Days at the Hermitage House are lazy, or as lazy as we wish them to be. So, for the moment, our little family has a pattern where Simon wakes early, between 5 and 7 a.m. Simon and I get dressed and walk around, letting Susie get some rest. We do some activity or other until Simon’s naptime, then another activity following Simon’s nap…punctuated throughout by sumptuous multicourse meals where I consistently overeat. Susie repays my early morning parenting by letting me nap under the bamboo-thatched roof of the main patio in the late afternoon. Then it is dinner with David (owner of the House), after which Simon goes to sleep, and finally Morvarid (David’s wife and our chef) and Katrina (their wildlife biologist daughter) join us for conversation.
Each day, it seems, we see a lot worth describing — sights and people that would fill many social and ecological books. Our daytime sights can be captured in pictures, more or less, and we will no doubt bore our friends silly with countless photographs. But each sunrise and sunset provide moments that can’t be captured by the lens, creating wonderful bookends to the overwhelming sensations of daytime India.
Just after sunrise, fussy Simon seems to instantly settle down as soon as we go outside. We both just stare at the humid haze of the night melt away from shaded coffee, banana palms, and hills covered in forest. A kingfisher greets us each morning, bobbing its head from a powerline perch, and I have watched Simon look intently at this little bird as it watches with equal intensity for lizards or mice to eat. As we walked down a farm path, Simon wrapped up in a blanket in my arms (he was squawking so loudly inside our room that I didn’t bother to dress him), we both froze as a shrub jostled ten feet ahead. A large male peacock stalked out from one bush, posed nervously for an instant, and then dashed across our path into the forest on the other side.
And after sunset, when Simon has gone to sleep, and the dishes are being cleared from dinner, we listen to the forest noise increase and chat with our hosts. I am always worried about keeping them up too late, and yet they do not seem to tire of us. Morvarid has a knack for asking us very simple questions that are so very difficult to answer, like “Who owns the water in the U.S.?” or “Why is your healthcare so expensive?” We have discussed leopards and bears, how governments treat their indigenous peoples, India’s laws against animal cruelty, how the price of onions can ruin political careers. Last night Morvarid told us a bit about her upbringing as a Zoroastrian. I can barely remember learning of this, the most ancient monotheistic religion on the planet, when I was in college. To hear her talk of her faith community as a living (if rare) part of Indian city life was amazing. For instance, an ecological-religious problem that many Zoroastrian communities face is that they are running out of vultures. You know, vultures…the birds that devour your departed loved one’s corpse after it is interred in the roofless Tower of Silence.
Maybe these topics would only appeal to another nerd, but they are made more interesting by the surroundings – monkeys calling in the distance, the flutter of a bat or bird close by, and all the while finishing off each night’s homemade dessert – apple crumble with whole sticks of cinnamon baked right in, or strawberry ice cream made that morning from fresh strawberries and the heaviest, tastiest cream I have ever eaten.
These two bookends – quiet time with Simon on a farm just waking up to the day, and a nighttime roundtable between families from different worlds, are pleasures that we probably won’t have elsewhere. But for now, at least, I am grateful for peaceful moments and hopeful that new bookends appear to take their place.