Awe Walks in Fall

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Every year during this time, I write about apple-picking, scrunchy leaves, blazing oranges and fiery reds, pumpkin-spiced beverages and the thrill of spooky decorations. At some point it all becomes part of the same old routine – a mere backdrop for lists and errands. And soon enough, the sense of awe surrounding Autumn starts to slip away.

According to a new study by researchers at the UC San Francisco Memory and Aging Center (MAC) and the Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI), a regular dose of awe boosts healthy emotions such as compassion and gratitude. It’s a reminder to shift our energy outward and be aware of the expanse of life around us, be it in an urban setting or amidst nature. A rather vague emotion, although on the happier side, awe is that feeling that something is larger or more consequential than us, something unfathomable preferably. Awe is everywhere – we just need to feel it and hold on to it. Like a child exploring the world for the first time.

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Children are more used to being in awe. Everything is new and wonderful to them. We went for a drive this weekend and my two year old picked up random leaves, sticks and stones until his pockets burst. It was all so precious to him. Most grown ups I know, including myself, would much sooner mull over all the chores that needed to be done before the week starts than walk around marveling at rocks.

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

What if, for a moment, we let go all of that and look at the world around us with fresh, childlike eyes? Pay attention to the dinosaur roaring from the clouds overhead, note the evergreen standing tall and unyielding amidst the fury of the changing colors, and once in a while, glance down to follow the bug trundling along a tall blade of grass. In short, cultivate awe. And yes, novelty helps but with the pandemic around us, we have to be content with playing tourist in our backyard.

The study and the subsequent findings are subjective as you really can’t measure a “sense of awe.” If only happiness and a sense of well-being could be prescribed so easily, and ever so simply, then we would have solved half the world’s problems. All misgivings aside, I would rather practice awe-walk instead of letting a tangle of mundane thoughts cloud my brain. With that in mind, here are some more pictures from my recent awe-walk, where I tried to focus on the here, and the now.

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Fall Fun in Blue Jay Orchards

A Bethel Landmark. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Anyone who lives in and around Bethel will tell you that it begins to feel like Fall when we pick up a batch or ten of Blue Jay Orchard’s Apple Cider Donuts. Yes, there’s the apples, the pumpkin patch and a farm store which sells all sorts of baked goodies, syrups, ciders, jams and even local honey, but the donut is in a class by itself. Pillowy in texture with a crunchy sugary coating and just the right amount of decadence, it embodies the very essence of the season. Sorry, pumpkin-spiced latte.

Located in the northeastern corner of the lovely little town of Bethel, this self-sustaining 122-plus acres of orchard has over 20 varieties of apples and attracts visitors from New York and New Jersey. Last Saturday the parking lot got full within hours of opening, but luckily, we were there a day earlier, on Friday.

Feels like home. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Pumpkins galore. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Kids in masks. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Little learner. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
The patch. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
A yearly ritual. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

We made a beeline for the apple trees and filled up our bag with juicy red Cortlands. I read that it took 10 years to take down the full-sized apple trees growing there and move to dwarf apple trees so as to make it easier for us visitors to reach. They were not offering wagon rides this year and rightfully so but other regulars like the tractor and the height chart were there to give us a much-needed sense of normalcy in these abnormal times.

The haul in the background. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

We usually stay longer but this year was different. We wandered around less, remained conscious of maintaining distance with the other visitors especially those without masks, and of course, we didn’t spend as much time in the store.

With everything changing around us, it’s nice to have this constant, this same old friendly orchard with its same old apples. Same old me going through tons of apple recipes before deciding on apple muffins. Same as we did last year and the one before that and so on. It’s a tradition in the making, and a beautiful Bethel one at that.

Late Summer Hike – Lover’s Leap State Park

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

“Lovers. Oh that word bums me out unless it’s between meat and pizza,” said Liz Lemon in 30 Rock. I agree wholeheartedly. Same, Liz, same.

Legend has it that Princess Lillinonah, daughter of Chief Waramaug, canoed to her death into the “Great Falls” when her white lover failed to return. In true Romeo and Juliet fashion, he arrived just in time to see her in the waters and leapt to his death in an attempt to save her.

Located in southern New Milford, this historic 140 acre park started taking shape in 1971 when Catherine Hurd bequeathed her 52 acre estate to the State of Connecticut for use as a public park. In 2001, more land was added by EverSource, then known as Connecticut Light & Power, when it sold the adjoining acres to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection.

The view. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

For very little effort we reached this serene lookout and spotted a couple of kayaks from our vantage point up there. A trail system and the Housatonic River join forces throughout the park, while an old railroad abutment provides a nice fishing spot, and best of all, there’s a kayak/canoe rest area.

Below are a few more pics from the hike.

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Mushrooms on the trail. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Tilted. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Falls Bridge. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Falls Bridge. Photo by Pinaki Chakraborty. All rights reserved ©

As one of only four iron lenticular truss bridges remaining in Connecticut, the Falls Bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Built by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company in 1895, it’s a pretty sight and if you look closer, it has little locks on it put in by visitors. Lovers, maybe. Ugh. That dreaded word again.

If you go, aim for early morning to avoid the crowds. It saddens me to say that people have left trash at some places, and when we were on our way back to the parking lot, we saw a group that didn’t exactly seem interested in hiking. As this pandemic continues to take over our lives, hiking is one of the few activities left that can be enjoyed out of doors, but we can do so only if people are mindful of others and follow the Leave No Trace (LNT) policy.

So please, leave no trace.

Stillness

Giuffrida Park, Meriden, CT. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Last weekend we went for a hike in our home state and as I looked at the photos, Maria Popova’s now famous words Build pockets of stillness into your life kept coming back to me. Being still is an adventure in itself and not easily achievable, especially with a to-do list that keeps on growing and restless kids. But one can try.

Giuffrida Park, Meriden, CT. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

So try we did.

Giuffrida Park, Meriden, CT. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

It was glorious. She is right, folks. Build pockets of stillness into your life.

A Stroll Through Waveny Park

Waveny Park
Waveny Park in New Canaan, CT. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

As summer keeps rolling on, taking with it bit by bit the late sunsets and early sunrises, we seem to treasure our staycation more and more. We didn’t go to Maine as is the norm most summer, but instead, we played tennis and explored our home state of Connecticut.

Along with the rest of the world, we are trying to make the best of 2020, a year stripped down to the bare basics. A year of quiet contemplation for some, and untold hardships for others. For some of us, it’s a bit of both.

Brothers. Waveny Park in New Canaan, CT. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Waveny House, also known as Waveny Castle and “the Big House” was entrusted to the Town of New Canaan by Ruth Lapham Lloyd in 1967. As with most big houses of that era, it came with an entire estate, which today, consists of 300 acres of fields, ponds, and trails. The vastness came in handy for the purpose of social-distancing.

Waveny Park in New Canaan, CT. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

You know what else it is good for? Racing with your eight-year-old. I even made it to his journal. See the look of determination on my face in the beginning and then compare it to my look at the end. I was this close to winning you see!

Sketched hastily in pen but it does its job of capturing the moment. #ArtbyA

Remember Doc from Back to the Future and Uncle Fester in The Addams Family? Well, Doc aka Christopher Lloyd is Ruth’s youngest child and has fond memories of spending a lot of time in these woods with his pal Ricky, a German shepherd. Apparently, he used to paddle around the pond and collect snakes and bring them back to the house. Our two-year-old picked up a few pebbles and have since made a small pile in the trunk of our car. When it comes to collections, to each their own.

Iconic. Source: Reel 360

Back then, Doc had 450 acres of wilderness to explore and almost no interaction with neighbors. In the interview that I read, he doesn’t mention coyotes (we saw a sign for them) but he does talk about his fascination with snakes. Had there been a chance encounter with either species, we would have been equally terrified and may have unanimously voted to stay indoors the rest of summer.

Yup, we go where few dare. Waveny Park in New Canaan, CT. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Later on, his mother, Ruth, gave away parts of the land to the Talmadge Hill train station, the Waveny Health Care Center and New Canaan High School. From what I understand, she was charitable by nature, as she also donated $750,000 to the New Canaan Library and $3 million to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This was in the 1970s, when the Met was facing financial hardships. If nothing, I am thankful to her for saving a place like the Met, which is entangled with a lot of happy memories, and boy, do we need those more than ever now!

Waveny Park in New Canaan, CT. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Waveny Park was owned by Thomas Wells Hall from 1894 to 1904. In 1904, Ruth’s father, Lewis Henry Lapham, director of United States Leather and a co-founder of the Texaco Oil Company, bought the property as a summer estate, renamed it Waveny, and expanded it from 280 acres to 450 acres.

If you are wondering why the Laphams renamed it Waveny, it’s because their ancestry can be traced back to Devonshire in southwestern England, wherein flowed the Waveney River, and so Lewis Henry Lapham’s wife Antoinette named it the Waveny Farm.

Waveny Park in New Canaan, CT. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

The only wildlife we encountered was a kaleidoscope of butterflies in the garden pictured above, and on our way back, it wasn’t easy reaching a consensus on the exact number of butterflies we saw. Two-year-old said 3 and eight-year-old maintained a strong 20.

If you happen to go there for a stroll, let me know how many butterflies you encounter.

Deck Chairs, Bagels, Dragons and Books

Daffodils from a dear friend.

Rearrange-the-deck-chairs-on-the-Titanic means “to do something pointless or insignificant that will soon be overtaken by events, or that contributes nothing to the solution of a current problem” and it neatly sums up how I feel all the time these days. Then I read Emily Flake’s I Was In Charge Of The Deck Chairs On The Titanic, And They Absolutely Did Need Rearranging on the one and only Mc.Sweeney’s Internet Tendency and it pretty much set me right.

She reminds us how the seemingly meaningless things that we do every day matters. They matter a lot. So much so that sometimes it’s all we have. Even when the world as we know is changing, people are getting sick and economies are crumbling.

She ends the piece with these poignant lines “Your efforts matter as much as they always did, which is to say not one little tiny bit, except that they are the most precious of things — they are your heart. Take care of your heart, my friends, and I shall see you on the other side.”

I took heart in her words and I plodded on.

You must be thinking, what’s a travel writer gonna do when all travel is canceled? What’s a mom gonna do when school drop offs have been replaced by online learning and a glance-over at your kid before he signs in on that Google Meet?

No weekend plans. No sports. The list is long. But I can’t complain. There are people out there who are doing so much more. Contributing in so many ways. And not just health workers and grocery store people. That friend who offered to do her neighbor’s shopping. That person who gave that extra large tip. The delivery guy who went the extra mile. The neighbor who left a box of books by the door. Or a bag of flour. Or a tall bottle of wine.

Memorial Day Weekend, the great summer-starter came and went with little fanfare. We didn’t grill. Maybe it had something to do with the weather but we did do a bagel taste test. We kneaded the dough and baked our own bagels. Then we went nuts with the toppings. Classics like lox and cream cheese were set aside in favor of variety and fun.

After much deliberation, our eight-year-old ever-so-slightly biased judge picked the cheddar cheese and chicken sausages as the winner.

Rings of dough!
This set has the winning combo!

Top from left we have chicken sausage with sun-dried tomatoes on shredded cheddar cheese, then on the right we have honey and sea-salt over ricotta cheese, in the middle we have almond butter and strawberry jam, followed by cherry tomatoes and window-sill scallions on olive tapenade hummus. The last row has slow-roasted spicy salmon leftovers with scallions and lastly, a liberal sprinkling of TJ’s famous bagel seasoning over soft-boiled eggs.

In my opinion, the fig butter was a close contender.

Top from left there’s sliced avocado with some more of the famous seasoning, then a bagel top to show how proud I was of the shape, then there’s fig butter on the middle left, after which comes the strawberry with cream cheese, followed by cucumbers and butter, and finally, black olives on hummus.

If you are thinking, what’s the point of all this? It’s all part of rearranging those damn deck chairs. If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

The lockdown (self-imposed or otherwise) has given rise to so many artists getting together to entertain kids. There’s too many of them for me to mention everyone but there’s #DrawTogether with WendyMac – a 30-minute live drawing class for kids. I ignored the kids part and drew a dragon with her. My kids have been entrusted with building a story around this fiery self-sufficient dragon.

Wendy doing her thing!
My dragon. I think she is pretty.

Again, that’s me rearranging deck chairs.

There’s Mo Willems with his Lunch Doodles and Thank You Thursdays. There’s J.K. Rowling with a new book Ickabog that’s being released chapter by chapter online! As an unabashed Harry Potter fan, I am excited about it.

Speaking of books, my mother has this amazing collection. She would often pick out books for me to read at an age when I was mostly into Enid Blytons and didn’t care for much else. When I was in first or second grade, she gave me a copy of Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb. On my behest, she had marked all the comedies so I could get started on those first. I had no intention of reading “sad stories” but then I got hooked and read everything. And not just once.

So imagine my utter delight when I watched this Netflix Original recommended by my aunt and found that Tales from Shakespeare, my book, has been converted into a magnificent plot device. The movie’s name is quite a mouthful. It’s called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and it’s simply lovely. It has made me go look for Anne Bronte’s work. Turns out this lesser known of the Bronte sisters was a bit of a genius in her own right.

While on the subject of dark geniuses, Fleabag on Prime and Dead to Me on Netflix warranted some binge-watching on my part. They are not everyone’s cup of tea but oh so good!

Go watch them, or draw with Mo, or make music with Yo-Yo Ma (he is playing live on Facebook often these days) or write or do whatever it is you feel like doing. Nothing matters and everything does.

Walks, Boredom and Finding Magic in the Mundane

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

I am going to do the unthinkable and begin my post with a quote. Friedrich Nietzsche once said “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” While I don’t know about that, what I am certain about is that he wasn’t talking about neighborhood strolls with a couple of kids who have been cooped up at home for more than a month now.

I know we are immensely lucky to be able to hunker down when there are people out there risking their lives on a daily basis. My two year old doesn’t know that. Neither does the neighbor’s dog. So our walks often consist of each of us making sure that our dogs and kids maintain the appropriate distance of six feet while simultaneously squealing at each other.

My eight year old is perpetually bored. I tried telling him that boredom inspires greatness and how Neil Gaiman has advised wannabe writers to “get bored” and then I showed him this passage from Nicholas Carr’s blog

“We don’t like being bored because boredom is the absence of engaging stimulus, but boredom is valuable because it requires us to fill that absence out of our own resources, which is process of discovery, of doors opening. The pain of boredom is a spur to action, but because it’s pain we’re happy to avoid it. Gadgetry means never having to feel that pain, or that spur. The web expands to fill all boredom. That’s dangerous for everyone, but particularly so for kids, who, without boredom’s spur, may never discover what in themselves or in their surroundings is most deeply engaging to them.”

He nodded in agreement and went back to playing Minecraft. So as is the norm, we had to persuade him to accompany us for the afore-mentioned walk. Then we convinced him to wear a jacket, Spring being that in-between New England season where winter jackets are a tad too much but there’s still a hint of chilliness in a sudden gust of wind.

We have contemplated leaving him behind, but he is only eight years old and he needs the fresh air and exercise. I know what you are thinking, yes, dogs are easier. They like walks. So do toddlers. They are usually excited about the littlest of things like shoes and walks, but of course, they are also just as easily frustrated when things don’t go their way. Like when you try holding their hand during a particularly steep downhill stretch of the road that they would rather just tumble down?

So, to make the walk more bearable and somewhat less dangerous, we did a scavenger hunt inspired by an Instagram post from Earthplace.

Scavenger Hunt 2020.

We looked out for bugs, found rocks and twigs, compared colors of leaves, looked up at the cloud-filled sky and picked up acorns. We paid attention. And when you pay attention, the mundane becomes magic.

Paying attention.

Some people have this gift, they can easily find beauty in the everyday. Much like Jason Polan, who was working on drawing every person in New York (he drew over 30,000 people) and whose book Every Piece of Art in the Museum of Modern Art is an American treasure. He walked around with his pen and paper, drew what he saw, and by doing so he made the unremarkable remarkable.

We, on the other hand, took photos of what we saw. It kept the kids busy for a while. But still, there was no room for “truly great thoughts” as envisioned by Nietzsche. Most of our thoughts revolved around all the hand-washing and disinfecting that would follow this short expedition.

The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum

Intrepid Museum
USS Intrepid. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Way before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we took a trip to New York City for a day of history and adventure aboard the historic aircraft carrier, USS Intrepid. It was Kids’ Week and the queue was long but it was worth it. Apart from having one of the most varied aircraft collections on the East Coast, it has interactive exhibits, flight simulators, submarines and a space shuttle pavilion. Many of the exhibits are tailored towards kids, even without all the story-telling, music and crafts that accompanied Kids’ Week. All five of the U.S. armed forces (The Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard) are represented through these displays.

Here’s a little about the Intrepid itself lifted straight from their website. “Launched in 1943, the former aircraft carrier USS Intrepid fought in World War II, surviving five kamikaze attacks and one torpedo strike. The ship later served in the Cold War and the Vietnam War. Intrepid also served as a NASA recovery vessel in the 1960s. It was decommissioned in 1974, and today is berthed on the Hudson River as the centerpiece of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.”

Intrepid Musuem
North American FJ-3 Fury. Photo by Pinaki Chakraborty. All rights reserved ©

Above is a picture of the North American FJ-3 Fury. The original type was introduced to active service in 1955. The museum’s collection represents some of the finest in military aviation but I didn’t get to take photos of all of them. Neither have I documented the experiences aboard the record-breaking Concorde and its sophisticated flight deck. If you are wondering which record it broke, well, it crossed the Atlantic in 2 hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds on February 7, 1996.

Intrepid Museum
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Shown above is one of the four propellers that moved the Intrepid and together they could reach maximum speeds approaching 32 knots. Today’s aircraft carriers travel at about the same speed. The Intrepid was scheduled to be towed away from Pier 86 for repair work in the November of 2006. But her propellers were stuck in the mud at the bottom of the Hudson River and she did not budge from her spot. A month later, a team of tugboats managed to pull her free, and after removing all four propellers, she was dry-docked in 2007.

Intrepid Museum
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Now you know why kids love this place.

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Open air exhibits gave kids more place to run around.

Intrepid Museum
Photo by Pinaki Chakraborty. All rights reserved ©

Catch me if you can!

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

I enjoyed Kids’ Week a little more than I should have, especially while listening to Fortunately, a fabulous book by Remy Charlip.

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

This 6’x 6′ LEGO mosaic is composed of over 50,000 bricks in 20 different colors and as you step away from it you can see the pattern of Enterprise atop the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft emerge. Conceptualized by Master Builder Ed Diment, hundreds of people built this mosaic collectively from July 26-28, 2013.

Intrepid Museum
Intrepid’s Port Side Aircraft Elevator. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Intrepid was an early adapter when it came to having a full-size elevator on the edge of its decks. “Measuring roughly 60 feet by 34 feet, the elevator could move an aircraft that weighed up to 30,000 pounds from the hangar deck to the flight deck in just 10 seconds!” This amazing feature allowed Intrepid’s crew to quickly access the aircraft and get ready for missions. It was also used for recreational purposes.

The elevator became operational again in 2008, but it’s much slower now, so we had ample time to take in the Manhattan skyline and a learn a bit of history. By the way, Radio City Music Hall uses a similar technology to raise and lower the stage.

New York City
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

It was one of those winter afternoons, when a blue-gray New York sky stole the thunder from the exhibits for a rather long-ish spell.

Now it’s Spring and the dreaded virus has spread farther than we could have ever imagined. We are staying home. To all the nurses and doctors, delivery people, grocery store workers, and other essential job holders, we are beyond grateful.

Super Bowl 2020 – Smaht Pahk

Try saying Remote Smart Parking Assist. It’s a mouthful, isn’t it? So Hyundai decided to make it short and memorable. They also threw in a regional accent, and not satisfied with just throwing it in, they made the accent the star. Thus was born “smaht pahk.”

It helped that they got Bostonians Chris Evans, John Krasinski, Rachel Dratch and David Ortiz to entertain us for a whole 60 secs while simultaneously plugging the new feature. You can pahk it and even unpahk it, all with the help of a clickah!

Minute-long Super Bowl commercials often keep the product a secret for a good 45 seconds. Not this ad. They went for it right from the beginning and it worked.

It’s wicked smaht, that’s what it is.

New Year’s Resolutions – Why Bother?

As a child, I used to make resolutions diligently but as I have grown older I have stopped making them. It’s the daily changes and habits that matter and those can be modified right this instant. Choose a healthier lunch, skip the chips, drink water – that sort of thing. You don’t have to wait for First of January to start something that’s good for you.

Also, sometimes it’s okay to sleep in, it’s fine to grab that greasy burger with the extra fries, and the sugary drink. As Brian Bilston puts it, our “glorious failures” and “sublime imperfections” are what makes us human. Makes us feel alive. And I wouldn’t give that up for the world.

Although many aspects of Bilston remains shrouded in mystery, I know he is British so when he says fags he means cigarettes. I thought I should throw in a disclaimer in case any of you were wondering.

While resolutions don’t work I do like goal-setting. That helps me keep in mind all the things I plan to do this new year. More travel, for one.

And more play. I think I have forgotten how to.