I think we were in the car driving to Central Market when Jo and Nicolle were on the phone. Nicolle said that she had an opportunity to go to Alaska for a few weeks to teach at a school in a tiny village on the North Slope in the dead of winter. I volunteered to travel with her on her way in. Which resulted in us being together a couple of weeks later on a flight coming in to land in Anchorage (it was breathtaking).

That evening Nicolle bought a cooler and stocked it with a small slaughterhouse’s worth of fresh meat and a few other things to supplement what she would find the single general store at Point Hope. The next morning, on January 6th, I dropped her off to continue her journey to Point Hope that still involved multiple flights.

I spent the rest of the day screwing around Anchorage. I strolled along the coastal trail where the Alaska Railways track runs south to the Kenai peninsula. Beyond the train tracks and the short strip of snow-covered land there were blocks of sea ice the size of cars on the Anchorage side of the Knik Arm and warning signs that I shouldn’t wander out there. I turned a corner and came up on the Captain Cook monument. He had arrived here in 1776 looking for the famed northwest passage – a way to get from the Atlantic to the Pacific via northern Canada – worth 20,000 pounds in a law enacted by the British parliament in 1744. Cook sailed up what is called the Cook Inlet today and explored the Knik Arm and the Turnagain Arm, the later named by the infamous Bligh of Bounty fame who was a Master on Cook’s voyage. Once he realized these were dead ends, Cook returned to the Gulf of Alaska and headed north through the Bering Strait. In the Chukchi Sea he found impassable ice and headed back south. If only he had waiting for 150 years, global warming took care of that. In 2014, the Nunavik became the first cargo ship to travel the passage without an escorting ice breaker. Ironically it was delivering nickel from Canada to China. Today the northwest passage is a regular shipping lane. A disappointed Cook returned to Hawaii for repairs and to restock and was killed during a quarrel (see my post from 11 years ago –

All the walking in the cold made me very thirsty and I spent the afternoon visiting a couple of excellent brew pubs around Anchorage. Then I drove to the eastern edge of town and wandered around the surreal winter landscape of the Far North Bicentennial Park, past walkers, joggers, cross country skiers, and an occasional musher in dog sled with a small pack of 2-4 dogs.

The next day I went snowmobiling. I drove to the town of Girdwood an hour south east of Anchorage. I had traveled down this highway to Seward a few years ago during a hiking trip in summer and it was an amazing drive ( I remember thinking – what would this look like in winter? Even more amazing. The body of water in the foreground is the Turnagain Arm. The mountains behind are the northern extensions of the Kenia mountains. The Turnagain Arm has the largest tidal variations in the US, with about 30 feet of change in level every twelve and a half hours. That is a lot of water flowing in and out. In fact, this body of water is one of very few that have a tidal bore – a wall of water than rushes in carrying the tide. It was low tide on my way to Girdwood and I asked if they could hold the high tide till I was on my way back. But Chaucer said that time and tide wait for no man. Boo.

Girdwood was a very successful gold mining town back in the day. It sunk eight feet in 1964 after a huge earthquake. Unfortunately, that Girdwood sits below the famous high tide mark of Turnagain Arm and had to be abandoned. I’m in the new Girdwood this morning to snowmobile. I like to hike. Motorized ways of doing the same are signs of poor moral character and sloth. 4-wheeling or ATV-ing across Big Bend State Park wouldn’t be my cup of tea. So this decision to snowmobile required some inner monologue-ing. Eventually the 4 degree F weather won. I get cold quickly in that kind of temperature. The man who outfitted my said that my jacket would be sufficient because “the handlebars are heated”. Hmm – OK.

Snowmobiling at the base of the Chugach mountains was spectacular. The heated handlebars did keep me warm. We stopped and had a fire in the snow and a picnic of reindeer sausage. We met some dogs that would be running in the Iditarod in a couple of months (they are skinnier and smaller than I expected). And I got to examine a sled that has been used in many past Iditarods.

I stopped by Alyeska, a ski resort in Girdwood. Alyeska comes from the Aleut word for “mainland” or “the object towards which the action of the sea is directed” and is the root of the name Alaska. The ski place is almost at sea level with 600 inches of base. How do you explain to them that in Colorado in December we’re excited about a 40 inch base at 10,000 feet? I was recovering from something happening to my big toe (gout?) and could not force my foot into a ski boot, so I got a nice cup of coffee and watched the skiers for a bit. Then I headed back to Anchorage with four hours to kill before my flight out. One of those were spent in a sensory-depravation float tank. I had never done this before. I suspect I may need to try it a few more times before I can quieten my mind which I find easier to do when I am walking. Then another hour at a pho joint. And two more watching M3GAN (the movie coincided with the world experiencing ChatGPT, making it all the more interesting). Then I stopped at a green light to let a moose cross, got myself to the airport, to LA for breakfast, and back to home for lunch with the family.

I am very excited about what I saw in Anchorage and Girdwood but then an old lady next to me on the flight back snorted “Anchorage isn’t even Alaska”. Nicolle of the North Slope, ye are in for a treat.

A new family member

On the afternoon of the third day of the new year after a couple of glitches with the fine people at the Austin Animal Center, this is what the back seat of Jo’s car looked like. There is a white cardboard box with breathing holes. It contains a kitten. The kitten has been officially named Phineas, after the champion of the 104 days of summer, a few minutes ago. But Evan wonders about cats in boxes. Is it both alive and dead? So he names the kitten Schrödinger. Please welcome Phineas Schrödinger to the family.

By the fourth day of the new year, in a world plagued with uncertainty – right down to the quantum level – one things is clear. Phineas (I’m dropping the Schrödinger – the umlaut is a bit much) is unambiguously the most loved member of the family already. He loves people. He slept on Jo’s boobs for the first few hours after he got home. Then he rode around on Evan’s shoulder, Vivian’s arms, Ouiser’s tail, and my lap. This kitten likes to be held like no animal or child I’ve known before.

Two and a half months have passed between Phineas arriving home and my writing this. We got Phineas because we thought Zeus needed a friend. Phineas is still working on Zeus. As for everyone else, Phineas has filled our hearts and my photo app from that first moment he stepped out of his box.

The end of 2022

We are almost at the Ides of March and I haven’t posted in 2023. Getting a new kitten and a job will do that. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

On the very first day of the kids’ winter break we drove off towards Colorado. Next morning we woke up in a hotel room in Santa Fe and watched the finals of the World Cup. Ouiser and I cheered for France. They lost. It was a close game with six goals scored on the pitch but the winner was finally decided in penalty kicks. I wasn’t a fan of the corruption surrounding the World Cup and Qatar. I was horrified reading about the mistreatment of migrant labor. But large portions of the remittances paid to the laborers who built $300 billion of infrastructure and served during the World Cup reached their families in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and other not-rich countries. Ironically, this would not have happened had the World Cup not been played in a country where locals don’t work (in Qatar there are more than 10 foreigner workers for every Qatari national).

I re-read that previous line a couple of time. Did I work three negatives in there, really? : – )

As the tournament progressed, I did come around to the idea of a non-top-32 country hosting the World Cup. The Arab and African teams and supporters were so much fun to watch. The cup itself unfolded pretty flawlessly. Qatar gave the world a tournament to remember. Just wish it didn’t require bribing FIFA officials and killing laborers from 3rd world countries.

Here is a photo of us watching the final closing minutes of the tournament in Santa Fe.

We literally drove out minutes after the final whistle to Pagosa Springs in southern Colorado. Nicolle and her family showed up later that night. For the next several days we hung out, cooked, ate, walked the kids and Ouiser, skied, and bathed in hot springs. About the last matter – Jo and the kids plunged into the freezing (literally) San Juan river multiple times. Once Evan’s face was frozen open. He said “I wanted to scream but my jaws were frozen”. I watched them from my tub, comfortably soaking in mineral water bubbling away at a 108 degrees F while sipping my kale cucumber cleanse. I don’t jump into freezing water. I often didn’t shower in Pilani for a couple of weeks at a time in winter because one semi-warm bucket of water that you carry from your dorm room to the bathroom doesn’t make for a hot shower.

Pagosa Springs was fun and very lazy. We did get a bit of skiing in and no one broke anything, thereby extending our streak to almost a full year. And the drive there and back went fast – probably because of all the people in the car – the four of us and Carol and two dogs. At any given time there was a good chance that someone was farting.

We got back to Austin and spent Christmas eve night and Christmas morning at the white wooden house.

Evan finally got a phone (my old one, and I upgraded). Vivian got a sewing machine. Carol got a huge big heavy blanket from Vivian that she crocheted over several months, instantly becoming her favorite grand child (it’s not the one in the picture up there). Evan got a chemistry set and he was really excited. Vivian gave Jo and me a lovely painting of us. Then we drove to Canyon Lake for Christmas dinner and I discovered cracks in the water softener area and the attic and spent the rest of the day sniffing plumbers glue. We returned to Austin and enjoyed the last few days of 2023 – walking the lovely foggy trails, and hanging out with friends.

Evan cracked open his chem kit and started on the first few experiments. We went to the Reilly’s for New Years and were home soon after midnight! 2023, let’s see what you got.

The Christmas Letter

The year “after” the pandemic is a wrap! We traveled again. We ate at restaurants again. We went to concerts again. We practically hugged and licked strangers. If I had to stop here, that was our 2022.

Wait, there’s more. The kids changed faster than Superman in a phone booth. I don’t remember what they were like a week ago. But I remember enough to brag a bit shamelessly. Vivian is somehow making honor role while binging on Brooklyn Nine-Nine the entire weekend before her exams. She travelled from school to two caving trips, her latest passion. And for a three-day conference on student leadership and diversity which she said was mind-blowing. She is a sport and doesn’t mind Jo and I pulling her leg about her dating situation at the family dinner table. She is having a lot of fun with visual art and did some good work, but fortunately she is also keen on science and math : – ). I enjoy most of my conversations with Vivian and I marvel at how she has a deeply nuanced feel for some of the hardest problems that her generation faces.

Evan grew and grew. He is a slightly mustachioed young man with a deep voice who needs longer pants every few months. He still plays center defender on his club soccer team with gusto and loves chasing down an opposing player who has the ball. He has fully nerded out on chemistry and physics and has a seemingly easy familiarity with Heisenberg and Planck. But he is diversifying. He has joined his school basketball team (first ever sport that is not called soccer!) and mock United Nations. He is mentoring a kindergarten kid at his school. He is contributing to the school newspaper (but predictably his first article was on the Bose-Einstein condensate). He is pretty chill and easy to hang out with unless you are trying to get him to do something. In that case he starts with “jez-a-minute” and it ends with me pulling out fist fulls of my sparse hair. Alas he is the refined product of generations of Chatterjee-Clark stubbornness distilled into one lovely human.

Jo is very much Jo. She celebrated the end of the pandemic by going to Jordan with a group of complete strangers. There she did things like pulling herself upriver in a slot canyon, and spending the night in a Bedouin encampment. I am learning to balance work (which has been extremely interesting) and family, and Jo is nice enough to rarely tell me that I am failing.

In 2022 we were fortunate to spend quality time with friends and family. And I was sadly reminded again that time is all we got.

Most mornings in 2022 I woke up and smelled the roses and marveled at this amazing life. Sure, there were ups and downs. But I got through Brazil losing on penalty kicks. I hope that 2023 is full of promise and hope for you.

Love and hugs from Pagosa Springs where the powder is light and the mountains are stunning.

December 22, 2022

Lake District

When I went to Hawaii for the first time, I didn’t want to believe there was anything to the place. I assumed it was a less ugly version of Florida, overrated by mainland natives who are reluctant to step over international borders. But by my second day in Maui I was looking about jobs for computer architects in the neighborhood (there were none). I did not assume that the Italian Lake District was overrated. I was still blown away by how pretty it is.

We checked into our hotel in Como and walked up to the lake front. Soon we were on the slow boat to Bellagio (these people shamelessly steal the best of Las Vegas – they even put gondolas in Venice!). The scenery is breathtaking. The little towns and villages on the shoreline and up on the mountains are divine. I understand why, if you have a couple of extra hundreds of millions, you would buy a little place up here. Our slow boat with a bunch of drunk Russian wanna-be oligarchs slowly crisscrossed the lake going from village to village, stopping at stone steps and piers to load or unload roller-suitcase toting couples on their honeymoon. Evan drifted off to sleep on my shoulder under the bluest sunny skies. I stared at the villages wondering where I’d like to walk around for the day.

As we approached the picturesque hamlet of Argegno, I opened the All Trails app on my phone and found a description of a trail that I liked: about seven miles round trip with two thousand feet of elevation gain and breathtaking views of the lake and the mountains. We hopped off the boat and walked up a long wide set of stairs through Argegno. Then we stopped at a soccer field where the kids got to be silly for a few minutes. We peeked into a church perched over the lake, and walked through the narrow steep alleyways of Muronico and Rovasco till we found the sign for the mulattiera (mule trail) to the village of Pigra.

Jaime and I huffed and puffed our way up the steep inclines while the boys chatted with each other, occasionally falling far behind and then running up the hills to pass us. We paused at what must have once been a chestnut orchard with huge trees and beautiful sweeping views of Lake Como far below us. The kids played baseball and golf with the spikey chestnuts that covered the grass below the trees. We passed a small family of boars, and Adrian almost crept up to a huge stag.

Eventually we arrived at Pigra, a small mountain village tucked under Mount Pasquella. There are two restaurants in town and both were closed. It was dusk and the boys decided to play in the park next to the cemetery. Jaime and I walked up the street towards what looked like a bar that was open. A car passed us going the other way with a lone old driver. Just as we arrived at the bar we heard the loud blast of a trumpet behind us. My first instinct was that the kids had tripped some sort of an alarm. It turned out to be the old guy. He goes to the cemetery after sunset to play taps for some long forgotten lover much to the annoyance of the rest of the village. The bar owner grilled us a couple of sandwiches and poured me some wine. Jaime and I struck up a conversation with him. He had travelled the world and then married and settled here. The village was quiet and there were several unoccupied houses. Many locals went to work in Switzerland everyday because the pay is substantially higher there (the Swiss border is only a few miles away). Jaime asked if outsiders were buying up the empty houses in Pigra. David, in no uncertain terms indicated that while this is paradise, foreigners weren’t super welcome. He has lived here for 15 years and was born only 17 miles away. His kids were born in Pigra. And they are still treated as outsiders!

It was well after dark that we started down the path back to Argegno. Evan and Adrian entertained themselves with mostly imagined sounds of wild animals in the woods around us.

The full moon rose over Lake Como and we walked back through the now shuttered villages back to the lake and boarded the very last bus back to Como. By the time we walked back to the hotel, Evan was half asleep.

The next morning Jaime drove us to the town on Biella about an hour away. We stayed at a lovely old home and went out to look around a bit. And that was it. The morning after we packed up early and drove to the airport. There was a long stopover in Newark which Evan navigated well almost right up to the end. Then he OD-ed on Doritos and KitKats and passed out just when it was time to wake him up for a three hour flight to Austin. Jo picked us up at Bergstrom and we walked into the white wooden house at midnight. A week well spent!

Cinque Terre

Evan and I overslept. We had gotten back to our hotel in Milan well after midnight after the football game. I didn’t set an alarm. I woke up with a start at noon.

Jaime and co had gotten downstairs for breakfast but then when we didn’t show they went back up to rest. It was drizzling and gray and Evan and I walked across the street to the Esselunga supermercati and bought ourselves some fresh croissants, fruits, and something that Evan picked up. After having eaten enrobed (chocolate dipped) Oreos in Iceland, Evan continued his experimentation with this niche haute cuisine. He bought branded Oreo donuts covered in crushed Oreo with a ring of white Oreo goop inside. They weren’t very good.

We eventually got underway and walked around the Duomo. We found a Venchi store where we loaded up on chocolates. Evan wanted to shop for suits in the Galleria (the original mother of all gallerias, built a 150 years ago), but I told him to look at the prices and he unhappily changed his mind. I do believe that if he gets his shit together, Evan will be back to Milan one day to buy himself a suit or two.

We got on the road and Jaime followed the autostrada south towards Genova on the coast. After crossing the flat agricultural and industrial heart of Lombardy we eventually entered the Ligurian alps about an hour outside Genova. We drove past many small mountain towns that looked mostly deserted. On a whim Jaime took an exit and we explored the beautiful tiny comune of Isola del Cantone nestled on both banks of the Scrivia river. A few lighted windows and an occasional tendril of smoke curling up from a chimney indicated the village had a small number of residents. The kids crossed an ancient pedestrian bridge and walked over to a church next to a cemetery with eerie glowing electronic candles while Jaime and I drove to the next motorable bridge and met them on the other side. We talked about Italy’s demographic shift and the problem with keeping small villages and towns going. Many places give homes away for a single Euro to try to lure young people to return and invest and raise a family in these places.

We got into Genova well after dark and left next morning – just long enough to give us a vague impression of a vibrant working city built on high hills and deep river valleys reaching down to a big port. The highways in and out of Genova are engineering marvels consisting almost entirely of tall bridges and tunnels. This is where the Morandi bridge collapsed in 2018 killing 43 people both on and below the bridge. A new sleek (and hopefully stronger) replacement bridge was designed by hometown architect Renzo Piano and was operational in record time. We left Genova under a light drizzle on E80, the Trans European highway that connects the Atlantic coast of Portugal with the Turkish-Iranian border. Jaime was driving and that gave me a lot of time to look around. The kids rested in the back. The city gave way to green tree covered mountains and small colorful villages shrouded in low clouds.

After about an hour we exited the very modern high bridges and tunnels of E80 into a different world. Except for cars and light poles and an occasional Piaggio three-wheeler, the Ligurian coast is frozen in time. We drove along the twisted narrow road hugging the jagged coastline past the beautiful villages of Bonassola and Lavento to eventually set our eyes on the village on Monterosso al Mare, the first of the Cinque Terre villages when you approach from the north. Our hotel asked us to park at the village center and presently a car from the hotel came by to get us. Soon I understood why. This guy deftly drove us up narrow pedestrian paths cantilevered out over the deep blue waters below with inches to spare on either side, and deposited us at the Hotel Porto Roca. This is the view from my balcony.

We quickly dropped off our luggage and got on the sentiero or walking path to Vernazza, the second of the Cinque Terre villages. The internet told us it would take 90 minutes, and the man collecting toll (cash only) looked us up and down and said “two hours”. We didn’t hurry. The boys horsed around and joked and stopped often and Jaime stopped even more often to take photos of everything, so we were surprised when we arrived in Vernazza less than 50 minutes later. It is only 2 miles from Monterosso, but there are a lot of steps and walking along narrow ancient rock retaining walls. In the photo below you can see Vernazza around the second corner, a bit of the village of Corniglia up on the cliffs above and past Vernazza, and eventually Manarola, the fourth of the Cinque Terre. Riomaggiore, the last village is tucked in a bay behind Manarola before the last point of the coastal hills slopping into the Ligurian sea. If I look back from here I can still see Monterosso. So there you have it, all five famous villages a little over 5 miles from each other as the crow flies.

We walked down into Vernazza. Evan got a gelato. I ordered some tuna crudo from a little place and the Russian proprietor explained that she had traveled all over India several times before settling in Vernazza years ago. The tonno had been fished out of the waters outside the marine protected area around Cinque Terre a few hours ago. It was fresh enough to slap. We parted ways with Jaime & co who continued on the sentiero to Corniglia. Evan and I were lazier and we hopped on a train to Riomaggiore and after walking around a bit we returned to Monterosso the fast way. We dipped our feet at the beach in the cool clear waters of the Mediterranean, drank a cold birra and a Sprite, and went back to our hotel to enjoy the view from the balcony and his iPad in bed respectively.

At an awesome sunset we met the rest of our party for dinner and turned in for the night with the balcony door open. The faint sounds of the sea from the cliffs below lulled me to sleep while I pondered about life, the universe, and how AI can be used to automatically create short-form video stories.

I recollected all this and put it in the blog the day after we returned to Austin. My jet lagged brain woke up at 2am. It turns out that I can write a lot of unfocused shit when there are five hours to kill before anyone else is up.

Fall Break

Evan has a week off for Fall break. Vivian does not. When Jo asks Evan what he wants to do for his Fall break, he predictably says “Nothing”. Which is code for “I want to play video games, lay in bed reading or watching YouTube all week long”. So we do the exact opposite. Jaime and I plan a week long trip for our two 12-year old boys. The boys skip school on Friday (Evan is recovering from a bout of flu, so he has already missed several days of school this week) and we hop on a flight from Austin to Newark. I get this lovely view of downtown Manhattan as we come in to land at EWR airport early in the afternoon. Later that evening we board a longer flight and we wake up in Milan on Saturday morning.

Jaime finds us a great lunch spot and we eat like locals for hours. Eventually we stop at our hotel for a quick checkin and then we are on our way to San Siro stadium, the home of AC Milan, to watch them play Juventus. The stadium is buzzing. We have fancy VIP tickets because they were the only tickets available online directly from the AC Milan website. The teams are warming up. The crowd is streaming in. Pretty soon every last seat is filled. We are a few rows from the field up from the corner mark. The press and TV crew is in the field below us. The home team fan section is behind the near goal, to our right. They are chanting and waving and doing their European soccer fan thing. The atmosphere is electrifying.

The home team wins 2-0 and everyone except for a few thousand fans on the Juventus side of the stadium are happy. We stop at the VIP lounge for some champaign because that’s how we roll and then we step out of San Siro. The surrounding areas have been transformed into a big party. Thousands of fans are chatting away in groups. The food trucks are selling sandwiches and pizzas as fast as they can. The trams are filled to capacity and we can see people pressed against the glass windows inside. We opt to walk the two miles to the hotel, more than half of which is in the company of people leaving the stadium. By the time we get into bed it is well past midnight. Not a bad first day.


I have discovered that I like to walk.

My dad used to famously walk. While my mother walked twice between our front door and the end of the driveway every evening while stopping to examine a plant or a bloom in the garden on her way to declaring victory, my dad was out there at the crack of dawn for his “morning walk”. It was his religion. He took our little Lhasa terrier, Rani (“queen” and treated like one) out on a leash. Rani quickly transferred herself to my dad’s right arm. My dad and Rani were a daily fixture on Road No. 2, Banjara Hills, back when it was a dirt road to nowhere. Our home was the very first house on the street. People had just started building in Jubilee Hills, at that time the largest new development in Hyderabad. They paved the road, one lane in each direction, and a handful of homes popped up between us and the end of the road at Jubilee Hills. The Chenali compound was built a year before my parents built their home, though there was no direct access to their four houses from Road No. 2. A bit further up the road was Nawab Ali Yawar Jung’s lovely Spanish style villa. Nawab Jung was a retired governor and diplomat and most interestingly he and his French wife were divorced (I was 13 so that was pretty damn interesting). Captain Bedi built a new house on Road No. 2. My friend Praveen’s wife’s parents (Praveen and Renuka wouldn’t meet for many years), Mr. & Mrs Shastry were our immediate neighbors with a lovely garden and some younger children.

But the majority of the property along the entire 2.5 km stretch of Road No. 2 between the Masjid and the Jubilee Hills checkpoint was the last personal property of Mukkaram Jah, the grandson of the richest man in the world in his time, the H.E.H Nizam of Hyderabad. The word on the street was that Muk was living in Australia with his European wife and he never came home. Because of that or perhaps because Rani was incredibly cute, my dad and she were the most famous morning walkers on Road No. 2. A few people stopped and chatted with Dr. Chatterjee and said hello to Rani. But a majority did not know my dad. They stopped to pay their respects to Rani, carefully tucked under my dad’s arm. It was in this weird way that my parents came to know Dr. Nageshwara Rao, a new neighbor and a preeminent eye surgeon who founded the L. V. Prasad Eye Institute up the street a few years later and operated on my mother’s cataracts, and Brigadier Rao, after whose passing his wife and my mother ran a charitable medical clinic in Srinagar Colony. Credit it all to my dad’s love for walking. He’d tell stories of when he was a young professor who had been sent to Katmandu, then under the preview of Patna University, to conduct exams. He was a royal visitor and the King of Nepal provided my dad with a hiking escort who took him on all kinds of adventures around Katmandu. Or when he was in Scotland working for ICI as a freshly minted PhD, and he’d walk up and down the coast along the Firth of Clyde near Saltcoats. When we were about Evan’s age, my dad dragged Alu and me on the first day of our summer vacations to walk to his work – a distance of about 12 km, just for fun. He’d send his driver on ahead in the car with a thermos filled with fresh squeezed tomato juice to wait for us at the far end.

About a year and a half ago I discovered accidentally that I am diabetic. Duh. My mother and later my dad were both diabetic. My mother’s mom died when my mother was young, due to complications from diabetes. My mother was a doctor and a pretty logical person in most ways (besides being somewhat religious). She managed her diabetes with an iron discipline, eating carefully and taking her insulin shots. In the end she lived to be 77, but she would be the first to say that 75 would have been sufficient. She lost her hearing after a stroke, and after that we mostly communicated by telling each other bad jokes (I had to write mine out on a small whiteboard for her to read so the jokes were bad and short). She told me when I was 14 that unless they cure diabetes by then, I had better be ready to stop eating sugar when I turned 50. I got seven more years than that and that’s OK.

As a part of managing my metabolism, and because I now have a dog or a dog has me, I took up walking in earnest when my doctor gave me my diabetes diagnosis. Ouiser and I are on the trails at least five days a week. We walk 2-5 miles, preferably on non-flat terrain. Seventy-five weeks, 10-20 miles a week, probably around 1000 miles. The weather is Austin in good enough to hit the road every day. In the heat of the worst summer days, I’m back home before it is 80 degrees F. On most other days Ouiser and I walk under glorious skies. I have about five trails I love and at least 2-3 variations on each one. That means I rarely do the same walk in the same direction more often than once in two weeks. Sometimes I wander aimlessly. More often I do something specific while walking. I sort out something that has been bugging me. Or I plan out a strategy or prepare a work presentation while walking. Though well-intentioned, my inner monologue is constantly interrupted by conversations with Ouiser. There are permissions to be given to jump into creeks for a swim. Or directions to pick at forks in the trail depending on our mood. Or admonishments for wandering too far or lollygagging too far behind. Or apologies for hot days. There is a constant chatter between us.

I may have given you an impression that Ouiser’s desire to go on these walks is equal or greater than my own. Alas that is not true. After devouring her breakfast, she prefers to curl up somewhere comfortable like in Vivian’s bed, for her morning nap. Then I say “Ouiser, let’s go for a walk”. She’ll at first studiously pretend not to hear. She’ll feign deep sleep. Or look intently at her tail. Eventually when this approach becomes untenable she walks up to Jo and begs sympathy and lays down behind her with a deep sigh. About half the time I let her be and go walk by myself. The rest of the time I insist. Once she’s there Ouiser loves every moment of it, galloping through the shallow creek beds, jumping into the deeper waters, and laying still in the swimming holes to cool off. She plays catch spontaneously in the thick grasses at places she has designated in her mind as play areas. She goes off exploring, following deer and feral pig scents on side trails. But Jo wonders if I’m making all this up. “If she likes her walks so much, why does she ask me to save her from your walks every morning?”

Walking in my soul food. It is therapy. It is being intimately aware of my surroundings. I know when the rain lilies bloom. And when they droop. And which salvia blooms under what cedar tree. And how high the water is at this crossing. And strangely, like in My Octopus Teacher, I know the horsefly that buzzes around me after I cross Turkey creek. And I dwell on it when he disappears. On Fridays Gunaraj and Rajeeta often join me. On a rare weekend I drag one of the kids along. But whether with them or Ouiser or alone it is all good. Often a run up a short hill. Or a jog down a long one. As I clear the spider webbing sticking to my face, the fog lifts from my mind. The world and everything in it is in a sharper focus when I move through it one step at a time.

Completely unecessarily I’ll quote my father and mother’s favorite poet whose enormous portrait hung over my dad’s desk in our library. Rabindranath Thakur wrote “Ekla cholo re” (“Walk Alone”).

যদি তোর ডাক শুনে কেউ না আসে তবে একলা চলো রে।
একলা চলো একলা চলো একলা চলো একলা চলো রে॥

Another Year, another Day

Recently I was fortunate to celebrate finishing another orbit around the sun.

That’s fifty eight so far. When you’re young you know you’ll live forever. When you’re old you know you’ll die someday. I’m at the uncertain age when I hold both thoughts in my head at the same time.

Evan most likely caught a flu infection during a sleepover last Saturday at a friend’s who wasn’t yet symptomatic. His parents texted us to warn us that their son had the flu on Monday morning. Early Tuesday morning Evan had a high fever and threw up. Evan’s pediatrician ran some tests. Evan came in negative for Covid and positive for flu. He was on Tamiflu by that evening after throwing up three times. Jo, Vivian, and I tried to be careful, and Evan isolated pretty well. After two years of pandemic we all knew the routine. But by 6pm on Wednesday I was distinctly unwell. Jo suggested I do a quick tele-health consult with a doctor. By 7pm he had called in a prescription for Tamiflu. By 8pm Jo had stood in line at the nearest 24-hour HEB pharmacy for 45 minutes to pick up my prescription. At 9pm I popped my first Tamiflu. Jo checked my temperature. One hundred and three point five degrees. She sighed. I grimaced. In 36 hours Evan and I were scheduled to be on a long airplane ride. Evan was on a trajectory to recovery but things didn’t look good for me. How I celebrated my birthday the next day wasn’t on top of my mind.

Tamiflu works by blocking newly replicated virus from being able to exit an infected cell. From our Covid reading, we all know that a virus enters a cell in the host using a suitable and specific spike protein. Then it takes over the biochemical factory of that cell to make many copies of itself. The copies are released into the host to repeat the process. The cell wall is ground zero in the fight against viral infections. The mRNA based Covid vaccines work by pretending they are the spike protein of the Covid virus, tricking the body into producing defensive antibodies for the Covid virus spike protein. This protects us from the worst effects of an actual Covid infection in the future because the virus can’t get into enough cells. Tamiflu works by stopping the newly created copies of a flu virus within our infected cells from being able to get out of the cells. It stops the neuraminidase enzymes of the virus from being able to attack the inside of our cell walls. The virus are trapped inside our cells. They can reproduce all they want inside an infected cell but they can’t infect new cells. If taken early in a viral infection, Tamiflu can reduce the spread of the infection, minimize symptoms, and make you less infectious quicker. I was a perfect case, having started my dose about three hours after the first onset of symptoms. As I went to sleep, I hoped the science would work.

Thursday dawned. I slept on. I had turned off my alarms but I am usually awake between 5:45am and 6:30 am. I woke with a start at 8:05am. My first thought was the memory of feeling sick the night before. The second was I late for my daily morning trail walk. The third was that Vivian had left the house for school almost an hour ago and here I was just waking up. The fourth was that it was my birthday. I jumped out of bed to check my temperature. I zapped my forehead with one of those forehead scanning thermometers left over from taking Vivian’s temps every morning for a year (for her school’s Covid protocol app). 98.6. I knew these aren’t the most accurate devices. I zapped three more times. No fever. I checked my pulse. Steady, strong, 68. Jo walked up the stairs and asked how I felt. I said “Uh – I think great!”.

I didn’t go on that walk. But I finished a huge breakfast just in time for my 9am meeting. Then there was another longer meeting at noon (both remote). When Jo asked I told her not to cancel dinner reservations. Evan took his unused puke bowl down from his bed and put it in the sink, saying he felt pretty good too. Birthday wishes came in from various time zones. Alu called and held out his phone while Michelle played the most uplifting concert version of Happy Birthday ever. By the time Jo and Vivian walked in after Vivian’s school, Evan and I were showered and dressed in real pants and we went for a lovely dinner at Josephine House.

Two glasses of cab and a perfect steak later I felt like a million bucks. Some of that was wondering whether I got lucky, or had the science worked so damn well. Some of it was because I knew Evan and I were going on that trip tomorrow morning. Some of it was the wine speaking. But most of it is warm reflections of another great orbit around the sun with my crew who are sitting around this marble dinner table outside Josephine House on a lovely October evening with me. Love you to the core of your DNA. And you RNA too.

Why don’t ants get Covid?














They already have anty bodies.

Goodnight : – )

Dawson, NE

We flew from Reykjavik to Boston, spent the night at an airport hotel, and continued at the crack of dawn to Kansas City where I had parked Jo’s car about three weeks ago. Before lunch we are driving past rolling fields of corn, dark green and already taller than we are. Carol is expecting us. She has left Sadie in her bedroom so that when we arrive, Ouiser can greet us properly without having another dog around. The kids grumble that Grandma has never shown this level of consideration for her grandkids. Jo adds that Carol was never this nice to her kids. Ouiser has been very well cared for.

The next few days in Dawson are slow and easy. The only things we really do is walk the dogs up to Heim cemetery and go to Frosty Queen for crunch cones. One day I get to visit the fields with Tom. As usual Tom patiently answers my questions about everything – corn futures, the internal workings of combines, an infestation of Japanese beetles. I see the copper and green Japanese beetles first hand eating their way through soy bean leaves. A crop duster flies low overhead dusting a neighboring field.

Carol has helped Vivian learn how to crochet and has given her a hook and yarn. Vivian and I fly back from Kansas City airport to home. She crochets obsessively all the way back. Over the next few days she makes herself a very shaggy looking sweater and calls it “cottagecore” while I call it ugly. At home we are greeted very vocally by our dear Zeus who tells us all about how she has been alone for weeks and that we are assholes, over and over again. She lays on top of us meowing very loudly.

In a few days Ouiser, Jo and Evan drive back to Austin from Nebraska and we are finally back to full strength at the white wooden house. Soccer and the schools start up. Summer is supposedly over and it is only a 100 degrees outside. Vivian is in 10th (I have a hard time wrapping my head around that) grade and Evan is in 7th.

It has been another epic summer trip, especially our 3000 km drive around Iceland. But we are happy to be back home and reunited with our furry kids. Once the hairless kids are in school Jo and I go for a nice brunch to Josephine House and enjoy our customary back to school celebration. Cheers to another academic year.