Monday, September 29, 2008


Monsoon is finally over, which means I can walk to school without my umbrella. Gone are the torrential downpours on our tin roof, gone is the river that occasionally tumbled over the path in front of our house. The ferns are drying up to show that the oaken forest is no longer saturated with the soupy cold of rain and clouds. And we are spending more time outside, which means that we get to see fuzzy caterpillars...

...they supposedly sting, but I haven't checked yet. We see a fair number of moths, and some of them are shapes which seem unusual, but then I am not a mothist. This one seems to have antlers:
The ferns leave as quickly as they came. They are dried and brown in these pictures, but they are falling off the trees and soon all but the thicker Christmas Ferns will be gone until next monsoon.

This butterfly is kind of a dusty tan color on the outside, but the inside of the wings are an electric blue. As a photographer, I am not frantic enough to give you a blue action shot, so you will just have to take my word for it. Or visit.
Below is a small lizard of the skink type. I'm fairly sure the Latin name might be skinkus skinkus. They are soft little lizards, kind of a pewter grey with a copper shine. Their tails break off in an emergency, so sometimes we see them with crisp little cuts where their tails were. I caught one the other day and let Will try to catch it. He almost killed the poor thing, but we discussed gentleness with creatures and it was a learning experience. Skinks are pretty resilient. Today Will told me that story as I laid on the couch recovering from parent conferences. "Once a pon time... I caught a little lizard and Pappa caught a little lizard. "
And now that it is warm, the Burchell kids go for an occasional swim. They each get their own tub, and here Will is donating some of his water to Annie's tub while Annie tries to chart a course into Will's bigger tub. These two are most of the wildlife around here.

my inner economist

This blog was never intended to be a serious academic source of information or news, and any observations I may make about the Wall Street drama will be pathetically under informed and laughably erroneous. So I'll give it a shot:

There are only a few people alive who know for sure why the whole thing works or if it works. If the $700 billion bailout still leaves people feeling desperate, why don't they just double the amount? It's all pretend money being pulled out of a budget that doesn't exist and creating a debt to nobody which will never be paid. There is something distinctly pretend about the world economy.

I have a sneaky suspicion that the Bernankespan guy could fix the whole thing by saying, "It's fine, guys. I fixed it." Everyone would relax and give a nervous little laugh and go about their business and it would be fine.

amusing myself

Tomorrow my precalculus classes will enjoy or endure an introduction to complex numbers. This came to mind over quarter break when Joie and I spent a few minutes pulling weeds in our garden to reclaim a few inches from the encroaching jungle. Or to make our garden encroach on the jungle. Anyway, I have exploited the cuteness of my very own son to demonstrate that even the invasive weed 'kali ghas' can have both real and imaginary roots.

Friday, September 26, 2008

gym dandy

They are building a gym at Woodstock School. Since the school is located in a natural forest of some sort, an ocean of paperwork held up the project for several years and the treasured bit of flat space was of very little use to the school. Construction is finally in full swing, twenty hours a day I'm told, just a very literal and very tempting stone's throw below our cozy cottage.

I thought that I would take a few pictures of the building site. Much of India is under construction at any given time, so this is not an entirely new experience for us, but people in other countries can not perhaps imagine what this implies, and we do not often take pictures of every project that we see.

If I had heard a few years ago that a gym was being constructed, I would have pictured men in hardhats and neon vests taking control of the situation and making the elements submit to the technology of mankind. They would level the site with a heavy machine and they would use a crane to lower each finely engineered steel beam into place. There are some fundamental differences when construction occurs in India.

To begin with, as seen in the picture below, the construction crew has set up shacks to live in right here on the building site. Such projects rely heavily on manpower, and India is simply teeming with that. To use a bulldozer in such an endeavor would deprive people of jobs. The bottomless supply of labor creates a very different economic situation than what we see in the Western world. In the US, salaries and availability of labor make it critical to find an efficient method--an earth moving machine is used to do a job quickly if it will save a crew of men a day of toil. Here a fundamentally different economy makes it much cheaper to be inefficient, or perhaps redefines efficiency.
The next picture shows some of the large mounds of dirt. Some is sand for concrete, carried in on the backs of mules. The nearest road access is a few hundred meters away. The materials are dumped in piles from a truck and hauled the rest of the way by mules. The brown dirt has been dug out of the holes. All of the digging is done by hand, and some of the holes are 14 feet deep, according to Nigel, the man in charge. In this picture, you can see a few of the circular pans covered in sacks that a person uses to carry gravel around. Also visible are the steel reinforcing rods that came in a few at a time on the shoulders of lines of men stepping carefully and feeling the heavy spring of all that metal.
The next picture shows a few mules making a delivery of sand and gravel for concrete. Each mule is fitted with a pair of bags that are filled to the brim with bricks or dirt or sand. The mules walk slowly and cautiously, zig-zagging up the hills to decrease the steepness (these mules know calculus). Also in this picture is a pair of men working to bend the steel bars, some of which have already been planted in forbidding little clusters in the background. This is the mixing of the concrete. The large black tank is for water, identical to the two or three that store our water here at Redwood Cottage.
This picture again shows the mixing process. Also visible is an amazing little trick that can be observed near any road project all over this fair land. The two-man rope-shovel. A rope is tied to a shovel near the blade and a second man holds the other end of the rope. The man with the wooden handle of the spade stabs it into a pile of gravel, but the lifting is done by the other man using the rope. The arrangement seems like it would prevent a few back problems, but perhaps it only addresses a shovel shortage.
The rope-shovel:

Saturday, September 20, 2008

search result

Someone just came to my blog after googling 'porcupine ancestry'. This very blog was evidently on the second page of results, which means that someone somewhere in this big world of ours at 5:56:49 pm on September 16 2008 had already been disappointed by the first few search results and was probably uttering words to the effect of "Lan'sakes-alive! They say this inner net is so great... I can't find ennathang about porcupine ancestry." or "Blast! Confound it all. My plan is coming to ruination in the critical moments. I shall be ruling Europe within a week if only I can establish this beast's lineage." or "Pay up, man, not even Google says they're related to sea urchins." I will be amused for the rest of the day as I speculate about the webpage that could have satisfied such a query. I'm mostly sure that my blog didn't clear anything up.

Monday, September 1, 2008

more monkeys

These are the nice monkeys, the langurs. The brown monkeys that backhand their little ones are called rhesus. The langurs are lean and graceful, beautiful creatures that are an asset to the community. They enjoy eating nuts and leaves and giving humans a respectful distance. They keep their fur clean.

The rhesus are filthy stinky beasts. They are aggressive toward humans and they enjoy eating garbage and stealing from shopkeepers and pooing on the center of the trail. They fight with each other and screech and chatter from the trees. They are the ridiculous bandar-log from 'The Jungle Book'.