To dream, perchance to sleep

The weekend was completely free of rain. The clear skies and wonderful sunsets drew The Family out to the sea shore. She would come back gushing about the light, and the number of people who came to quietly watch the sunset. So yesterday, I took my camera and climbed up to the terrace on the roof of our building. The western edge of the terrace is lined with satellite dishes, and each of them served as a perch for a crow, sitting quietly and looking at the sun. They were a little distracted when I appeared, and were torn between watching the sunset and keeping a wary eye on me.

“When our minds are much affected, so are the movements of our bodies,” wrote Charles Darwin in his book The expression of the emotions in man and animals (1872). This observation started a whole scientific enterprise of understanding the value of emotions by comparing them in humans and other mammals. Much less is known about the emotions of birds. “Birds and mammals are thought to have evolved from different groups of Mesozoic reptiles … during the Carboniferous or Permian period. Yet, birds and mammals exhibit extensive convergence in terms of relative brain size, high levels of activity, sleep/wakefulness cycles, endothermy, and social behavior, among others,” says a recent review of the literature on negative emotions in birds. Little else is known about emotions in birds. But when I see crows watching the sunset, or soaring against the breeze as the sun goes down, the parallel with human reactions to the beauty of sunsets does not seem farfetched.

The clear air of the last few months, and the relative coolness of the last few days meant that the sunset showed a simple gradation of colour in the sky, so different from the strangely beautiful sunsets that we had seen until the previous weekend. As the sun set, The Family and I enjoyed looking at so many different kinds of clouds. The horsetail streaks of cirrus clouds 5 or 6 kilometers above looked white in reflected sunlight because the sun had not set on them yet. As the horizon rose above the sun, the most spectacular were the golden layers of altostratus clouds at a height of about 3 kilometers. Meanwhile, the fast drifting layers of cottony stratus, merely a kilometer or two above our heads, had already started looking black because they no longer caught the sun.

The moon was already up in the east. As colour faded from the sky, the last clouds to turn pink were the high streaks of cirrus: ice crystals condensing out of the air in the cold of the upper atmosphere. The city lights came on, to add a glow to the moonlight. Between the clouds and lights, there is no way we will catch a glimpse of comet Neowise.

Across the Bay of Bengal

Ten days after cyclone Vardah travelled from the Andaman Sea over the Bay of Bengal to hit Chennai, we flew backwards along its track. The sky over Chennai was a clear blue. As the plane nosed up,Ocean and sky after a cyclone I saw a few banks of fluffy clouds near the horizon. The sky below us was clear as our Airbus 320 reached cruising height. The flight to the Andaman archipelago would take almost two hours. The sky below me seemed clear; only a few stray fluffy clouds occasionally interrupted my view of the calm seas. But when I looked up, there was a thin layer of cirrus clouds very far above the cruising altitude of the plane. They looked dark against the otherwise clear sky. You can see them in the upper half of this photo. You can also see a few wisps of white cumulus clouds against the blue of the sea in the lower part of the photo.

A coral atoll around one of the Andaman islands

The monotony of flying over the ocean was just beginning to lull me to sleep when the plane began its descent. As we came in over the outlying islands, cloud banks piled up ahead of us. The air was not as clear as it had been before. I realized later that clouds tended to mass up near the islands and coast in this season. As a result, the image of the coral atoll surrounding the island in the photo above was hazy, and I had to tweak the photo quite a bit to see the beautiful patterns in the water around the island. It was lovely to see the surf breaking far from the white sandy beach around the island.

The descent to Port Blair was fast, and I barely clicked a few more photos as we came lower. Almost the last photo I managed to take was a beach surrounded by corals. This is the featured photo. The water is so clear that you can see the coral reefs and the wide tongue of white sandy beach. I knew we were in for a great holiday.