To Universe, with Love

Yellowstone: The Landscapes

Posted on July 1, 2015

 It was easy to get carried away with a camera in hand. I wanted to wake up early to take photographs but I was too tired. I know all about the golden hour but more often than not, I would be slogging it out on a trail missing the beautiful light. I wanted to take my place next to the wild life photographers and waited it out for a great shot. I really wanted to. And fought with Harsha who made our itinerary. End of the day, I had to get it into my head. I am not on a NatGeo assignment. I am with my husband on an adventure. Not all of them photograph well – its more sweat, dirt, noodles and aching muscles. That being said, here are some beautiful landscapes.

 

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This will be the last of my yellowstone series where I dump lots of pictures to the internet. Its been years since I thought about geology beyond the San Andreas fault line. Its been years since I learnt about the intricacies of an echo system – the homes, the migration patterns, the soil, the climate, the kings and the slaves. I touched trees that are remnants of forest fires. Heard lectures on why fires are actually good for the system …. I can not stop and get my head out of it all …. Another (delayed) post coming up on my packing list. I need this well listed because it was a daunting task. There are so many lists out there but none that worked for me. We overpacked. And could have done with lot less. My apparent conclusion after every blog post – do with lot less.

Yellowstone: Flora and Fauna

Posted on June 30, 2015

Alarming Stuff : The sixth mass extinction is on the way ! Thanks to human activities. And the animals are the first to go. Thanks to human activities. Having co-existed with animals for the last one week, reading this is extremely disheartening. I am sure the future generations would look at us and go, ” I can’t believe they did shit like that ! All the science and technology could not put some sense into their heads. ” We lived in perpetual bear scare, because we took away their territorial acreage and hunting zones. It took us lots of years to introduce wolves to Yellowstone. It’s all politics and lobbying. The results give me goosebumps ! I did not get to see wolves this time but heard so many tales for them from the wild life photographers, rangers and naturalists in the park. But let me share some pictures of the incredible animals we did see.

 

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I did see 40+ animals in close range. Keeping these posts succinct is a serious intention, and hence all those animals can be seen on my TUMBLR. I dont claim to be a NatGeo photographer and hence want to keep my million hobby photos to myself and off this blog. I saw fishes spawn, 100s of butterflies in a span of 2 minutes, beavers, dams built by beavers, too many beautiful birds, …. Yellowstone as an ecosystem. Its the biggest one intact in this day and age. Spawning 2.2 million acres.

 

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Forest rangers are incredible humans living good lives, in my book. They live in the wild and protect us / wild life. My policy: if you meet them, talk to them till they no longer want to talk to you. They are the ones with the real stories. And the information. Most of the information I present here is from the books I have been reading or from my conversations with the rangers.

 

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I scared a Bison. I want to scream this from rooftops. But one of those slow motion moments happened when a bison wanked in on me from behind ( 10 feet away). I was sitting by the stream and making noodles. I saw it, it saw me. We both stood still. There was no where for me to run but into the water, but it would have the advantage. I picked the biggest tree to sit under, ruling out climbing it. I froze. And without thinking, I stood up. The animal somehow RAN. Ran like a maniac. I saw people on the other side run into their cars and take pictures of the animal. I looked behind my shoulder for the rest of the day, waiting for animals to show up. I was chatting with a forest ranger, and told him what happened. And told him how offended I was that this big animal was scared of me, a little woman. He rolled his eyes at me and said, “you would be dead and not chatting away if it wasnt scared.” Bisons have this huge range of vision, like a fish eye lens. Their peripheral vision is stronger and they sometimes miss what’s right in front of them when distracted ( grazing ). According to him, the bison did not spot me. And when it did, it couldnt figure out what I was. And hence it ran. Should i be more offended that a bison didn’t think I was human ?

 

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Another powerful lesson. MOTHERS. Most incredible creatures by nature. The way they protect their children is endearing. Example 1: The deer population. The females graze in a different valley from the males. They come together during the mating season. And part ways. The deers endure and flee lots of attacks by animals and human intrusion. But they attack when their babies are in danger. Not just their own. If I were to walk in to their personal space, the females will round me up and try to smash my face by kicking me with their hind legs. Example 2: Bison endure a lot. They are vegetarians by nature. Dont need to attack humans. But try to get close to a calf, and you will be gored. Example 3: Wolves. They are very family oriented animals and stay true to their packs. But when a female has her babies, she finds a cave to hide them. Even from her own pack. Being a mother > family bonds.

 

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There are two kinds of photographers in these places. The ones that drive from place to place and snap some pictures. We saw some very traumatized deers, scared spawning fishes and annoyed bison from how the visitors acted towards them. And then, there are the ones who learn everything they can about the animals and take pictures with respect. Meeting the second kind was life changing for me. There was one man, who knew so many intimate details, that I didn’t know was possible to learn. He told me about how most of the Hayden valley pack wolves had left North. And that one of the wolves from Hayden Valley mated with a wolf from the Lamar Valley. It stayed behind with its 4 pups. You can see them playing at certain hours in certain locations ….. How can all this not evoke great love for the planet ?

Yellowstone: Camp Life

Posted on June 24, 2015

“Home is where your heart is !”, a quote that is spewed all over internet and beyond. If that is true, why all the mortgages, mansions, stress, home decor, all those dresses in my closet, ….. I wonder. How much do we really need ? This is something I have been struggling with and been reading a lot about. Camping helped me find some answers. We need very little. I keep learning this lesson and forgetting it as soon as I get back to my routine life. Hoping its different this time. A small backpack could get me through 10 days.We packed a backpack with …. A stove. Two bowls. Two mugs. A tent and a sleeping bag. Some beans and noodles. A rain coat each….. And set out to explore the forest. 

 

THE CAMPSITES

 

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The promise of a fire pit, a picnic bench and a flat ground to pitch tent on, became luxuries. There was a night where our camp was on a slope and we couldnt stop sliding in our tent when asleep. Its hillarious to think about now but was frustrating. We pitched so many tents this month that we can do the job in under 2 minutes. I remember having to google how to do it two years ago and we are now pros at it. They had a few sites with showers, laundry and dishwashing sink. Having a hot shower after a day or two, after all the walking was true bliss. And recipe for a perfectly rejuvenating night’s sleep.

 

THE BACKCOUNTRY

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Backcountry is something I have been absolutely enamoured with. My favourite environmentalist couple Charles and  Meg are always going on about their adventures and I had to have one myself. Extremely long trails that go beyond day trips, unmarked campsites away from animal territories, food poles to avoid your food from being stolen by bears and ABSOLUTE WILDERNESS.

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THE COOKING

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Polenta and chilli is my absolutely favorite camping meal ever ! And comfort food. More than cooking, its felt more like I was warming it.  Other options that we enjoyed a lot : oatmeal with spices, mac and cheese with masala, spanish rice with refried beans, dehydrated egg powder and kidney beans & PBJs ( although I don’t like gluten, hunger rules). Our little stove held up great although boiling water became an exercise in how long one can go without complaining when really hungry. I remember my greatgrandma cooking over open flame. I dont think I could go on doing this for a lifetime. Smoke free stoves, yes please !

 

THE WARDROBE 

 

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Yes, I want to look nice when the bison and the elk see me. No reason to look sloppy. My Danner hiking boots were a life saver keeping me warm and dry. I wore my everyday stretchy jeans and linen shirts with a jacket when needed. I packed a set of yoga pants and a hoodie for cold nights so that I don’t wear my dirty clothes in the tent. Special love to the nice woolen socks from an REI garage sale. They really do work when in comparison to all the cheap synthetic socks I owned over the years.

 

THE ESSENTIALS

 

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Carrying assorted products is cumbersome but long trips need something to help out. Vitamin C infused wipes definitely help when you are too tired to wash up at the end of the day. Dr. Bonners is an all in one soap : toothpaste, soap, shampoo, dishwashing liquid and detergent. The rest, are the usual. I wear an antique navajo turquoise bracelet as a charm whenever I go hiking. No idea why. Just a habit.

 

THE DOWNTIME

 

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We would come back exhausted every day. Prepare meals, eat and sleep. If we had some extra time before sunset, I would read a little and Harsha would pour over his maps preparing for the next day. It feels like we spent a lot of time lighting fires, boiling water and cleaning dishes at the end of everyday. I wanted to wake up and do yoga outdoors but never did. Next time maybe.


I may have a tendency to make all of this look glamorous. With carefully edited pictures and words. But we struggled. First night of sleeping on the floor was awful. The soot from the cookware == my hands looking like I worked in the coal mine. The smoke from the fires made my contact lens burn. Early sunrises made me an early waker inspite of being tired and sleepy. But I was getting used to it and don’t think I complained much at all. It rained putting out our camp fire, preventing us from cooking food. There were nights when it rained hard. The outdoors were roaring. It got me scared at first. And then in awe with the extent and power of nature. 

Yellowstone: Trail Life

Posted on June 23, 2015

We spent most of the waking time in the last 10 days climbing / hiking. It was ambitious, exhausting and exhilarating. Going to places that roads don’t take you. And some that should not be contaminated with roads and civilization. Why do we go camping ? Harsha says its an escape/break from his city life. For me, its more about the life I want for myself – close to nature. There are different kinds of nature lovers. The ones who drive from place to place, look at the nature and take pictures ( maybe ). The ones who live in sync with the nature and deeply care about sustainability and the ecosystem. I waver in the middle. Hence the trails. 

 


SAFETY 

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Safety is paramount when hiking the bear country. We saw 4 bears in the week we stayed in Yellowstone. Bear attacks are rare but do happen. Startling a bear with a cub and near its food source is one the highest rated danger situations. Make noise, talk loudly, carry a bell, … they say. We sang our bears away. I bet when they heard me sing, they were scared for what’s coming in their direction.

 

FELLOW HIKERS

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We would do one very long hike (>9 miles) or one medium ( ~5 miles ) + one short ( < 3 miles ) hike per day. We met some very interesting people. Lots of couples from Europe and Australia. Lots of German men. A few families with kids. Guess what the conversation starter is ? “Hello, have you seen any bears or bison near the trails ? “. Ofcourse ! Everyone was on alert and we had to share the information. There was a trail where 2 bison were sitting ON the trail. We discussed what we could do inorder to get around them. I regret not taking more pictures of the people we meet during our travel.

 

TRAIL MARKERS

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Looking back, the trails were littered with very interesting ‘things’, flaura and fauna. There is so much beauty all around that made it all worth it. The rolling hills, Douglas fir trees, lakes, snow and the usual culprits made it good. But the special ingredients : that bird that kept walking in front of us on a trail made us giggle for extended periods of time, different mushrooms on the ground, the dead bones in the bear country ( antlers ), the chipmunks and all sorts of little animals made it an experience.

 

HITCHHIKING 

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Backcountry hikes are long. Start at one location and end at another. Finding the way back to the lots where we parked our car involved some hitchhiking. We had a 50:1 luck ratio, one person giving us a ride for every 50 who drive by, which I think is pretty good. But Harsha was rather disappointed in humanity. We met some interesting people who were extremely kind to us by letting us into their cars and getting us to places. Thank you universe, for all the love.

 

THE DOWNTIME 

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Take small breaks. Lie down. Pretend to nap. Sit on an elevated hill and watch the sunset. Skinny dip. Relax while the little stove boils 400ml of water ( 10 minutes ). Mark the maps. Spray mosquito repellant. Make pictures …… downtime during the trails are important. When we got too ambitious, waking up the next day got harder.

 

SUSTENANCE FOOD

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Partly due to our inexperience with camping, we ate a lot of junk food. When weight is paramount and when in locations close to bear territories ( trails ) , we made junk food like instant noodles and mac cheese. No regrets though. We did the best we could do given the constraints and locations. Lots of shin bowls, maggi noodles, brownies and trail mixes were ingested.  They were pretty tasty.  Makes me glad to be home making rice and lentils again. I do not want to eat another pot of noodles for a really long time.

 


We sang. We marched in step when it got hard to finish the day. We ate cookies and brownies. We took breaks and hydrated. We napped. We created a few jingles about bears and bison. He wrote a song for me about me. We had a few “is that a bear round the corner?” moments and made it home safe in the end. To me, it felt like a primitive suppressed instinct to look out for danger. I was thrilled about the experience. Since Harsha worries for both of us, it was tiring and stressing him out. He is happier to be home safe than I am. I would love to go back for more.

Ode to the Road

Posted on June 22, 2015

I may later argue that trails are more wonderful than the road. But for now, let me write about my love for the road trips. Formerly regarded as dredged tiresome part of travel, became my favorite part of travel off late. Or since I met Harsha. One of my first trips with him was a time when he showed up at my apartment and asked if I wanted to go to the grocery store with him to pick up some snacks. He then suggested a drive since it was a beautiful night. We ended up in San Diego for the weekend, called in sick on Monday to stay another day and has been on the top of my most memorable trip list.

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Journey is the destination ?

Dan Eldon famously coined this phrase. “There is little difference between being, being lost and exploring. Create. Avoid easting nasty food when the taste can easily be improved by sauces. It is foolish and hazardous not to dance in Africa.“, he wrote in his journal. His manifesto echoes with lots of aspects of the way he lived his life.  The process is more important than if and when we got there, he argues. I can identify with him, a lot. The journey to Yellowstone was as beautiful as the forest, I argue. We spent time with each other and daydreamed to glory.

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What’s outside the window ?

Some say this is a contributing factor. Is the drive beautiful ? Are only the beautiful drives worth the time ? I met an 60 year old retired Indian Army general whose wisdom was eye opening. “Even if there is nothing, even the rugged dry lands are part of the place and need to be understood to really travel the land“, he argued. What a wonderful thought. Negative spaces are as important.

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The Sounds.

Harsha and me once drove to Mexico all the while talking about AC and DC current. And about Testla Vs Edison. Great conversations transcend every other need. Next on my list is great music. “Did you discover any new Zimmers?”, he asked when I started making a playlist. We are ardent lovers of Hans Zimmer‘s music. His tune ‘time‘ matches every mood of life on the road – the good, the bad and the ugly. Podcasts are a recent addition to our trips. We listen to a lot of Dan Carlin’s History episodes. He is a master storyteller and can make 3 hours fly by while talking about world wars and human emotions.

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The food. 

Snacks are important. We try to procure sugary or fatty foods like string cheese, chocolate and brownies that we don’t eat in our everyday lives. Trader Joe’s ginger beer ( non alcoholic) is another favourite. We are big meal eaters and don’t get to try snacks or junk food. We actually take these opportunities to try new finger foods.

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“Harsha, can you pull over?” 

We are usually in a hurry to get to the destination in the time promised by the Apple/Google maps. But since there is so much to see and do along the way, I am always asking for breaks. Being a hobbyist photographer, makes me force him to pull over multiple times to make some pictures and I do end up sulking when he does not.

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What are bad road trips ?

Company. That’s the deal breaker for me. Do not travel with people you don’t love, said some wise man…… I have been miserable in beautiful places when in the wrong company. I make it a point to avoid travelling with the high maintenance people who “need” everything to be a certain way and won’t bend. Harsha is more forgiving and adjusting. Riding pillion with Harsha is my favorite way to get to places …. I was once told even the bad trips become better when you think of them as time goes by. I have a cousin who once got mugged and beaten up. He claims it just made it harder for him, and that it was a good trip in the end. The weather is a more beatable factor. There is clothing to help with the cold and ways to endure heat.

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Day Vs Night

Ofcourse its a factor! I believe driving in the night is meditative. The lack of lighting makes me put down my camera and relax. There is not much that is visible outside forcing you to concentrate on other things. The weather is usually easier on you. We have separate music playlists for day and night. More romantic tunes play in our car in the night.


What makes a road trip for you ? Opinions on travel is weath ! I would love to hear your thoughts. 

Battle of Sunscreens

Posted on June 9, 2015

Living in Arizona for a decade and commuting to work via bike automatically upgrades me to an expert sunscreen reviewer. I have tried so many of them over the years. I have been saving 2 years worth of product empties for this review. A few things to start off:

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PHYSICAL Vs CHEMICAL :

Chemical sunscreens require to be applied 15 minutes ahead of exposure to sun, to react with the skin and create a protective barrier. They are seldom good for the environment or allegedly contain carcinogens. Physical sunscreens have particles that are reflective in nature. They usually are titanium dioxide based and could give a white cast on darker skin tones. But good for the environment and skin.

 

ALL NATURAL :

I am making a switch to find more of these in the future. Maybe next year when I leave Arizona for good, my product empty reviews could be of all natural ones. For now, still using the nasty chemical laden ones because I don’t trust them enough to make the switch as yet.

 

SUSTAINABILITY :

When you wash off your sunscreen, all the chemicals reach the earth again. And the containers end up in landfills unless we rethink it all. I am looking into it and don’t know enough about it. But researching it. Homework to myself: By next summer, find some good ones that I know how to dispose and are good for the environment.

 

DELIVERY :

Spray mechanisms are pretty ineffective in providing good coverage. Oil sunscreens may provide the spf factor but the oil burns you faster. Chemical sunscreens need to react with the skin and using a moisturizer before sunscreen dilutes its efficiency ( according to pharmacists who formulate them and dermatologists ). The dermatologists recommend waiting a few minutes before layering sunscreen with a foundation.

 

ANTIOXIDANTS/VITAMINS :

Ingestion and topical application of Vitamin C products aids faster recovery after sun exposure. I am a huge fan of Skinceuticals CE Ferulic products. Antioxidants from berries and foods rich in vitamin A like carrots and beets go a long way in protecting the skin from the inside.

 

There are many ways to protect the skin from the sun. I think eating well is paramount. None of my grandmothers bothered with products and have great skin in their 80s. They ate a balanced diet with lots of greens and colorful vegetables. Protective clothing, hats and sunglasses would reduce the dependance on products. Avoiding the sun during its peak and re-application of the sunscreen as prescribed also go a long way. If I need to spend very little money on skincare, I would pick a good sunscreen and moisturize/cleanse with organic olive/coconut oil. Here are a few good ones:

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INSTITUT ESTHEDERM : This is called the Rolls Royce of sunscreens, endorsed by Lisa Eldridge. Its hard to find in the US, expensive and very very effective. Its rather thick, like a paste or mask. It goes on smoothly and acts like a shield warding off all the sun. But you can feel it on your skin, sitting heavy all day. I wear it when I run races, go hiking, bungee jumping, swimming, etc when I do not have the luxury of reapplication. And I always came back home without a sunburn.  I dont even tan like the rest of my body does from sun exposure when I use this. The downside of it is the white cast. It does not work for my skin tone and is extremely hard to blend in. Chanel and Skinceuticals make one with very similar formulation and consistency that also gives me a white cast, but would work well for paler skintones.

 

DR. LANCER : Half of Hollywood and the LA crowd goes to him for skincare concerns. His products have a huge celebrity following. I really really like his sunscreen. It does not give me a white cast unless I am really tanned. Provides excellent protection. I would consider repurchasing it again for its merits.

 

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SHISEIDO : This cult Korean brand makes high quality products and are easily accessible ( Sephora ). The SPF 50 is very moisturising making it dry skin friendly for the warmer months and cold weather friendly for normal skin ( me ). Its a chemical sunscreen and hence I needn’t worry about the white cast, which is a problem with most products for me.

 

PREVAGE : If i were to pick one to use for the rest of my life and to never try another, it would be the prevage. I found it on recommendation of FleurDeForce. It comes with a brush which makes it bike and hike friendly, keeping the dirty hands away from the face. No white cast on my skin tone and excellent protection. The technology behind it claims to have found something more effective than vitamin C. I have repurchased it multiple times and would do so again in the future.

 

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LA ROCHE POSAY : This is my favourite drugstore brand. This primer sunscreen is transparent, gel like smoothing the skin and could not give anyone a white cast. Its highly effective and affordable. Its excellent value for money. I have never been disappointed with any product made by this brand. It ranks points on the echo friendly scale and the container can be recycled.

 

PRATIMA : Lately, when I look for products, my criteria have changed. I am looking for more natural, gentler and sustainable products. This ayurvedic brand meets all the criteria. Its a titanium dioxide physical sunscreen blended with traditional Indian oils like neem. The container is made of post recycled materials and can be recycled once done.

 

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This year, I want to test a few sunscreens from Whole Foods. I have Juice Beauty, Coola, Yes to Cucumbers and the recommendations of EWG on my list. If you have any recommendations, please do let me know.

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