Nature by Numbers

Can you see fractals in the treetops?
A pattern that knows itself, like the laughing Buddha
Meditating under the Bodhi tree.
Branch by twig, and twig by branch,
Spinning, whirling, multiplying –
Writing into the sky.

Count the spirals on a pinecone:
Eight, thirteen, or twenty-one;
Knowingly, they turn to the centre,
while Fibonacci’s rabbits dart across footpaths,
scurrying onto their next adventure.

In the stillness of the hummingbird’s flutter,
Swirling eights form a sequence:
Down and around, up and through –
Weaving a piece of the infinite.

Numbers come to life around me,
Tallying nature’s score;
The gentle stream carries eternal sounds 
And leads us to that without limits.

* * *

This poem is inspired by my daily walks to the Beaver Pond in Kanata (my current home), where I witness the beauty of nature every day and often relate it to the beauty of mathematics. I tutor kids in math, and I’m always looking for creative ways for them to learn and appreciate math, beyond the standard curriculum. One way is to recognize that there are definite patterns in nature, which make it even more beautiful – you can literally see fractals in treetops, the golden ratio at play, and spirals in flowers and pinecones that follow the rules discovered by the mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci.

A few years ago, I was asked to do a creative writing assignment on choosing a shape for a story of my choice. I had chosen the Ramayana (an ancient Hindhu epic), and I found it impossible to choose a linear shape to represent such a mystical sequence of events. The only phenomenon I could think of was a fractal, which is a pattern that repeats itself based on a defined set of parameters. The Fibonacci sequence is as follows:

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, …….

Each number in this sequence is the sum of the two numbers that preceed it.  These numbers appear everywhere in nature – seashells, trees, pinecones, etc. If you count the spirals on the bottom of a pinecone, you will see that the number of spirals that weave to centre will most likely be one of the Fibonacci numbers. I commonly find pinecones that have either 8, 13, or 21 spirals. Next time you pick up a pinecone, count the spirals and see if the number is in the Fibonacci sequence!

Fibonacci also discovered rules that predict how rabbits multiply – as commonly known, rabbits are pretty frisky and tend to multiply rapidly. I am lucky to see rabbits everywhere I go in Kanata, and I especially find their fluffy white tails so adorable. Rabbits are known for eating twigs, grass, herbs and clover; four-leaf clover if they’re lucky.

Alright, I hope I’ve managed to convince you that there is more to math than  trigonometry and boring equations – it may even make you appreciate the beauty of the universe a little more!


Crazy Yet Blissful

Week 33! Only 19 more to go. It was a very rainy day on Monday. I started out in the morning tutoring a teenage girl who is a refugee from Syria. Since I’ve been here, I’ve had some time to help her out with preparing for grade 9. She wants to attend a local high school instead of one further away that has an ESL program. I’m rooting for her all the way!! We are reading a book called Butterfly Park by Elly MacKay – the author also did the illustrations which are magical and out of this world. It reminds me of how I want to help my Mom to complete her children’s book. We were just talking about it in fact. She (my Mom) is pretty busy at the moment with work, but we shall work on it in the next few months, after we return from England.

Tutoring Session, Reading Butterfly Park by Elly MacKay

After the session I felt a little dejected because it was a rainy day and I had no plans and I almost felt like just going home instead of carrying on. But on I went. I made it to the local library (Beaverbrook Library), where I sat down on a round table near the back and read from Veiled Threat. The section I read hit close to home because it was about mental health issues and how many women in Afghanistan suffer from anxiety, depression, and are often on the verge of suicide. The numbers are actually staggering. Mind you, this book was written over 10 years ago, so it would be interesting to know what the numbers are now. One of the girls interviewed (age 16) from Kabul said: “Sometimes I think suicide may be a way out of this horrible life, but I feel sympathy for my mother since I am all she has in this world.” Some of the edicts set by the Taliban are so outrageous that they actually make me laugh. They have specified that the stones used to kill a woman must not be so large as to kill her quickly, but small enough that the death is prolonged and she gets due justice. Women continue to be stoned to death in countries like Syria and Afghanistan and Pakistan, although not legally but by communities for reasons like adultery or the husband finding out that his bride is not a virgin. Imagine how many stonings there would be in Canada if these were justifiable reasons?!

At the library, I ran into an old family friend, Surinder Auntie, who is a librarian there. We chatted a little about how I was in Ottawa for awhile, and how two of her kids live in Toronto, but her daughter misses Ottawa a lot and is planning to move back home. I can relate, because I find Ottawa so beautiful!! Nothing compares to the simple beauty of the Beaver Pond, late-night walks with my parents, and watching Hot in Cleveland in the evening, or Modern Family, The Mentalist, or Making  A Murderer (which I have yet to watch). Makes me not want to leave.

Oh, before running into Surinder Auntie, I logged into one of the library computers and drafted my email for Walk In Her Shoes, which is coming up this Monday. I am happy that there are quite a few people joining me, and that other people find this cause to be as important as I do. Or maybe they don’t, but are just there to support me. My Mom will be making us a big lasagna brunch to celebrate the completion of the walk. Here is a little excerpt from the email that I sent out:

I’ve included some photos of the walk over the past 5 years, full of joy and dedication, while keeping in mind why we walk – to walk in solidarity with women and girls who are not able to take human rights for granted, who deserve a chance not just to survive, but to thrive, to realize their dreams and potential. There are tremendous things happening all over the world, from grassroots to local to national and worldwide, and there is a planetary shift happening far beyond what we can imagine. In this time of so much negativity and violence, there is a lot to be hopeful for. As the CARE Canada slogan says, and what I truly believe, Together We Can Make A Difference. I’m grateful to be surrounded by powerful men and women who are taking action and making a difference.

And here are some of those pictures, gathered over the years:

After the library I sauntered into the Kanata Art Gallery, adjoining to the library and met a local artist and fell in love with one her paintings, which was made from fabric and was kind of like a framed quilt. Art Galleries are a place of such stillness for me.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I continued on home in the rain, and when I arrived home I was absolutely soaked. My Mom said something like “You crazy girl, walking in the rain!! You will catch a cold.”  It’s true, I did look a little crazy, and also amidst that craziness was a little bit of bliss.

IMG_6702 (2)
Walking home in the rain, crazy yet blissful

The next walk is a big one; it’s the group walk with my Mom, Rima, Silin, my cousins, and others. Looking forward to it!

The World Became A Slab Of Lead Sitting On My Chest

Week who-knows-what. All I know is that I’m not stopping. If I can do this walk in this state of utter devastation, that means I’ll do it forever. And it’s amazing how it still always delivers – there are twists and turns, darkness and loneliness, and magical coincidences and friendly strangers that guide me. There is insight into what is deep within, and what I’m holding onto. There are moments where my pride gets the better of me, and moments where I let it all go and reach out for help, so that I can talk to that friendly compassionate voice on the other end, who brings some light in the darknes and takes me home. And for all of it I am grateful.

I headed out around 3 PM from my home, and walked to Aakanksha’s place. Her grandfather greeted me (I’ve been having fun chatting with her grandparents since they are here visiting, and it’s been helping me practice my Gujarati). I went inside and her dad came downstairs and told me that they must have forgotten the session, and so he called his wife and sure enough, they were still at Carlingwood Mall. So I said it was ok, that I would come back another day. The grandmother was a little hurt that I was leaving so soon (she said “What? Is my company not good enough?”) so I stayed for a bit and had some tea and chatted with her. Before I left, I went to visit the Mandir and the symbols of Lakshmi and Ram and Sita and Hanuman and Durga, and I needed to do that, because there is still so much hurt, and also it feels so nice being in the presence of God. And I say that not just because of the mandir, but all-around. Throughout all the pain, there is God, there is love, there is hope. (catch me on another day and I may sing a different tune!!). I saw that the grandfather was reading a Krishna comic book as I walked out and I made him promise to lend it to me when he is done with it.

Then I wandered over to the park nearby, in the 40-degree sweltering heat, and that’s when everything fell apart and I felt lonely and torn, and that same relentless pain of the memory of when I saw him with her at Nathan Philips Square, that memory that hurt me so deeply, came up and made me crazy and there was nothing to do with the pain. So I went on the swing and I pumped up and down, over and over and I was flying high. Then I messaged by friend Neteesha who is going through something similar and she really understood, and made me feel so much better. Wow. Thank frickin’ God for friends. She was funny and compassionate and was like ‘Fuck them’. I made a typo and said ‘Suck them’ which is kinda funny but probably not a bad idea either. Hahah. People keep telling me that I need a fling but I’m pretty sure that’s not what I need. I just need a latte. And some other stuff that I probably shouldn’t mention here.

I took a path down Stikine Drive, that led to a park and to a beautiful old building that used to be a school-house until 1963 and is now a community centre. They have weekly Toastmasters meetings there, where I’ll be going tonight with my Mom. Isn’t it just beautiful?! I think my Toastmasters group in Toronto is going to be jealous.

S.S. No 1 March, Kanata

I ran into a man there with his two dogs who told me a bit about the history of the building. It was built in 1886 and housed children from European immigrants that had come to Canada from France, Germany, and Holland. These families worked on surrounding farms and sent their kids to this school to learn. Can’t you just imagine it? At lunch, the kids would swim in the pool (which is now a water hole in the Kanata golf course). I didn’t see the water hole but I’ll check for it the next time I go. In 1985, it became a Children’s Art Centre, and is now it is a meeting spot for people in the community. It reminds me of another place called the March House which used to be a restaurant and is now a rustic spa.

I walked to a little clearing in the woods nearby, and was engrossed in an article in The Star about Egyptian Olympian Doaa Elghobashy playing volleyball in her hijab. You go girl!!

I have worn the hijab for 10 years. It doesn’t keep me away from the things I love to do, and beach volleyball is one of them.

And then. Enter Beyoncé. I watched the video “Sorry” and it blew my f’ing mind. If you haven’t seen it, take a look and be prepared to be amazed:

Then I ran into a man with his daughter and they were engrossed in this Pokémon Go game that has taken over the city. Everywhere I go there are people on their phones trying to capture these little critters. It makes me feel like I’m living in a fantasy world (I already feel like that considering how many 69’s and signs from the universe I see everywhere). He convinced me to download it and I’m definitely going to try it out – hopefully the next time we go to Andrew Haydon park, the park where I grew up, where we’d used to have picnics and make kitchdi and go for walks.

Then I continued on and got to Chapters where I had a tazo chai latte and read a bit from The Prisoner of Tehran. Marina Nemat might be the bravest woman I know. She refuses to reveal the names of her friends, despite the demands of the prison guards and even though she is aware of the lashes that will ensue. But her heart is another story. It must close for awhile because she is unable to process the amount of emotional pain and shock she is in. Imagine being safe at home one day, and then being thrown into the world’s most notorious prison. “The world beame a slab of lead sitting on my chest,” she says.

IMG_6505 (2)

While there, I leafed through the Anna Karenina colouring book (I have a copy of it back at home in Toronto). Also Roshni bought me the novel which I’m really looking forward to reading! I wonder if it is the same one that all these beautiful quotes are derived from.

IMG_6507 (2)

Following Chapters, I walked down Campeau towards the library (stopping to say hi to the bunnies along the way – I swear they have taken over this city). I watched a game of tennis which made me long for simpler times, when all there was to do was just play, or maybe it reminded me of how my Dad and I used to play badminton here. Or maybe I was just dying to get into the game. Then I got to the library just as it was closing.

I walked home along Beaverbrook, talking to my friend Vaishali, telling her about my darkness and my journey and thankful for her kind voice and understanding. Finally made it home, greeted by my parents who are always there and constant and so amazing; my dad a little worried because it was so late, and my mom smiling and happy, never doubting that I would make it home. Not sure where my brother was, probably listening to music in his room. It felt good to be home.