Swamp

I remember the time my father lost a tire in a swamp,

and went back the next morning to find it.

An ordinary day in an ordinary country-

of little liberty and ample beauty.

Here I am in another ordinary country, 

on another ordinary day.

Losing myself in a swamp-

and finding it, next morning.

The heat breaks on this summer night-

as I think of the little rights remaining,

and the ample beauty still left.

Where continuity stands in the way

of liberation-

it is incredible that water lilies still bloom,

year after year, summer after summer,

as civilizations rise and fall.

And all I can leave you with is this-

an uncertain metaphor 

in a world of alternate facts,

and rusty religions,

go spend some time by a swamp.

So that you can live, to clear it 

another day.

Saranac (from Iroquois meaning- Cluster of Stars)

I have never seen a star that I have not seen.

When despair for the world grew, Wendell Berry came to The Peace of Wild Things and “felt above him the day-blind stars waiting with their light”.

He came to wild things because he was not with his light. 

And the future found his words, waiting with their light, in times of despair.

Primo Levi saw The Black Stars, where “The sky is strewn with horrible dead suns, Dense sediments of mangled atoms.”, and where “Light itself falls back down, broken by its own weight…”.2

If all is stardust, why is one better than the other.

Why did Berry’s words not find its way to Levi?

“Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light; I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” said The Old Astronomer to His Pupil, as told by Sarah Williams.3

If you do not learn a star now, how do I believe you will stand up for a constellation.

“Heart from heart is all as far, Fafaia, as star from star.” wrote Rupert Brooke.

If I have to explode to create, then so be it.

If you are in awe, how can you be in the heart of things.

I have never seen a star that I have seen.

1- The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry – Scottish Poetry Library

2- Poem Of The Week: ‘The Black Stars’ By Primo Levi (1919-1987)

3- Twilight Hours Quotes by Sarah Williams

4- Fafaia

A Day’s Risings

My morning started in a tangled web of light and lilypads, grass and pines, one that is weaved in a deceitful way, but also without any intent to deceive. It is easy to skip them and ride on to the “‘better views” or the “High Peaks”. Aldo Leopold noted in A Sand County Almanac- “Like ions shot from the sun, the week-enders radiate from every town, generating heat and friction as they go.”. Though not a peak bagger, I used to be one of those weekenders. But now I have time on my side. And I hope the tide is too.

It is pre-dawn in the bog, as if someone has scattered labradorite dust in the air, a spectacle that would rapidly disappear with the rising sun, a blue abscondee that vows to blanket the marsh again in another turn of the celestial rock. There is hardly a chance of anyone showing up here anytime soon, and so I let Moose, the dog, run off leash. It was a mistake! Moose sensed the presence of the geese before I heard their honk, and disappeared in the swamp. After a few minutes of frantic calling, he returned with a dejected look, covered in mud and sticks, while the geese soared in the first light of the day.

I decide to walk around the bog with Moose, now on a leash, and watch the early profusion of lilypads. Spring was on steroids, catalyzed by the intense heat over the past few days. It is supposed to rain later in the day. I have plans to hike a nearby mountain but I need to decide on bringing Moose. He is anxious about thunderstorms and I am anxious about losing him if he breaks the leash and runs away.

It is later in the day. We are hiking the mountain. We both decided to face our respective anxieties today. I can neither confirm nor deny whether the puppy eyes of abandonment while I was leaving for the hike was a factor in the decision. Fortunately, there are no signs of thunderstorms yet. Moose is happily running along the trail and playing with sticks. Soon, we reached the summit just as the clouds burst in the horizon.

Mountains and ravines stretching as far as the eyes can gleam, a downpour here, a piercing shaft of light there; how does a thunderstorm decide which range gets the growl, and who deserves the lightning, and who can bask in the fresh rain: what is the right word for a mix of petrichor and petrifying, and if there is one, I would wish upon each drop of the rain that it is not a noun, nor an adjective, but a verb, for I would want to actively partake in it.

This is a place to breathe, in the storm, and the calm, in the rain, and the sun; I have been to many breathtaking places but here, on this Adirondack mountain, I have come not to have my breath taken away, but to be able to breathe- slowly and freely.

And Moose thinks the same too- he did not run away. After he finished cooling off on a small puddle at the summit, he has been very busy with a stick of maple that he carried from the forest below. He did look up and around every time there was thunder. But there were more pressing matters- the maple stick will not chew itself.

These mountains, this dog, that distant rain, those lilies in the valley- they are my story. I photograph them, I write them for myself. I do not create in the hopes of a legacy or a revenue stream, though I would welcome both if they come my way. Too many years have passed in finding it. Mary Oliver wrote- “I ask you again: if you have not been enchanted by this adventure – your life- what would do for you?”. I am prepared to be enchanted by this place for a lifetime. And I only hope that I am allowed to be so.

The storm has now reached this mountain. Our mountain. We decide to head down, through the forest lush in all shades of green- “…even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:25-34), while the rain keeps company.

Why do I live in the Adirondacks?

Why, and how, and when?

Did you become my brethren?

Now I cannot leave.

Why do I live in the Adirondacks?

This is an important question for me. And I am writing down the answer here primarily for myself.

I live in the Adirondacks because I can. Not everybody can. 

Making a living here needs a certain amount of grit, and a great deal of privilege. Many, if not all, focus only on the former, while downplaying the latter. 

Weather is harsh for most of the year, employment opportunities are scarce and niche, and there is not much in the way of recreation unless you love being outdoors. 

As for privilege, both racial and generational, plays a huge role. While this essay is not the place to expand on the topic, one easy marker of that privilege is the denial by the very ones who benefit from it.

I have found that most people want to live in their comfort zones forever. The best they do is make their comfort zone bigger, maybe prevent it from becoming a bubble, but very few actually want to break free. That is why most Indians (I am speaking only about my nationality by birth) find their own communities, in metropolises and/or university-centric towns. With the familiar comfort of good food and communication in mother tongue, comes the gossip, racial bias and moral superiority, and traditional measures of financial success. 

I think that Indian food is the best in the world. I am proud that Bangla is my native language. I enjoy the occasional gossip. Dare I say that I do feel foolishly morally superior about certain positions in my life. And yes, I also have some intrinsic racial bias. I constantly work on the last two aspects to better myself. Although, in exchange, I must say that Indian food is the absolute best. No arguments there!

I am privileged to have been born an upper-caste in India. And even though life was not without financial struggles, I received a good education that catapulted a journey of nine thousand miles.

But that is not all. 

I live in the Adirondacks because I read. I live here because I read Chander Pahar*. And then all that Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay* wrote. He could see farther than all: even without travelling to foreign lands, during an era before the internet. But I am a mere mortal and I had to go witness a glimpse of the wild for myself.

I live in the Adirondacks because I had to see a place where the mist plays truant with the landscape.

And soon seeing was not enough. I had to know how the light touches the mountain.

I had to live in the mountains. I had to touch the light.

I live in the Adirondacks because a foggy morning and a dead pine is more important to me than a festive gathering and lifeless conversations. 

I live in the Adirondacks because I love the mud and bog. I live here because I did not play in the dirt enough as a child. 

I live in the Adirondacks because I seriously studied Chemistry for as long as I could. I knew Antoine Lavoisier decades before Adirondack Murray. I live here because I can barter reaction mechanisms for paddles under the full moon.

I live in the Adirondacks because I was given a film camera in my high school. I could not afford to spend on such ‘frivolous pursuits’ then. I can afford it now. But it is not necessary anymore. 

I live in the Adirondacks because my teacher asked me to write. And I did not for many years. But it is necessary for me now that I write.

I live in the Adirondacks because I read the White Fang. And I wanted to experience a place through a dear animal. I live here because I did not grow up with a pet.

I live in the Adirondacks because how else would I have known that a beaver can chase you while you are studying a lilypad.

I still do not know why the chicken crossed the road. But now I know why the salamander crossed the road.

I live in the Adirondacks because here I have come closer to myself than ever before.

I live in the Adirondacks because all returns to dust. 

I live in the Adirondacks because I want to live.

(on Earth Day of 2022, an inquiry into my shelter in one corner of the earth)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chander_Pahar

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bibhutibhushan_Bandyopadhyay

If, only

If you love me, give me a metaphor.

I want to know how I remind you of the first time,

You got hurt playing in your childhood home.

How it felt to see the sun going down.

If you love me, tell me how I am commonplace,

In the mud and bog, in the stardust of everyday life.

Churning the same old adjectives.

How I can be replaced.

If you love me, bid me farewell,

In the repeating seasons of grey.

All that leaves without a mark.

How it is all the same.

Ode To The Adirondacks

“Right now is good, and that’s all that matters.” – Guy Tal 

This is the place- where a rebel finds peace, an outlaw becomes a poet. The mist rises, and the dust settles. Here, storms and sorrow, laughter and mountains mingle into one another. This is a place where you can watch the grass grow. And the valley is greener on your side. 
If you know of such a place, hold it dear. Bring your ears to the ground, listen to it whisper. You will change in a blink, and so will the place, in a few more. But for this moment in time, under this one sun, this place and you will command the language of the heavens.

The mist here is more mystical than mysterious, unsure of destination, but welcoming of the journey. Not all can be known but much can be understood. Not everything can survive but all can live. And while there is no promise of eternity, this place preserves the sweetness in death.
This place tells a story beyond words and images, historical data and climate records, provable facts and documented knowledge. Your feet can only cover so much ground. But the mind can wander where footsteps cannot reach, imagination can complete the experience when memory has reached its limits. Ancient texts and scriptures promise you peace and prosperity, the ancients of this place grant you struggle and imagination.
Here, snow and ice, melting grays and freezing yellows, write a ballad and an elegy in the same breath. Every pause is a preparation, every cause is a rebellion, all in the act of carrying out the most magically mundane things.
Here, the sun is wantonly indiscriminate, disseminating light like the wisdom of an ancient sage. The bejeweled maple is no more privileged than the lifeless pine. And where there is no privilege, therein lies my pilgrimage.
If you do take the time, this place can offer it in things that are magnificently insignificant. In long and hushed goodbyes, as if farewell and funeral overlapping into one another. An exuberant hibernation, a jumbled mess of marcescence and photosynthesis.
The soft lilies, the tender birches, the quiet lakes, are all intimations of intimacy, of immortality. Here a speck of green, there a touch of the blue, everywhere a glimmer of yellow- a child frolicking with a kaleidoscope, intimations of nothingness conspiring to be held by you. Yes, such a place needs to be held by you. 
There you see tamaracks, standing amidst dead white pines, that have turned before their time, possibly due to change in water levels from beaver activity. They too will soon follow the way of the white pines, but not before one last hurrah! After all, “what is death but a long and vivid holiday”.
The more you know a place, the more unfamiliar it becomes by revealing its familiarity. And the more you explore, the more familiar it becomes by revealing its unfamiliarity. You see Fourteen Yellow Leaves.  One by one, they too will say their goodbyes soon. But now you know each of them, more intimately than before, better than when the whole tree was bedecked with peak foliage. And the farewell will be that much sweeter.
And soon all that will be left, is but a vivid reminder of what it was, and what it could be. And what always is, only if you are not looking for it. In this country, do not set goals, do not settle for something so trivial: you will achieve exactly that goal while missing the many wonders along the way. Let your work be on the sand and stars, let your self dissipate with the wind.

 You were lost. You are here. You will not last. But you will not be lost.

(In a fortuitous turn of events, albeit with risks and conscious decision-making, I have been able to live and work in the Adirondack mountains since the summer of 2021. All the above images and words have been a quiet outpour of living and experiencing this place with increasing immersion.

With heartfelt thanks to Guy Tal, whose work and life has been an inspiration to pursue artistic independence and authenticity. You can find more of his work here- https://guytal.com/ .


And deep gratitude to Suvro Sir, whose life and teachings have enlightened me in every step of the way. The quote- “What is death but a long and vivid holiday.” from the poem Swimmers by Louis Untermeyer is just one example of what I remember because this person uttered these words in the most captivating way in English lessons, thousands of miles away and more than a decade ago. You can find some of his writings here- https://suvrobemused.blogspot.com/ .)

My Guide to the Adirondacks

This is not a guide.

But it can be philosophy.

When you sleep in the sedan,

Wake up on Algonquin.

And smell the lichen.

This is not a philosophy.

But it can be mathematics.

When you count the ripples,

Left by the beaver.

And pine pollen in the wind.

This is not mathematics.

But it can be religion.

When the light from the Saranac,

Passes through your eyes.

And shadows live in your heart.

This is not religion,

But it can be a friend.

When you feed the gray jay,

Touch the tamarack.

And share the grief.

This is a friend.

And it can be more.

When you listen to the lore,

Of the gushing water.

Son and mother.

Beauty Lies

Beauty lies

In the present, of a future time

A home, in a foreign land

A turquoise lake, in the blue mountains

A library of lichens, on a glacial erratic.

A thicket of flowers, burning in a forest fire

Now, in then

Here, in there

Near, in far

Iron, in blood

Love, in hate

Mutations, in evolutions

Helium, in stardust

Hope, in regret

Magnesium, in geranium

Fragrance, in squalor

Guitar chords, in book markers

Beech leaves, in winter

Hail storms, in summer

Peace, in entropy.

In declamations, and proclamations

Confusions, and conclusions

In tall reeds, reaching for the old man’s beard

The black reflections, on a crimson pond

The revelations, in the revolutions

Ideals, in violence

Luftpause, in a just cause

Mountains in the mist, strangers who kissed

Migrating loons, and paddles under the full moon

Summer euphoria, and college nostalgia

Rainbow ridges, and alpine riddles.

Beauty lies

Not in the eyes, and neither in the beholder.

Beauty lies.

In the space between the words, hanging in the air.

A monologue trying to be a conversation

A holler, drowning into a lament

Arguments, conceiving justice

Answers, birthing questions

Carbon atoms, crystallizing into diamonds

Thoughts, becoming consciousness

Caterpillars, morphing into monarchs

An outlaw, becoming a poet

And a vagabond, always remaining one.

Beauty lies

Not in the eyes, and neither in the beholder.

The eye lies,

And beauty leads to the truths.

Beauty lies

In the space between the words, hanging in the air.

Between “you look beautiful, and you are beautiful”

Between now and then, here and there

Between love and hate, hope and regret

Between spring and thaw, ripe and raw

In creatures void of form, in chemical formulas with chromosomes

In the wrinkles of old skin, the creases of a dear book

In departed souls, taking one last look

In leaning closer, to hear someone better

In chewed up pencils, while writing exams

In nervous stutters, and solemn whispers

In sunlight, on spring greens

In sunlight, on dead pines

In the time to feel frostbites on fingers

Eight and a third of a minute.

“Beauty walks a razor’s edge, someday I’ll make it mine.” 

My forests, my dreams

My hills, my nightmares

My lakes, my gambles

My blue hour, my slumber

My rain, my geosmin

My trails, my holy grail

My light, my photosynthesis

My rose, my little prince

My lilies, my poems

My sun, my name

My land, my home.

Beauty lies.

Not in the eyes, and not in the beholder

But in the space between the words, hanging in the air

Would you let it be? 

(“Beauty walks a razor’s edge, someday I’ll make it mine.” – quoted from Bob Dylan’s ‘Shelter from the Storm)

Ramble in the Woods

“All we have, it seems to me, is the beauty of art and nature and life, and the love which that beauty inspires.” – Edward Abbey

I am fortunate to be living amidst nature now, and meet a few wonderful soul along the way. And all I can offer are my words and images to express gratitude.

I met a veteran who has paddled out of the shadows.

And a custodian who has found freedom.

And an old couple who has found grace on Tansy Lane.

And two girls hiking, one without legs and both with hearts.

And I patted a dog who has crossed the Khyber

I met a professor who stops the class for a blue jay song.

I met a student who watches the fog build the world every morn.

And I met another who skedaddles with the wind,

And many more speaking in the rain.

I found a mother who belongs to the mountains.

And a leaf that belongs to the sea.

A cloud that belongs nowhere,

And ten thousand lily pads blooming everywhere.

And love, unfettered as an Adirondack stream.

But you are a beaver, aren’t you?

Ready to dam and flood all the same.

Does the universe need space to expand?

Was the last dodo afraid of humans?

You are not my profession, and I cannot offer poetry, I cannot tell stories.

You are my condition, all I have are my ramblings.

And I do not want to walk beside you.

I want to be your experience.

I want to be your misery, and I want your lies.

So that we can find ecstasy, together we shall seek the truth.

Learning you means unlearning myself, and learning you means learning myself.

Like a piece of land, near and dear;

For when you tame a piece of land, you conquer yourself.

You are not Abraham, you are not Columbus.

You are Ed Abbey, and you are Indiana Jones.

And you sing the song of all the inhabitants,

Of the wind and the sand, from the muskrat to the Muskogee’s.

From the coyote hunting a meal, to the salamander crawling to the vernal pool.

And while the rock shines blue, and the flowers bloom yellow,

I want your lust, and together we shall amble into love.

On this one planet, as a speck of dust.

I know we will not last, but we won’t be lost.

Retribution

Armed with the sickle, you suckle on

From one breast, to the next.

Squandering what you sow, raping what you reap

Distilling it to the last trickle.

You plagued Eden to entropy,

While ballooning into atrophy.

From Woodstock to livestock-

What’s the value of a song?

What is the price of a life?

You do not know how to stop,

But I know when to end it all.

You are mere cattle, in an evolutionary battle.

I was the only one, and I was the best.

One day a hard rain’s gonna fall, and diamonds shall rust

And I shall bury you, along with the rest.

There will be no other twinkling star.

There will be no other promised land.

I was your genesis,

And I will be your nemesis.

(musings of an unamused planet)