Posted tagged ‘nature’

Quote – John Muir on “Nature”

7 January 2011

 

Building...

creating...

destroying...

John Muir (1838-1914)

Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.

John Muir, Naturalist and explorer

 

Image Credits: Click on image to reach source.

  • Building… – US National Parks Service, Public domain.
  • Creating… – Edward Crateau, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain.
  • Destroying… – Christian Revival Network on Flickr. CC Attribution 3.0 Unported.

 

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A child said, What is the grass?

13 January 2010

In Indian schoolbooks, one often comes across poems by the British masters such as Keats, Wordsworth, Yeats and Hopkins. The American poets such as Robert Frost and Walt Whitman are rarely to be found. This is due to our colonial legacy.

The very first nature poem that was featured on this blog was Robert Frost’s “Stopping by woods on a snowy evening“.

Here now is one by Walt Whitman, who writes about a very common motif of nature, often overlooked,  over-trod and discounted – Grass.

Grass & wild flowers on a Russian river bank

Grass & wild flowers on a Russian river bank.

A child said, What is the grass?

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it
is any more than he.I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we
may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child. . . .the produced babe
of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow
zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the
same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;
It may be you are from old people and from women, and
from offspring taken soon out of their mother’s laps,
And here you are the mother’s laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old
mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths
for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men
and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring
taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
What do you think has become of the women and
children?

A US Postage Stamp of 1948 commemorating Walt Whitman.

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait
at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward. . . .and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and
luckier.

Walt Whitman

A nature poem?  Not quite!

One could say that Whitman used grass to expound about the human condition much as Sylvia Plath used Mushrooms for her purpose. However Whitman goes much further. He uses motifs from nature and man’s experience of it through the senses to exalt the human body and materialism. This was in stark contrast to the allegory and spiritualism that had been the tone of poetry before him.

Whitman’s magnum opus, is of course “Leaves of Grass“,  an anthology of poems he first published in 1855 and kept revising right till his death. Incidentally, though this poem is from this anthology and is about the common plant we know about, the name of the book ‘Leaves of grass’ is not about that vegetation but, instead, is a play on words.

In the forgotten lingo of nineteenth century book-publishers, ‘grass’ is used to denote works of minor value. ‘Leaves’ referes to pages. The whole name is a mocking apellation for his principal thesis.

Read Whitman’s poem on grass, look for connections with nature, with experiencing nature and for allegories with the human condition. It was a bit strange to me as I am still not used to prose-like poems very much.

It may seem of little value to read about grass. But grass is one of the bases of the food chain.

Algae, grasses and other leaves and branches of other plants are the broad base of autotrophs who support all life in the world. Grasses such as wheat and rice feed mankind directly. Bamboo, a most useful plant, too is a grass of sorts.

All the same, thinking about grass in any way gives us greater insight to this common-place and under-rated vegtation than not thinking about it at all.

Read more about :-

Image credits – Click on the image to reach the source page on Wikimedia Commons.

Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints!

10 January 2010

Chief Seattle, whose letter warns us of the need to hold nature dear in our hearts.

At a time when the people of the world cannot agree what to do about climate change and when England is completely covered with snow as if replaying the events of the 2004 film  “The Day After Tomorrow“, it is pertinent to remember the words of a very famous Native American, Chief Si’ahl (anglicised as Seattle).

Chief Si’ahl (c. 1780 – June 7, 1866) , the leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes in what is now the American state of Washington, allegedly wrote the letter in the 1800s to the United States Government.

It is less important to know whether he wrote it or not, than to know what is said in it.

Chief Seattle’s Letter

“The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky? the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?

Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.

We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the dew in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man all belong to the same family.

But how can you buy or sell the sky? the land?

The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you our land, you must remember that it is sacred. Each glossy reflection in the clear waters of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water’s murmur is the voice of my father’s father.

The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give the rivers the kindness that you would give any brother.

If we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life that it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also received his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. So if we sell our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow flowers.

Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.

This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

A minimal footprint on nature – Native American girls gathering berries.

One thing we know: our God is also your God. The earth is precious to him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.

Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? The wild horses tamed? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted with talking wires? Where will the thicket be? Gone! Where will the eagle be? Gone! And what is to say goodbye to the swift pony and then hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival.

When the last red man has vanished with this wilderness, and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, will these shores and forests still be here? Will there be any of the spirit of my people left?

We love this earth as a newborn loves its mother’s heartbeat. So, if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it, as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you receive it. Preserve the land for all children, and love it, as God loves us.

As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. This earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you.

One thing we know – there is only one God. No man, be he Red man or White man, can be apart. We ARE all brothers after all.”

This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth.

This letter, a famous speech and many quotations (including the title of this post) are alleged to have been quoted by Chief Si’ahl.

Read more about Chief Si’ahl here and his quotations here.

Credits Clouds over hills image (author : vsz/Victor Szalvay, CC-BY-SA 2.0), Palouse fields (author : Dsdugan, public domain)- all these images are of Washington State where Chief Si’ahl lived with his tribe. The image Native American girls picking berries (author : Edward S. Curtis, 1868-1952, public domain) as well as the other images, are from Wikimedia Commons. Chief Seattle’s image though public domain and available in Wikimedia Commons was selected from a website using Google Images.

Meet India’s Earth Warriors – Sanctuary/RBS Wildlife awards 2009

31 December 2009

India’s nature has many champions. Often they go unheard of or unrecognized.

Fortunately, we have the Sanctuary/Royal Bank of Scotland (earlier ABN AMRO) Wildlife Awards who recognise people from all walks of life. 2009 was the tenth year this sterling award recognised Indians for their contribution to India’s nature and wildlife.

From the high-level executive who plays an important role in policy and resource allocation to the academics who have devoted their lives to India’s biodiversity to the oft-forgotten wildlife warden or forester to the young scientist burning to contribute his bit.  All these, and more, are honoured by the Sanctuary/RBS awards.

This year (2009) the 2009 Sanctuary/RBS Awards prizes went to :-

The Lifetime Service Award went to Brijendra Singh who has kept Corbett safe for over four decades!

The Wildlife Service awards went to Prabir Kumar Palei of Simlipal Tiger Reserve, Narhari Pandurang Bagrao who restored the damaged forests of Shahapur in Thane, Paresh Chandrakant Parob for his fierce commitment to the Goa forest lands under his control and his courage in the face of powerful vested interests, Drs Divya Mudappa and TR Shankar Raman for their exceptional contribution to saving the Western Ghats and Mike Pandey for his wonderful wildlife films which brought environment into the homes of the common Indian through DD.

The Young Naturalists award went to Prosper S Marak, Aamod Zambre and Vishal Bhave.

Prosper Marak has changed the face of Meghalaya's forests with his activism.

Aamod Zambre is a champion of scorpions.

Some of you may remember Aamod from my post on him and his friend Chintan Sheth. They are definitely living up to their promise and potential!

Vishal Bhave is doing path breaking studies of the sea slugs on our shores.

More power to these young naturalists of India!


Vijay Pinjarkar journalistic reports have forced the government to action on many environmental issues. – Courtesy:Vijay PinjarkarVijay Pinjarkar and the Nagpur Times of India won the Wind in the Wings Award for his brilliant investigative stories and his dogged pursuit of those who would violate the environmental and conservation laws of the land.

The Green Teacher awarsdwas won by Dr MR & Dr (Mrs) Sarah Almeida for nurturing, guiding and shaping young minds to explore and understand the mysterious world of plants.

Read more about them on the original post on the Sanctuary Asia website.

The turtle who went walkabout!

29 August 2009

This is a short story of a tortoise who went for a long walk. In fact, who went for a very long walk on the CME campus. If you do things like that, you may very soon find that you are back where you started from and on top of that named ‘Myrtle’.

One morning I got a call at office from a friend. His daughter Shreya had found a tortoise in the garden. What, he asked, should be done? Naturally, I felt, it had to be restored to its habitat.

Going home, I picked up my tortoise books –

  • “Indian Turtles – A Field Guide” by Indraneil Das
  • “the Book of Indian Reptiles and Amphibians” by J.C. Daniels.

and ventured forth. My daughter Aditi, an inveterate invertebrate inthusiast, accompanied me on this trip.

When we reached my friend’s house, I found the ‘exalted visitor’ on the pavement surrounded by all the kids from the neighbourhood.

Before you scratch your grey (or is it gray) cells wondering what kids were doing there and why they were not at school when I had been at the office, I have only three words for you –

“Swine Flu in Pune!”

Do I hear some one say, “Four not three…!”

I can’t count!  Never could.

Shreya holding the turtle she discovered.

Shreya holding the turtle she discovered.

Predictably, the turtle had withdrawn itself into its shell. The back was coloured “muddy-shoddy, grey, brown, black, ochre”. It had three black  stripes on its head.

Black streaks on the head

Black streaks on the head

I turned it over and said “Aha!”

( Aha = Its got flaps to hide its legs under! See the black-edged half crescents on the left half. It’s the Indian Flapshell Turtle (Lissemys punctata). Now I can appear learned and quite the expert! )

The downside of up! This flapshell turtle upended.

The downside of up! This flapshell turtle upended.

The kids were excited as I told them more about the turtles a la Messrs Das & Daniels.

It was an angry turtle – aware, wary, alert and fast. No sooner had I put it then a knobby, ridgy fore-leg with three claws emerged. To you and me they may look grotesque as compared to say cute kitties and puppies, but to a turtle – lover   I’m sure these are as fascinating to a turtle over as  female feet are to Quentin Tarantino!

The turtle emerges....

The turtle emerges....

The turtle scurried away along the lawn but was repeatedly recaptured while I pored over the DDs. I learnt from Daniels that –

“the adults and young make long journeys during the rainy season, which is probably the reason for the species being so widespread….”

Indian Flap-shell turtles are the “hoi polloi” of CME and occupy the four lakes, large acreage of reed-beds, ponds and marshes and the 2 km long rowing channel. The nearest water body or marsh as one can make out from the Google image is more than a kilometer away.

The turtle had crossed roads, houses, gardens, fences, ditches besides stray dogs and people to land up where it did! The turtle would surely have died if allowed to roam free as it was heading deeper and deeper into civilisation.

Red line surrounds lake/marsh/nalas. Brown spot - found. Black spot - released.

Red line surrounds lake/marsh/nalas. Brown spot - found. Black spot - released.

The next question I faced from the kids was ‘is it a boy or girl’ ? Met by a don’t know look on my face, they decided, mostly being girls (two girls both older vs two boys both younger), that it looked feminine and soon names for ‘her’ were being proposed.

It was decided that her name was actually “Myrtle” and that she would be a very good pet! Undying vows were made to look after the creature if only they could have it please, pleeassee..

Mindful of stricken looks on a loving parent’s face, I pointed out that Myrtle fed on shrimps, insects and worms from within the water (actually they eat that and vegetation too) and her family was probably missing her.

An expedition was launched and finally Myrtle was released upstream into the marshes near the CTW lake. The last photo that we have of Myrtle is of a grinning Shrey (not Shreya’s brother) who held the turtle last. And the reason for that is, as soon as we set it on the ground some good seven-eight feet from the water’s edge, Myrtle became greased lightning and vanished before we could photograph her!

Guess it was not a ‘snapping’ turtle!

Little Shreyas before he released the turtle.

Little Shrey before he released the turtle.

So Myrtle the turtle went back to tell tales to the grand-turtles with a new name to boot.

Din ka raja aur uski praja

12 August 2009

(English:The Day-king and his retinue)

I really like having plants with perfumed flowers around where I live. I plant them whenever we move into a new house. When we moved into ‘Casa Grande’ as my brother and his family refer to the quaint old-fashioned bungalow that we are presently staying in, I had the same sentiments.

(My wife reminds me, that by ‘planting’, I actually mean getting someone else to plant them .)

My father-in-law, the quintessential and ever-obliging gardener, brought two perfumed bushes and a creeper so as to indulge his son-in-law.

The Clematis creeper grew profusely, flowered in all seasons and doused passers-by in clouds of perfume. The Raat ki rani (Night queen, to those who know not Hindi) (Cestrum nocturnum) wafted gentle fragrance into my son’s bed room. But the Din ka raja (Day king) (Cestrum diurnum) though growing tall did not quite live upto the reputation of its nocturnal relative, planted barely twenty feet away.

It was not his fault really. Cestrum diurnum flowers in the rains in India and yours truly was quite ignorant of this. The rains brought flowers but no visitors. I was disappointed.

'Din ka raja' flowers in front of 'Casa Grande' in the rains!

'Din ka raja' flowers in front of 'Casa Grande' in the rains!

One overcast day, around ten in the morning, there was a break in the clouds, and some shafts of golden yellow sunshine poured through. All at once there was a riot of  insect life, buzzing all around the flowers.

The most colourful were the Common Jays (Graphium doson). I had seen them very often in my garden fliting up and down the Mast trees (Polyalthia longifolia). Common Jays are common in CME whereas there are very few records, if any, in neighbouring Pune. It is a electric blue butterfly which can easily be mistaken by beginners as the Common Bluebottle (Graphium sarpedon).

Common Jay - most colourful of all!

Common Jay - most colourful of all!

There were many Common Gulls (Cepora nerissa) around. The bushes just swerved with them. But were they flighty? I hardly had time to focus before they were off. Add to that, their folding their wings.

Common Gull and a wasp!

Common Gull and a wasp!

Another visitor – the Blue Tiger (Tirumala limniace).

Blue Tiger suspended but sipping!

Blue Tiger suspended but sipping!

Besides the butterflies, there were wasp, flies and bees too.

This looked like a fly through the viewfinder till blown up on a computer for identification. It turned out to be the head of a Common Emigrant (Catopsilia pomona), the green wings had seemingly merged in the background.

Not a fly. Common Emigrant (Catopsilia pomona).

Not a fly. Common Emigrant.

Besides this were Lycaenids or blues, Common Jezebel (Delias eucharis) and the Tailed Jay (Graphium agamemnon).

My cup runneth over….

Carnival of butterflies!

11 August 2009

Tiger,   Panther,   Peacock,   Puffin

Swift,   Albatross,   Tit,   Batwing

Pierrot,   Punchinello,   Punch and   Judy

Commodore,   Courtesan,   Camberwell Beauty

Wight,   Wizard,   Mormon,   Jester

Duffer,   Caliph,   Quaker,   Forester

Tinsel,   Onyx,   Circe,   Labyrinth

Argus,   Satyr,   Kaiser-e-hind

Redspot,   Redbreast,   Redbase,   Redeye

Oakleaf,   Acacia Blue,   Bushbrown,   Palmfly

Royal,   Imperial,   Rajah,   Emperor

Duchess,   Nawab,   Count,   Commander

Lancer,   PioneerSailer,   Lascar

Yeoman,   Soldier,   Sergeant-Major

Rustic,   Vagrant,   Constable,   Freak

Awlet,   Hopper,   Flitter,   Beak

Sawtooth,   Lacewing,   Swordtail

Monkey Puzzle,   Tortoiseshell and   Swallowtail

You must have guessed by now that these are all butterflies! All except two are Indian.  Can you guess which ones are not?

Click on the words to learn more about these butterflies.