Tag Archives: Plants

Nature Walking

A friend once said that Singapore is small enough that one should be able to look through a guidebook and say, “I’ve done that.” Covid19 has done a lot to my sense of self and the way I understand the world, both large and small, but it has also forced me to live as much as I can here in Singapore. With 2021 mere hours away, the clock ticking is more obviously than usual.

It took almost two hours and multiple forms of transportation to reach Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, located so far north in Singapore that there are views of the skyline of Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

Sungei Buloh contains extensive mangroves, mudflats, forests, and ponds, and is important for migratory birds. There are only a few walking trails and we covered the entire reserve in just a couple of hours. The protected nature of the area means that we saw plants, birds, fish, and animals in abundance. Some of these are normal Singapore creatures but other I’d never seen before.

Before we have a closer look, this is what Sungei Buloh looks like:

As a child, I remember mangroves mentioned in books but I don’t think I knew what that meant until moving to Singapore. We learned that 13% of Singapore used to be mangrove forests, and less than 0.5% of that remains today. (Source)

As always, I really enjoyed the flowers. I will miss tropical flowers when I leave this part of the world.

Mudflats were also relatively new to me and I’d never seen a mudskipper before! There were plenty of these little guys around, as well as mud snails. He/she/it is roughly in the centre of the frame.

We also saw mud crabs, another animal I’d never heard of. You might have to zoom in on the individual images to see them and I recommend doing so – they’re pretty cool.

The insects were not to be missed and the spider webs were amazing, large constructions. There’s only one photo here but I tried (and failed) to take others.

Watching the herons and egrets fishing reminded me of growing up on the Erie Canal and Genesee River in Rochester, New York.

Additionally, we saw an otter (not pictured but also pretty common in Singapore),bats, tree snake, a few monkeys, and a number of monitor lizards, including one in a tree. Again, you might have to zoom in on individual images if you’d like a closer look.

Finally, we searched in great anticipation for crocodiles but the water was quite high and we didn’t have much hope in finding one. As it turned out, though, we did! We weren’t sure if it was a crocodile or a log but I managed a photo before it disappeared beneath the surface of the water. The park rangers and other visitors nearby assured us is was indeed a crocodile. Can you spot it?

A quick climb up an observation tower gave us really impressive views. It’s a wonder, in ways both good and bad, that this island, that the world, used to be so wild. And I wonder at the costs, both known and unknown, of taming it.

Since we had already come all the way out to Kranji to visit the wetlands, my friend suggested going a little further south to Kranji Marshes. Unlike Sungei Buloh, most of the marshes are conservation areas not accessible to visitors, though there are ongoing plans to expand the walking paths. Kranji Marshes is part of Sungei Buloh Nature Park Network and it turns out there’s a shuttle bus that connects multiple locations of this park network, but we didn’t know that until the shuttle bus pulled up just as we were leaving. We took a bus and a taxi to get there but were glad for the shuttle on the way back. (Note to self: Read the transportation signs at each visitor centre.)

The plants were different there, which was interesting because it really did feel like a different place, which I wasn’t expecting. While we didn’t see too many birds, I know this is a popular spot at dawn for birdwatchers.

I especially liked the plants growing in and around all the little ponds. It reminded me of the summer camp I attended as a child, which had a pond for fishing and a swamp for canoeing and kayaking.

The marshes are known for upwards of fifty species of dragonfly and while we didn’t see fifty, they were everywhere and in so many bright colours. The same can be said for the butterflies.

We also saw different flowers than we had earlier, and what was possibly some kind of fruit.

And as before, the view from observation areas were stunning and thought provoking, especially in contrast to the obvious signs of human presence.

While it was quite the journey to get there, I recommend a visit. Everything that is part of the Sungei Buloh Nature Park Network is free and there’s that handy shuttle bus to take you around because it’s too large to walk. Pack a camera, sunscreen, bug spray, apples, almonds, bottles of water, and you’re good to go.

If nothing else, Covid19 has been a reminder to get out and play in my own backyard. While I hope for a better, more peaceful year ahead, I cannot forget that I have now gone places that I perhaps never would have seen. This is a reminder to live in the world, rather than letting the world pass us by, because we never really know what the world will be like tomorrow.

What I’ve Learned from Plants

We had a beautiful rain Saturday night, a rain that I caught just at its hinted beginning while on my bike, a rain that I felt even while safe on the balcony. The rain cooled the earth, soaked into the soil, and was then gone from the sky, moving across vast oceans.

The following morning I was delighted by some new shoots from the seeds that I planted last week. I watered them, noting how the plants closest to the edge of the balcony were still a tiny bit damp from the rain. After a trip to the nursery for fertilizer and potting soil I cleaned up some dead leaves, planted new seeds, and basked in being part of the cycle of life. 

I used to get upset when my plants dropped leaves, used to ask what I was doing wrong. But I have learned a good deal over three years with this little garden of potted herbs and leafy, occasionally flowering plants. I have learned through the experience of people who have brought plants to life for much longer than I, and I know now that plants are hardy and wise. It is a pleasure to watch as older leaves fall to make room for new ones and to know that when herbs go to seed, they grow again. 

Sometimes the plants need more water or more space, but sometimes it is less water and bit of coaxing. They have taught me to be patient, to watch, to listen, and to look. These are active processes. Plants require that we care and cultivate and nourish. These are verbs. Verbs are actions.

And I wonder: If we cared as much for people as we do for our plants, if we cared as much for the Earth herself, what kind of world could we build?

These are the reflections brought to my mind on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement that comes ten days after Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, on the Jewish calendar. This new year is one that needs us to take action, to care, cultivate and nourish, to love. Many of us need to heal, need this year to be better than the last. 

What if we gave more to the people in our lives than we took? What if we expanded this awareness to acquaintances, or people we know only by sight, or simply the people we pass by in our daily routines? 

Do we dare go further? 

Could we act with awareness of people we’ve never met in places we’ll never see, people who have names we’ve never heard and speak languages we didn’t know existed? 

And further still, to the Earth herself?

A new year can be seen as an opportunity for deep introspection of who we are, who we want to become, and the world we want to create. My dreams for this world are simple in the sense that they exist in color and are textured with wind and water, mountains and stars. Any child could draw this, and then might add the people that I see smiling and holding and loving. 

But these dreams are impossible if I’m dreaming alone.

The solemnity of the Jewish calendar at this time of year, the emphasis on the collective and on one’s responsibility within it, reminds me that every time we water a new seed, smile at a stranger, hug a loved one, or share food with others, every time we partake in creating a better world, we are no longer dreaming alone.

Shalom aleichem, peace be upon you.

Some of my plants – September 2020