Geneva in winter

Google’s scan is not a perfect app, but it gives you a reason to dig deeper into the archives to jog very old memories. These are thirty years old. I looked at the featured photo and remembered opening my bedroom window on a cold and sunny winter morning, marveling at this view, and then taking up my new camera to record Mont Blanc and the Saleve. I saw the peak clear very seldom, and I never had my camera at hand when I did. The scan app has introduced some glare into the bottom of the picture, and lost part of the definition that the print has. But it captures the clear blue of the sky, and the sun on crisp mornings which make you want to go out for a walk in the mountains.

One weekend that winter I drove out to Zermatt. I stopped the car and took this photo just before the road descends into the valley. It was not yet peak season, and I could just pull into a nice looking hotel and get a room. I had never been in snow like this before, and I decided that I would learn to ski. Over the weekend I got the hang of how to walk uphill with skis on. I realized early on that downhill was not for me. But learning this one technique was useful for the next two years, as I spent my free time in the Jura getting to like cross country skiing.

I remember doing a lot more in Geneva than my photos capture. I guess before phones one just didn’t take so many photos. The gnarly pine in silhouette above was taken at a little park called Promenade du Pin, which I would pass whenever I walked from the lake up to the cozy bars and restaurants at Place Bourg-de-Four. We would often stop to admire and laugh at the outrageously priced cigars on display at the window of a tobacconist on this route. I never thought to take a photo of the display. I would do it without thinking now.

Let me end with a picture of this gardening shed in the fields outside Meyrin. I remained amazed by how abruptly the city ended and gave way to farmland. In early spring I saw a tractor churning up the mud in fields like this, and in late summer there might be corn ripening in the sun. But I liked the bleak winter landscape with the locked shed, and snow covering the churned up mud.

Three views of a chalet

Doing a deep dive into my archives, I came across photos of a trip to the Harz. This is a rugged part of Germany at an elevation of a little more than one kilometer above sea level, which lies inside a trapezoid with corners at Gottingen, Brunswick, Magdeburg, and Halle. It had snowed heavily in February of 2006. When a plan was being formed to go skiing for a weekend, I decided to join in. It was more than fifteen years since I’d done any skiing, but I figured that its like riding a bicycle or swimming. Your muscles don’t forget how to do it.

This is absolutely true. You need to add though, that the level of skill which comes back depends a lot on how you have treated your muscles. In those years I’d let my muscles go slack. Two of my colleagues were Finns, who’d been on cross country skis since they were children. The other was a very fit German, who, although new to the sport, picked up the basic skills very fast. So, early on the first day, I told them to not hang around waiting for me to catch up. Soon I was alone in that wonderful terrain: all snow and sky, covering what looked, in this season, like rolling hills.

The chalet that we stayed in for those three nights was nicely isolated, and stood under a stand of spruce trees. As the light changed during the day, the look of the place changed quite dramatically. The featured photo was taken in the evening, as the light began to turn red. The green of the spruce looked almost black in this light. The next photo was from mid-morning. I liked the extreme purity of the snow in the white band across the bottom of the photo. That final photo of the door to the chalet was taken in the blue hour.

The six seasons: 6

Shishir, the season of dew, winter, is mild over most of India. In places you might want to bring out a sweater or two. In others, a tee would keep you warm. I’m not talking about the Himalayas, the pictursque towns in valleys, or the foothills, where winters can be severe, with snowstorms cutting off passes for weeks, and roads impassable due to snow. Nor am I talking of recent disruptions in the world’s atmosphere, which causes the polar vortex to come down to the mid-latitudes and brings weeks of awfully cold weather to the tropics. Otherwise, this remains the mildest and most enjoyable of times. You sit in gardens full of flowers in the mild winter sun, eating oranges, sipping tea, socializing through weekends. Enjoy the sight of colourful butterflies, like that Painted Jezebel (Delias hyparete) in the featured photo, sipping lazily at a marigold.

This is the best time of the year for quick weekend vacations. You can indulge yourself in the fudge and chocolates that are a cottage industry in the hill towns of the Western ghats. You can buy enormous quantities of strawberries, peaches, or grapes, to eat or to convert to jams and preserves. And you can do all this without putting on the kilos, because the weather is finally right for strenuous physical exercise: walking in the mountains, or beaches. Climbing, swimming in the warm waters of the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, or the Indian Ocean. This is the perfect time to spend a couple of weeks on the beach, living in the mild sun, collecting scallop shells (photo above), or cowries, or sea snails, or cuttlefish bones,

For me this is the season of travel, chasing after large breeding colonies of local birds like the Gujarati flamingos in the photos above, or the last individuals of once common species, like the Great Indian Bustard which I saw again a couple of years back in the grasslands around the Thar desert. But mostly, this is the time of the numerous migrants: from the large ones like the Dalmatian pelicans that I saw last year in Ranthambhore (Rajasthan), or the unforgettable sight and sound of my first view of the Siberian ruby throat a few years ago in Nameri National Park (Assam). Winter is a great time to travel around the country, enjoying the sheer diversity of geography, wildlife, and culture, but united by the weather.

Love song of the bee

Winter has ended in the north of India, the only part of the country which has a clear winter. That is the season when gardens are full of exotic flowers brought from temperate countries. Bees are everywhere at the end of winter, in the last flowering of gardens, and continuing into spring, the season of wildflowers. On my trip to Dehradun, and up to the Garhwal Sivaliks, I saw lots of flowering gardens. I didn’t manage to capture the bees with my phone camera, but I got the flowers.

In response to an invitation for a villanelle (I had to look up a detailed description too), I had fun making up something which you could call the Love Song of the Bee. It could remind you of Vogon poetry, or you could think of it as a mashup of the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by Thomas Eliot, Theocritus by Oscar Wilde, and a view of a garden seen from a kitchen,

Still through the ivy flits the bee
While I finish in the kitchen
Before the taking of toast and tea.

The winter sun dips behind a tree
A pot and cups, in the light glisten
Still through the ivy flits the bee.

I hurry. The kitchen chores a fee
I pay for the pleasure of the garden
Before the taking of toast and tea.

Winter’s almost gone. I see
the leaves are touched with brown.
Still through the ivy flits the bee.

Kitchenwork’s done. It’s time for you and me
To walk in the garden, talk, listen
Before the taking of toast and tea.

Come, see the flowers. I’m now free
For the wicker chairs in the garden,
Where, still through the ivy flits the bee
Before the taking of toast and tea.