man’s increasing level of interference with the planet’s health.
One of the earliest visionaries to have realized the imbalance, at least partially, was perhaps Rabindranath himself. He saw it as a grotesque takeover of india’s cultural, spiritual and aesthetic steering wheel by a newly emerging urban class that lacked a depth of perception, or willingness to investigate long term effects of their presumed lifestyle goals, and a blind intoxication with a western definition of development that was itself bankrupt as a perpetual formula.
Tagore instinctively understood that the urban class may turn out to be the agent of destruction for India, unless it could be made to appreciate the need for a healthy balance between the rural and the urban. The western societies understood it. But a modernizing India did not. Tagore spoke about it and wrote about it. But it is doubtful if his countless admirers and hangers on actually understood the cause of the poet’s anxiety.
Tonu’s father used pastel and earth colors on boards more than water or oil color on canvas. Tonu had spend hours with his father, grinding hollow rocks on a grinding stone, extracting earth colors, which would be solved in water and kept in glass jars, to be used on future paintings on boards as well as in murals on walls. Collecting earth colors from the earth was a big adventure for him in his youth, and likely played a big role in his love for undisturbed nature and how it trumped man-made alterations of the landscape.
The thought of his father’s sketches and paintings were not a random intrusion into the flow of the story where Neil and Mabel were traveling into the Cascade mountains of British Columbia. There was a connection here.
His father drew and sketched scenes that, in Tonu’s own life, had slowly vanished from those very spots where his dad had observed them. Those open lands had now been concretized,  asphalted, civilized, crammed with people, turned into a filthy near slum urban sprawl.
This, to him, indicated two things that were inter-related and going on, generation to generation, perhaps all over the world. One of them was the destructiveness of an over-producing, over-consuming, over-altering, over-mechanizing civilization. The other was an ever greater expansion of the human population.
So, on one side, each human in progressive generations was demanding a greater and greater footprint for himself on this planet. Then, on top of it, people have brought more people and even more people, on the planet, each striving his best to increase his own size of footprint. This was another kind of an out of control snowball – a positive feedback loop gone wild. This was, in Tonu’s mind, not too different from what is happening in Europe, in the Americas, or even in the Antarctica. The difference should not be measured between regions. Rather, the change is within. Greenland might appear remote and cold compared to Singapore. But Greenland is less remote, less cold and less pristine, than Greenland was a century ago.
And so, Tonu decided to include his own fathers painting into the story, but pretending that to be Neil’s recollection of his own father. Tonu had, in that way, converted his own dad from a real to a fictional personality. One that was, just like the scenes he painted of, slowing fading from the planet.
Neil nodded. “Its not that I have a lot of relatives that scream about the changing world in any realistic way. My grandmother used to talk about times when things were very cheap and how everything costs so much more these days. My cousins might talk about how it was easier and more relaxing to be in school and college in our times and how things have gotten so stressful in India for a student. The pressure to perform is so great, the stakes are so high, that sometimes a student is pushed into committing suicide because she or she scored 95 out of a hundred instead of 99.”
He thought for a while, constructing the views and images swirling around in his head.
Mabel took a sip of coffee from the cover of the flask, which also served as a cup. Neil took the cup and took a sip himself. They had gotten to the point of sharing their coffee. He liked it with milk and sugar. She liked it without. They had met halfway – with a dash of milk that barely turned the color lighter, and a spoon of sugar for the entire flask of coffee. Life was a compromise. Neil was getting used to it. So was Mabel.
“But no one”, Neil continued, “actually spoke about the inexorable push of human civilization that engulfs the planet as we know it. But, generation by generation, the change is happening, I feel somewhat certain. Take life ten generation ago. I cannot name folks ten generations back in my line, but I can guess how things were, a couple of centuries ago, just as the British, for example, and the French and the Dutch, were increasing their trading with eastern India, and how the repressive society of religious orthodoxy, social taboo and enlightenment were slowly permeating through the village life. I can imagine how a high caste Hindu or a Muslim would have multiple wives and how poverty drove people to do things he would not otherwise do. How a woman had to adjust to the lifestyle dominated by men at all levels. How surviving from day to day involved not only eating enough and not getting sick with cholera or typhoid, but also not getting bitten by a cobra or taken by a crocodile in the water or attacked by a tiger in the field.”
He paused for a moment, looking at Mabel. She watched him, wide eyed. “And then, I can guess how, even in their times, things would change, generation upon generation. How jungles will be cleared, wood would be sold, tigers would retreat further away. Extra housing and population would bring safety on one side and more sickness and infection on another. Life would be changing, generation by generation, even in their times. And if one was to look at it from afar, it would have been possible for them to use those changes they saw in a small scale, to project on the planet and on mankind, on a larger scale for future. Those that did contemplate these issues, and made predictions, right or wrong, where considered either mystics, or God men, or pundits, or mad men. But, change was happening then, and it is happening now. MY own dad made paintings and sketches of rural Bengal not five miles from his home. Today, that scene is no more there. It has retreated, just like the tigers of a few centuries back. Things are constantly retreating into the background, and getting smaller in the distance, till they become a point on the horizon. Finally a day comes when it is no more there. It has retreated into extinction. And this change is not for the better.”

Mabel had seen a handful of Neil’s dad’s paintings that Neil had mounted on his wall.
She thought of telling him how she loved those paintings. But somehow, that seemed not an appropriate thing to say. The scenes he drew were gone now, according to Neil.
“Some day, you have to take me to Bengal and show me where you grew up, and where your dad made those paintings.”

A vanishing world

They were the only travelers on the mountain road, as far as he could see ahead or behind. The road climbed, turned, and snaked in between towering hills, and then sloped down and would at times upon up to valleys and lakes. The sky remained partially clear and bright. Temperature continued to drop. Snow piled up on the side of roads as well as on the hills. The mountain peaks were white.

He thought about writing, about his travels, about the mountains, the lakes, the birds. He could write about Mabel. He didn’t know if his writing was any good. He thought about what and how, he might write.
Someone had made an interesting comment, on a social network that he visited at times, about writers. It stated that the writer needs to feel disappointed. He needs to experience a deeply unsatisfactory situation where he found no recourse at hand.
Only then, may he create good literature.
He had read similar comments elsewhere too. It was a somewhat known idea – that human suffering is the main source of creative zeal.
He did not feel that certain. Perhaps frustration can create a mental state that helps write certain kind of literature. He had also heard the same thing about painters. IT was perhaps a convenient way to explain why and how so many painters and writers were poor and hungry in their own lifetime, but end us getting famous posthumously.
He doubted, however, that this kind of depression was mandatory for all creative artists of all kinds.
He did not know enough about his brain. He doubted anybody else knew either. But the human brain was behind most things a human does, including creating something silly, or beautiful. In fact, even the definition of what should be silly and what beautiful can be argued. In fact, they are often argued. There are many that consider the cubism of Picasso, as silly rather than outstanding. Out of politeness, they would not say so to others.
Sometimes, a handful of folks would try to create a heightened appreciation of certain kind of creative art, not necessarily driven by altruistic motives, but to create a ‘fad’ or a fashion. The motive is to see high demand for that kind of products, so that the promoter can make money by selling those stuff at a high cost.
He did not consider himself to be a famous art critic, or one that claimed to know too much. But he would not pay his own good money, to acquire a Picasso – even a reprint, to be hanged on his walls.
On the other hand, he was biased towards liking the kind of painting his father did in his formative years, often using subdued earth tones, recording simple rural scenes of the arid country of Birbhum district of Bengal. Those scenes spoke to him not just of art – but of a vanishing world that might not return again. Physically, those scenes were fading away, as progress and modernization turned the landscape. That landscape was etched in his mind, as a dirt road lead them towards distant quiet small agricultural plots lined by date and palm trees, and mud-walled thatched roof village dwelling surrounded by heavier leafy trees like Mango, Bombax ceiba, Breadfruit, Rose apple and the like.

He remembered walking through the low land on the dirt road packed with hard soil and lined with the gravels stones, where he could see the distant villages, while on both sides there were first the landscape of soil eroded by running water, exposing semi arid fallow lands that the locals called “Khoai”, with its signature red earth and small irregular shaped red gravel stones covering a hard undulating soil surface. There would be palm trees here and there, and an occasional man made pond with high earth embankments on all four sides, the embankments themselves augmented by a line of palm trees.
Palm trees lining the high banks of a pond was a common feature of the land.
But today, the road was of asphalt, and the sides had a continuous stream of brick and mortar shops and houses. The area had turned into a small crowded suburb full of noise, filth and trash. The air stank of fumes from the exhaust of countless two wheelers and small trucks and cars that continuously moved about, each trying to out-honk the other in an effort to terrorize foot walkers off the road.
He did not wish to go that rout any more. He did not care about that kind of development.
However, he still doubted that one needs to see such degradation of pristine beauty before one can be coaxed to create good art or writing. His father saw the original beauty in his early years and did create what he considered one of the best arts that he liked. He was fortunate enough to have many of them hang off his walls.
A generation down the line, he himself had witnessed the degrading transformation of that landscape. But he was not creating any art out of it. That was not wholly because he could not create art. He refused to believe conventional wisdom, that art is to be evaluated by third party experts before it can influence him. He was not part of the positive feedback generation and did not intend to tread on the positive feedback loop. He had already mentioned in earlier in his musings.
Looking around, he found a similarity, however much different they might seem to a casual observer, between the khoai that his father had painted in his youth, and the high slops of the Cascade mountains around him in the middle of British Columbia. Both were, to him pristine. He knew this was relative. Man had altered the land of his fathers youth a long time ago, but particularly after the place began to grow with an eradication of dacoits and a rise of settlements.
He knew that the landscape around him once had the last generation of virgin forests, with conifers so large that their trunk were as thick as two tall men lying head to toe could not cover. Trees that could have been a thousand year old, even two thousand. All that, and the kind of biodiversity that kind of a forest supported, was gone forever. In its place, were trees that were tiny, and barely fifty to eighty year old. Slow growing, these new trees where called the second, and third generation forests, continuously felled to feed human need for lumber.
He was aware of it and conscious of it. And yet, it was still better than the landscape converted into a manicured golf course fenced off to prevent wild animals, or not so wild humans, from encroaching.
He did not like man made clearings where townships are planned to come up. Even if they are planned and designed better than the way they came up back in Birbhum district in Bengal, they would still be an eyesore to him. A manicured and pedicured one, sure, but none the less an eyesore. Nothing man could conceivably create, could equal what nature did, naturally. That is how he saw it.
He came to realize that he himself belonged to the tribe that was the principal agent of destruction of nature.
That could be a source of major depression.
He thought about it, but did not feel depressed per se. Sad, yes, but perhaps resigned to the fact that evolution could work that way, enhancing a winning trait in a species to an extreme when the trait represented too much of a good thing, and began to have a snowballing effect of a destructive positive feedback loop. Things go out of control and out of hand in a big way, resulting in a crash.
In the past, such events might have caused mega – extinctions. The reason might or might not have been the works of a single species of animal, or even multiple groups of living creatures. It could have been triggered by external unanticipated events.
But one way or another, change in circumstances have happened that the highly specialized creatures were no longer able to deal with. Thus, whole swaths of creatures die out in sudden mass extinctions, leaving the field open for the survivors to occupy and expand, carrying a different set of traits.

He thought he might write about these feelings, along with the views he was enjoying, of the drive through the Cascade mountains and its third generation conifer forests.
“where are we ?” Mabel opened her eyes and asked, as he swerved the car to avoid a dark patch on the asphalt.

“Thats the Coldwater river on our right. We are going down to the Nicola Valley and the town of Merritt.” He said and reached out to caress her cheek.

Through the Cascade Mountains

“I love the Cascades.” Neil observed.
They were by now a hundred kilometers from home, with another six hundred to cross before they would stop for the day. They were leaving the flood plains and slowly moving into the foothills of the Rockies. The great Fraser rive was turning from a meandering river of the plains of British Columbia, to a narrower, faster and fiercer stream of the slopes. The valley that was once cut by glaciers and now landscaped further by a hundred thousand years of work by the river, had extensive farmlands to the west. But as they moved further east and north, habitation stated thinning, and agricultural farm lands of the lower valleys started giving way to farmlands raising livestock and grass. Once they passed through the initial cascade mountains.
The Fraser rive essentially separated the Cascade Mountains from the Coast mountains of British Columbia. But they were moving east. Soon they would leave Trans Canada highway and turn north into the hills towards the Coquihalla mountain.
Mabel had been driving for the past half hour. Neil sat in the passenger seat and munched some snacks, and enjoyed a mug of coffee, while tinkering with his cameras and clicking off shots of the surrounding scenery, generally enjoying himself.

“Tell me about the Cascades, Mr. Dusty” She said, half in jest, while extending her right arm to him, palm upward, for a few potato chips.
Neil passed her some chips and considered her request.
“I am no geologist, but, from what I know, this range of mountains starts from California and moves north all the way to british Columbia, and always just inland of the pacific shore – the Cascade mountain range. The origin of this mountain range is more or less the same tectonic forces that caused the great earth quake of San Francisco a century ago and which causes similar events in British Columbia too, every few centuries.”
“Explain, please”

Neil scratched his head, and took another sip of coffee. The highway was no more arrow straight, and would constantly swerve this way or that, and slope upward or downward. The nature of the hills too were changing. The vegetation were going to get more intense on the western slopes than the eastern. Being so close to the Pacific ocean, and because of the natural westerly winds, these mountains got as much precipitation, perhaps, as the Himalayas got from the Indian ocean. And the high latitude of the place, combined with the altitude, resulted in a lot of the rain actually falling as snow. Some of the snowiest parts of the world belonged to the western slopes and peaks of the Canadian Cascade mountains.
He tried to think of talking about some of it to Mabel, without sounding stupid. Mabel had grown up here, and Neil himself was only a resident for a few years, and he was no geologist.
Mabel slowed down, following the road sign, and negotiated a downhill sloping sharp turn. She was a stickler of proper driving and following speed limits. She was, therefore, perhaps a better driver than Neil, though less adventurous than him. She glanced sideways at him.
“Well” She asked, arching an eyebrow.
“There is a thin and long ocean plate just to the west of the shore line, going from California and up along the western shore of Vancouver island of British Columbia. That plate is moving east relative to North America, and is essentially colliding with the American and Canadian shore line. That tectonic movement is the cause of a lot of seismic activity all along the west coast of USA and Canada.”
Neil said it, and sipped some coffee. The statement appeared disjointed and did not explain what was its link with the Cascade mountains.

Mabel listened, but did not say anything. She concentrated on the next turn on the hills. The sun was bright and the puffs of cloud only created relief to the otherwise a gorgeous blue sky. The conifer trees lining the road side slopes created the dark contrast to the lighter warm hues of the soil. There were very few cars on the road. Most of the people were heading south into USA for the vacations, according to the radio.
Neil was observing the scenery through his viewfinder, and clicking shots time to time. He continued to do so, one eye shut and the other lined up with the view finder of his camera, holding it up with one hand and supporting the heavy lens with the other. He continued to talk, while snapping off a few shots of the road ahead, with the hills and the sky and the clouds, and the beginning of the snow along the western slopes.

“This collision – click – is the result of not only earth quakes, but also a lot of volcanic activity, – click click – and the rise of a series of volcanic mounts. In Canada, these mountain range is called the Cascade mountains.” Click.
He lowered the camera on his lap, and started fidgetign with it again. They were moving at around a hundred kilometers and hour. The road was not super smooth, and the vehicle suspension was firm and not soft. A certain amount of vibration worked its way through the vehicle and through the cushions of the seat only his body and the camera. He was conscious of holding the camera away from his body and let his arms soften the effect of the swaying and the vibration, to get clear shots using high telephoto focal lengths. But, just to be safe, he set the ISO rather hight and subsequent shutter speed to two thousandth of a second, while also keeping the aperture smaller than f11, ensuring an acceptable depth of field. He lifted the camera again, and tried to look through the viewfinder at the surrounding mountain scape.
“So why are the volcanoes not on the beaches or in the shallow seas? Why have them hundreds of kilometers inland from the shore , if the collision is at the edge of the continent with an ocean plate?”
Neil lowered his camera and looked at Mabel. That question was quite sharp. He felt impressed, and also suspicious that she might actually know more of the Cascades than he did, and might be playing with him.
“What ?” Mabel sensed him looking keenly at her.
“Well, that was a rather clever question, and I wondered if you did not already know all the answers, and were merely egging me on for fun.”
“No no… I cannot remember anyone actually speaking about it the way you do. I love to hear it. I don’t know why the mountains are so inland.”
Neil nodded, satisfied. “You are quite clever and a thinking person. Pretty smart.” He observed. “There is a subduction, at the coast line” he said, lifting the camera to his eye again.
“Subduction ?” Mabel asked.
“Subduction” Neil confirmed. Click.
“What is subduction?”
“ONe of the plates is subducting, or sinking under the second plate as they collide. And it is the oceanic plate that is going under the continental plate. As a result, the submerged plate, going at an angle into the earth towards the hot mantle. Hence, by the time it gets too hot and begins to create volcanoes, the tip of the downward slanting plate has already travelled some distance inland, albeit under the Continental crust. And thus, the volcanoes happen inland. That is what I think. Actually, I read up on it and saw a diagram somewhere.”
They emerged from between two hills and the road turned sharply to the right, with a view opening up on the left. The surface of the road was dusted with powdery snow and black ice. A sudden spate of snowfall greeted them as they emerged in the open. Before them to the right, was the Coquihalla Lakes, and its surface was still frozen, but beginning to thaw out.

There was a designated view point at the side ahead of them and a place to park the car off road. Mabel stopped over at the view point and opened the door to step out and stretch her legs. They had agreed that he would do the bulk of the driving from this point, as the road gets more icy.
Neil stepped out too, and carried his long lens camera on to the edge of the viewpoint, looking down at the frozen waters of the lake below. There were animal tracks on the snow, along with tracks of people on skates. The edge of the snow were melting, exposing clear water that reflected the evergreen conifers of the slopes.
The air was chilly. Neil went back to the car and pulled on his wind breaker, returning back to the edge.
Mabel used her video camera to take a clip of the scene and concentrated on the snow covered hillside before them.
“So, can you name some of the famous volcanoes of the Cascade range? Or are they all dead.” She asked.
She had not taken her eye off the view finder of her video camera as she asked the question. Neil suspected that she was perhaps wanting to catch his voice and his comment on the movie. He considered the question and decided on a safe answer.
“There is a famous volcano in California, but its name eludes me right now. There are a few more volcanic mounts in California. Then, on to Oregon, there are three or four volcanic mounts of the same range – Three Sisters and the Hood being two of them. Then, moving further north to Washington state, you have the famous St. Helens, Rainier and Baker. Many of them are active in the US. Many have spewed within the last two hundred years. Some have done so multiple times in that period. St. Helens is a good example. However, the Cascade mountains in Canada are not live Volcano any more” He completed.
“Wow. And any names from Canada ?”
“All of them are from Canada.” Neil took a few shots of the scene and got back in the car. They still had a long way to go today. He started adjusting the seat, the side mirrors and the rearview.
Mabel followed him back into the car, this time taking the passengers seat. “What do you mean, all from Canada? Those mountains are all in the US.”
Neil eased the car back on the highway.
“Yes, but they are all named by a Canadian, and named after mostly British Explorers that worked on Canada. For one thing, these names were, I think, given by none other than George Vancouver, the British Navigator, who charted the Puget Sound area. The city of Vancouver as well as the island next to it is named after him. He also used other british luminaries to name Baker, Reinier, St. Helens, Hood and perhaps more.”
“Yes. And then there were the Lewis and Clark expedition of the early 1800s through the Columbia river, to be followed by David Thompson and then Simon Fraser. All of them except Lewis and Clark are connected to Canada and British Columbia, methinks. Lewis and Clark, I think, were sponsored by the then president of the US, Thomas Jefferson.”
They drove on for a while, soaking in the country. They were heading almost direct north through mountain passes, the semi frozen Clearwater river running alongside but flowing in the opposite direction of their travel. Merritt and Kamloops lay ahead of them. The interior of the car began to get colder as the temperature of the outside air dropped.
Mabel switched on the climate control and waited till warmer air started filtering into the vehicle.
Neil settled down in his seat and changed the display on his GPS so it would indicate their elevation instead of direction of travel. They were eleven hundred meters above sea, and climbing. Temperature outside was minus three according to the display on his dashboard.
“The area really opened up during the Klondike gold rush years. Canadian Pacific Railway managed to connect the west coast with the rest of Canada through the Coquihalla river pass after facing a lot of difficulty in making a workable rail line through high mountain country. Logging became a very big industry, with huge virgin forest trees being felled and carted to serve the industrializing world. The rest is history. But the Cascade mountains were part of it all the way.”
Mabel put her hand on his leg and reclined back, pulling the peak of her baseball cap down on her eyes, and reclined in her seat.
Neil settled down for a stretch of driving when Mabel might take a shut eye. He kept his lighter camera on his lap, picking it up time to time single handed to squeeze off a shot. There was powder snow dust on the road and patches of black ice. He kept the vehicle on four wheel drive mode and was careful not to take sudden turns.
“Where do you want to stop for lunch?” Mabel asked.

Neil glanced across at her. She was not sleeping, but watching the scene quietly. The steep hills were typical of the cascades. The shaded slopes that were dusted with snow appeared faintly bluish. Small strands of trees gave the hills a hairy look. In the crevasses there would be heavy accumulation of snow, that would be coming down to the base, gradually gaining girth in the lower ranges. The nearby trees broke the image with their dark outline.
“We could stop over at Merritt for a bite, since we shall be going through it.”
Mabel nodded and squeezed his thigh in agreement.
They still had several hundred kilometers to go. But Neil felt happy to be here, moving along the mountain passes, with Mabel at his side on a long Easter weekend holiday.
A body could do a lot worse.

A cryptic message

On his way to office, Neil’s phone peeped, indicating that he had a message. Since he was driving, he did not look at it, but wondered if it might be from Mabel. He was planning to go on a four day trip into the southern Rockies, and had invited Mabel to join him. But she was not sure if she could get away on Friday.
Neil would not read messages while driving. He decided to wait till he was stopped at a traffic light.
He looked out at the white speckles in the sky to his left that he had noticed through his peripheral vision. They were snow geese – lots of them. As he looked, they flew in to land on the agricultural field at the side of the highway. Snow geese had been a part of Neil’s life ever since he came to the pacific coast of British Columbia. At certain times, their numbers grew as more of the migratory birds arrive from Siberia. Some would then stay back, while the bulk would move on south across the border and fan out into the United States. IN the summer, they would fly back to Siberia. But some of them came in the winter to settle around the Fraser valley and go no further.
Neil guessed it would soon be time for them to return home to their summer grounds to raise chicks. Soon, he would not be seeing any more of them.

Snow geese landing on a field in Delta, BC

He took an exit at Knight’s street and eventually came to a traffic light inside the city of Vancouver.
He remembered to check the message on his phone. It was from Mabel. The message was : HI 6TH OK CALL ME
The text vaguely reminded Neil of the old days when telegrams had to be abbreviated into cryptic sentences to pass important news to far off relatives. He had seen a lot of old telegrams that his parents received, all kept in a box. Most where typed on a thin strip of paper, which then were glued on a telegram form that was printed on pinkish paper. It contained such cryptic messages – announcing births, deaths, marriages, safe arrivals and other events of relatives and friends.
Neil had no trouble deciphering this message though. Since he had Mabel on his telephone’s list of contacts, the message already identified itself to have originated from her. His phone clubbed such messages going back and forth between him and Mabel on a single thread, which made reading through both practical, and interesting.
They were heading into a long Easter Weekend. IT comprised for for continuous holidays from Friday, the 6th of April through to Monday, the 9th.
Neil had been planning to use that period to visit the lower Rockies of British Columbia and Alberta. He was keen to see if Mabel too might join him.
This was a major change in his lifestyle of late.
A sort of a bachelor till this point, he was apt to either plan this trip all by himself, or perhaps with another like minded male friend.
Neil’s interests were not very commonplace among the Indian diaspora. And while he knew some of the local Canadians, he did not know too many that shared his interest exactly, either.
The thing is like this – a lot of Canadians liked to visit the mountains for recreation. Some where for skiing and going along powdery slopes on snow mobile. Neil was not keen on that. In fact he did now know how to ski and had not made a serious effort to learn.
Its not that he disliked the idea of skiing. But he found out, early on – that the industry was geared to generate a lot of money through these activities. So, going to ski was not easy, even in Canada, without spending a lot of money that eventually end up in the hands of corporations. Somehow, the notion of pristine spots on mountains being the property of businesses, and all the gear that one needs to own also costing far higher that they should, put him off this hobby.
He liked nature but liked the right to walk around in marshes and swamps and dry country and mountain slopes that were unspoiled and unmodified by man, as far as possible. Also, he could understand a nominal fee to visit some parks, where the money was used to maintain the area and prevent its degradation. But the spot of skiing, in Neil’s eyes – was a whole different thing that he did not wish to enter.
Hereabouts, near his own home, he liked to put on his hiking shoes and go walk along the Fraser riverbed or the dykes along the shoreline of the Pacific ocean, watching the lowland vegetation. He loved to look at the tireless rounds taken by the northern Harriers as it glided in slow circles above the reed bed in search of food.

A female Northern Harrier in search of food

It cost him virtually nothing to do that, and he felt closer to nature than in man made institutions to allow him to enjoy a sport that appeared to him to be also a fashion statement that required access to a measure of wealth in order to engage in it. Civilization was geared so one would constantly strive to earn more money, so one could spend it all away in order to make someone else rich.
Neil perhaps still had too much of his upbringing from rural landscapes of Bengal still in him. He had not yet fully merged with Canada. And so, skiing was out.
Snow shoeing was a different issue. It allowed one to walk on stretches of soft snow and usually in back country to see beautiful nature. Going in winter had an added protection in the sense that bears are likely to be hibernating or less active. This, to Neil was an academic and hypothetical issue. He knew Canada had bears and had seen enough black bears up close and Grizzly not so close, to appreciate that. However, he still could not mentally grasp the issue that he might encounter a bear suddenly at some remote spot, where the bear would be startled by him and might make a threatening charge.
Anyhow, snow shoe was something he might have gotten used to, especially since he liked nature.
But somehow, in his few years in Canada, he had not picked up this hobby, while still spending most of his time outdoors, just soaking in the new country. Perhaps he would try that out, along with snow hiking and outdoor living in tents this coming winter, perhaps with Mabel.
Meanwhile, there were still lots of things to see and places to visit, for him. One of them was the Yoho National park and the surroundings. And he was planning a trip there during the Easter holidays.

He had a specific attraction for the Yoho national park. It contained the Burgess mount and the famous fossil beds of Burgess Shale.
Some half a billion years ago – that is over five hundred million years in the past, North America was far from its current location. Neither were all the pieces of the present North America in one pice. But most of the parts lay on its side, at right angle to its current orientation. Further, the central portions of Canada was a shallow sea instead of the current high Rocky mountains. And the time frame was the Cambrian.
This was a period when life had evolved in the ocean, but had not yet invaded land. There was an explosion of diversity among the sea creatures, some of which left no descendant. Most were soft shell creatures. Backbone, or spinal column, had not yet evolved properly. The only hard bodied creature of high population were the trilobites.
And, the soil of the shallow sea bed was a very fine silt. Underwater land slides to deeper depths would occasionally bury some of these soft shelled creatures and the fine silt would preserve their shape. The depth would prevent their bodies rotting fast or being consumed by bacteria. Time and geologic forces would then convert the soft clay into shale and the remnants of the soft shell creatures into very rare fossils. So rare that the Burgess Shale deposit is recognized as one of the best sites for the Cambrian era fossils in the entire planet.

And Neil was interested to go there and check the area, out of curiosity. He knew the fossil beds were not open to public. Also, at this time, snow still covered the slopes. But he still wanted to look around the area.
Mabel had thought she might need to be in town on Friday for something relating to her work in her uncle’s construction business. Therefore, she could not confirm if she was able to go with him.
And now, the cryptic text message on his phone confirmed she was good to go with him on the 6th.

The light turned green. Neil concentrated on the road, and let the iPod read out a book while he navigated the roads from Knight Street on to the downtown area of Vancouver.
He was onto the eighth chapter of Bernard Wood’s book on evolution and came to the issue of multi-regional against our of Africa theories about the evolution of modern humans. The issue of how to define a modern human was being talked about, along with the issue of possible Euro-centrism in the view that not only modern civilization evolved in Europe, but also modern man.
The fact that ancient cave paintings, a sign of advancement in human evolution, was there in Europe and not in Africa, was being used as evidence that Africa did not evolve modern humans.
But, as the book was careful to mention – there were other scientists, some of them from Europe itself, that pointed out two major faults in this theory. The first was – there were cave paintings in Africa. It is just that people were not searching for them in context of human evolution, and these cave paintings were not exactly where human evolution was thought to have originated, in Africa. The second problem was – in order to have cave paintings, a region should have caves in the first place. The region were the species evolved into a more modern form, did not have much caves.
Neil was absorbed in the book and thought back on the issue of the first humans in North America. People were still debating on this. Originally, the notion was that the folks came across the Bering strait at a time when the ice age locked up so much of the water on land glaciers that the corresponding low sea levels exposed vast tracts of land thus providing a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska. Humans might have inadvertently crossed over to North America while following the Wooly Mammoth.
Alternately, they could have island hopped over the Aleutian island range. Or, if Asia was not the best candidate, the could have come from Europe.
Some believe that the ancient stone tools in Spain resemble the early stone tools of humans in North America. Therefore, they say the origin of the first humans in North America could have been Iberian rather than Siberian.
Clovis point stone tools, supposed to be of Asian origin and carried by the early humans – is also under scrutiny. One recent view is that the Clovis point technology might be wholly home grown in North America. This means, humans might have come even earlier, to the continent, and then lived long enough to evolve a new kind of stone technology.
Some recent archaeological finds seem to point signs of the first arrivals to around 50,000 years in the past. This can essentially turn conventional wisdom about the origin and propagation of modern humans on its head.
Neil pulled his car into the underground parking lot.
Modern humans of thirty, forty or fifty thousand years in the past will have to wait. For now, he was heading into the Rockies to have a look at the places that gave rise to the grand parents of modern humans, the first of the multi-cellular ocean creatures of the Cambrian period – over five hundred million years old.
And, Mabel was likely to be with him.

An Eagle in the heronry

He was fast asleep when the phone rang. It was not normal for Neil to be in bed till past 8 AM, even on a holiday. Besides, this was to be a bright and sunny day, according to the weather forecast online. It had been overcast and raining up to Saturday, and it would be raining against Monday onwards.
So, his plan was to make the most of it, by rising early, and heading out first to the heronry at the base of the route 17 as it headed out into the ocean for the ferry terminal at Tsawwassen. He often wondered who decided to name it, and spell it, that way. It was one of the more difficult names he had come across. It could easily have been spelled Tuasen or something.
Anyhow, the natural heronry at that location had come into prominence only recently. It was reported that a mass nesting site across the border at Point Roberts, USA, was the chosen site for many of the herons. But then an increasing number of bald eagles started nesting there too, with the aim of grabbing the large heron eggs as food for their own growing eagle chicks. Matters went so far as to prompt a group of herons to abandon that site and go look for another suitable one for mass nesting. And they found this spot at the edge of land merely twenty or so miles to the north, and just across the border in Canada.
And this season, the numbers had swelled to over 250 nests – about the largest nesting colony of great blue herons Neil had ever seen in his life.
It was there, that Neil had planned to visit early in the morning. But, his creator, meaning the writer of the story, Tonu, got up late. He went to sleep late the previous night. And so, as the writer got up late, by default Neil too, got up late. But in the case of Neil, he was woken up by a phone. The writer, Tonu, had to get up by himself without any external stimulant other than the light coming in through the large bedroom window.

Neil had fished for the telephone at the bed side table, while still have asleep.
“Hi, this is Mabel, morning.”
“Umm” Neil rubbed his eyes with his free hand. “Morning”. He squinted at his watch.
“Did I wake you up?” Mabel sounded surprised.
“Umm, yes, but thanks. What time is it ?” He was still squinting at the watch.
“Its ten past eight. You were to pick me up a half hour ago” Mabel laughed. “No harm done. Just wondered if the trip is still on.”
“Fuck .. Yes its still on, of course. Jesus, how did I sleep so late !” Neil was now fully awake. He got off the bed, found his slippers, and shuffled off to the toilet, still holding the chord-less phone to his ear.
“Give me another twenty minutes Mabel. My apology. I shall pick you up. Fuck” The last expletive was an uncharacteristic curse Neil had directed at himself. Normally, he would not be late, and even if he was, he would be relaxed about it since the change in schedule only involved him and no one else. But here, he had involved Mabel, and then failed to keep the time.
“Fuck” he cursed himself again.
“Relax, Neil. Its cool. Take your time, I shall have two mugs of coffee ready.”
“Great”, Neil was ready to gargle with the mouth wash, and brush his teeth. “What coffee?”
“Your favorite – Expresso instant”
“Okay, shall buzz you as I approach.. Mwaa, see ya”
That was then.

Meanwhile, the writer, Tonu, had done his own thing, including making his coffee. He had loaded two of his favorite cameras with two of his favorite lenses, and headed out by route 17 towards the Tsawwassen Ferry, the place with the impossible name, some twenty odd kilometer from his home in the south-west, and within a thousand feet from the US border.
On the southern end of Delta, to the west, the city had built two deep water terminals, to help the sparesely populated town to also benefit from economic activities of trade and transport without having to rely on nearby townships. But the ocean front on the pacific side as well as the bay on the south east were gently sloping and shallow soft mud deposited table of the continental shelf, not the best suited for development of ports.
To overcome this barrier, the city had built, on the pacific coast and just north of the US border, two long fingers of of road leading out into the ocean. Instead of building a bridge which may not survive major earth quakes in this quake prone area, the passage was built up with gravel and rock piled up from the sea bed. One of these two terminals were for cargo, and was called Delta Port. The other, further south and almost touching the border, was the passenger ferry terminal.
It was at the base of this road leading to the passenger terminal that the herons had selected for their mass resting. And it was there, that Tonu was headed.

Neil had put on a Canadian made wool-cotton blend button down insulated full sleeve shirt over a pair of jeans and his time trusted hiking boots. All this he did almost on the run.
Since he got involved with Mabel, he had taken to using mouth wash a lot, conscious that his mouth might smell odd to her, with his particular disorganized eating habits. Neil was effectively changing, and adjusting to accommodate another person inside his circle.
Mabel too had sort of dressed for the occasion, basically having a baseball cap on her head, and a blue-grey hiking jacket on, zipped at front and without a hood. She was wearing thick cotton jeans of brown color and had a pair of hiking shows. She even had a backpack on, and was holding two carry on mugs, presumably with the instant espresso coffee that she had promised to make.
She looked lovely, with the hair on her pony tail that stuck out of the back of her cap.
Neil waved at her and pulled the car over. She tossed the backpack in the back seat and got in, placing the two insulated mugs into the cup holders. Then she leaned over and kissed him briskly on his lips.
“You look lovely” Neil mentioned, meaning it. “And again, I am sorry I was late.”
Mabel placed her finger on his lips, silencing him.
Neil turned towards the highway, getting in the right lane for it, and took a sip of the coffee. “Aaah” .. It felt good as the caffein worked its way down his gullet.
“Want a snack?” Mabel fished out a wrap of paper from her jacket pocket and opened it, handing him a cookie.
Overhead, he could see a number of immature bald eagles chasing each other, and even a few adult ones. This was likely the season of the bald eagles to fight, to court, and to nest and raise chicks. The sky was often full of the shrill cry of bald eagles.
It felt good to be living in British Columbia, Neil thought.
“Its great, you know?” He said as he slowed to take an exit from the highway, on to route 17.
“Yeah… what is ?”
Neil nodded, tilting his head her way. “Everything. This bright blue sky. Me living in British columbia. Those eagles crying in the sun. You sitting next to me, and the radio weather and traffic channel talking about powdery snow falling on the mountains around us, while here down at the valley, the temperature is five, and the day looks so gorgeous.”
He slowed and turned right, into route 17, and looked around the agricultural field and dykes. There were blackbirds and sparrows in the low bushes. A ring necked pheasant browsed the grassland at the edge of the road ahead of them, and ran off as their car came closer.
In the air, a group of five long necked trumpeter swans flew north. He partly lowered the driven and passenger side windows and slowed the car slightly. Sure enough, the call fo the swans came through into the car. Mabel had noted the swans and were watching them, her face opening up in a wide smile.
Neil wished he was not moving, and that he had his camera in hand. But he was not complaining. He had the swans in his camera from other times. There were not many countries or regions in the world, where you could hear swans while driving.
“This is what Canada is, to me.”
Mabel smiled and nodded.
“And you, of course.”
Mabel nodded in mock seriousness. “Of course”.

A great blue heron at the Heronry

He pulled his car into the truck and trailer parking lot at the side of the road leading to the passenger ferry. Right ahead of them was the steep bank where the hill started.
At the base there was a cluster of tall black cottonwood trees, with dogwoods at their base and smaller shrubs leading up to some shallow fresh water ponds.

It was on the tall deciduous trees that the herons made their countless nests.
They stepped out of the car and onto the fresh air and sunlight. Behind them to the northwest, the highway 17 carried a few fast moving vehicles to the terminal. They could see beyond it the waters of the pacific, and Deltaport further away. There were ships alongside the jetty and cargo work was going on. Giant cranes perched over the ships.
In front of them, was the stretch of bushy lowland with a shallow fresh water marsh, where the frogs had started their cacophony – this being the first of the warm days of spring.

Across the denuded shrubs, stood the tall series of also denuded cottonwood trees, like tall sentinels. They could see behind the trees the land rise sharply to be the base of the hills. And in those denuded cottonwood trees, there were nests for herons. Countless numbers. The trees were chock full of herons that were jostling, crying out and pecking at each other, in a fierce struggle for maintaining their little patch of treetop real estate, while also busy either building nests, or attracting a partner to share the nest with.
Neil opened the trunk, took out the tripod with the swinging gimbal head for his camera, and set it on the ground, extending its legs to the fullest. He took out the long lens and proceeded to attach it to one of his cameras.
He kept one of his cameras, attached to a long black Sigma lens inside a grey canvas backpack designed for toting photographic material. He used it because it allowed him to store the camera body still attached to the long lens. He did not have to attach and detach the lens from the camera each time he used it. Besides, the backpack had many configurable pockets to store more lens, battery, flash and stuff.
Nest to the backpack, were two field guides, a binocular, and two books on sustainability.
Mabel leaned over and picked up one of the two books.
Neil adjusted the camera on the gimbal stand, balancing it  in the stand,  with the lens extended to full focal length. In that position, the heavy camera-lens combination would not tilt forward or back on its own weight in the gimbal cradle, even if he did not tighten the holding screws. That way, it could be freely swung side to side as well as up and down without having to fight against the force of gravity.
“Whats this ?” Mabel asked, flipping through the blue paperback book.
Neil glanced sideways. “Ahh, I have not fully read it yet. Its title says what the book is about.”
Mabel read through the title softly – “Beyond growth”. She turned it to read the back cover.
Neil lifted the Gimbal head so that the viewfinder of the camera was at his eye level, and he did not have to crouch to look through it.
Before he could train the camera at the herons, a soft chirping sound nearby drew his attention.
On a shrub a few yards from Neil, a solitary robin chirped advertising itself. Neil turned the camera on the bird, and pressed the video record button. The camera could take stills and high definition video. On the screen, he could see the birds throat swell, its beak opened and oscillate, every time it chirped. The sound of the chirp came clearly through to him. He was conscious that the built in microphone was prone to pick up wind noises and amplify them. Ideally, he should be able to use an external and directional mike that would pick up the sound without the wind. But, this was primarily a high end still camera that could also take some video.
The bird kept chirping for a minute.
Neil kept filming.
Mabel, seeing the bird, closed the book and watched silently.
To their north and west, one of the ships at Deltaport sounded its air horn – that penetrated the air above the blue ocean waters, and came to the bird and to Neil. The bird stopped in mid call, and flew off.
Neil stopped the recording.
Mabel stepped closer, watching the heronry, but still clutching the book, by Herman E. Daly.
Neil wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her slightly closer in a sign of affection, before releasing her.
He left the tripod mounted camera and returned to the opn trunk of his car, fishing out his second camera.
Mabel watched the herons. “There are so many of them”
Neil nodded. “I think they have not hatched their eggs yet, or if they have, the babies have already grown. I do not see a tiny one anywhere.”
“Why do you think they have not hatched yet ?”
“Well, I am not sure when exactly they hatch. But you can see, many of these birds are coming down to those bushes by the marsh at the base of the trees, picking up twigs and sticks, and flying up to their nests to use the twigs as lining. They appear to be still engaged in nest building.”
“Yes. I can see that” Mabel nodded, turning towards the trunk of the car. “Can I use the binocular ?”
“Of course. You don’t need to ask.”
Back at the mound where Neil had placed his first camera, Mabel watched the nests, and the birds, through the binocular.
Neil attached another long zoom lens from Sony on his second camera and slung it over his neck, closing the trunk of the car.
Mabel lowered the binocular and pointed with her left hand – “There, looks like eagles are around too.”
Neil had noticed them. “Yes, there is a relationship in these areas, between heronry and eagle nests.”
He lifted the handheld camera to his eyes and looked at the tree tops, and then to the single mature bald eagle — and followed its path till he spotted the second eagle.
“There – the eagle nest. There is an eagle on it already. I think it is hatching an egg, the way she is sitting there.”
Mabel looked up, and shifted slightly to get a better look.
The robin came back and perched itself at the top of the brush again. It watched them briefly before starting its advertising calls again.
To the east, the puff of cloud had cleared, and the horizontal rays of the sun struck the heronry from the side, creating a contrast to the hitherto subdued scene.
The second eagle, sitting on a lone branch close to its nest, lifted its head skyward, opened its yellow beak, and let out a series of shrill calls, its white head lighted by the sun and in high contrast against the darker gray and greed shades of the trees in the shadow behind it.
It was going to be a fine day – Neil thought.