Tag Archives: Trees

A Week in the Thüringer Wald

A couple of weeks ago, I joined a group of students for a week in the Thüringer Wald, or Thuringian Forest. Our trip was their first group outing since Covid, and it was a delight to be in a reasonably rustic environment with young people who were both comfortable in that context and genuinely glad to be there.

This campground relies significantly on volunteer labour for renovation work and there was a great deal to do. This wasn’t the type of trip where we were doing that, but I think it would have been good fun.

It was dark at night and we were able to see the Milky Way and the Big Dipper, though my photography skills and equipment cannot attest to that. We also made a fire every night, making for a much warmer evening than we would have had otherwise. There’s poetry in sitting under the stars in the cold, but there’s comfort in sitting under the stars with a fire.

While the afternoons were largely free, we had activities planned each morning. A real highlight was the hike led by the campground director, Dagmar. She taught us about the bark beetles that are killing the young trees here in the beautiful Thüringer Wald. The devastation is occurring rapidly in part because of the monoculture that was once common here for logging. It was really sad to see so much empty hillside and to think about the consequences, such as landslides and flooding, that occur under these conditions, also making it really difficult to grow new trees. And trying to do so when they’re being attacked by bark beetles is, as we learned, no easy task.

It’s also interesting to contrast the immediate environment of the valley where our camp was situated with the forest conditions around a village just 15 minutes away by car. (And, for that matter, the stunning environs in yet another part of the Thüringer Wald where I’ve been twice to climb.)

One thing I am really enjoying about Germany is how much it looks just like you might expect from a travel brochure. A walk on our penultimate day from one town to a bus stop in another town was a lot of work on hills but they were really pretty hills.

On the last day, only about an hour from school, we spent the afternoon by a lake. There’s so much here that is a fairy tale – berries and mushrooms in forests that people just happily pick, for example – and it has been so lovely experiencing it all.

This part of the state of Thüringen (Thuringia) is right on the border with Bayern (Bavaria). You know that place. Home of Oktoberfest. Indeed.

After so much time on the Little Red Dot that is fully part of my heart, it’s a real gift to be somewhere else. I’m looking at the world with different eyes and for that, I am grateful.

Summer in Singapore

That it has been two and a half weeks since my last entry and I haven’t noticed should say a thing or two about where my mind has been lately. Everywhere, nowhere, now here.

My friends, colleagues, and I are again spending the summer in Singapore. Our visa status, just like last year, does not guarantee that we will be allowed reentry. It’s hard on everyone, of course, and the best thing to do, the only thing to do, is make the best of where we are and what there is. Lucky for us, there is a great deal of life to be lived if you’re willing to go out and look.

Back in May, on a holiday weekend that otherwise would have found many of us on a plane to somewhere else, two friends and I walked Singapore’s Green Corridor from Hillview south to Tanjong Pagar. This was 13km of the 24km-long trail and I was more interested in the conversation with my friends (and some general antics) than taking photos. Two photos that I did take, however, largely summarize my experience on this part of the trail.

The Green Corridor is an abandoned, overgrown, redeveloped rail corridor that once linked Singapore with the rest of the Malay Peninsula. There were reminders of the railroad everywhere, and reminders that nature, trees, will always be there. Trees are steady, strong, resilient. They bend so that they do not break, reroot to build a new home. They shelter, they provide, they live on. I don’t need to read the research (although I have) on the power of nature to slow down the body. I am reminded every single day.

The tree in the photo below reminded me yet again. It was our first landmark on the Green Corridor. It knew, well before we knew, the role that collective resilience would come to play in all of our lives.

There were points along the walk where the rail line, a marker of what the world was and how it was defined, disappeared. There were times when we were simply walking on an open path between field and road, protected by fences and foliage on either side. Walking south, we watched the distance between ourselves and the shipping cranes in Tanjong Pagar gradually shrink. But every so often, reminders reappeared. Reminders that Singapore, like every place, has not always been what or how it is now. Reminders of how quickly development becomes redevelopment, and the impossible dream becomes the everyday.

Although fenced off and abandoned to prevent people like me and my curious friends from exploring, it was not difficult to imagine the rail depot that this once was. Singapura is the Malay name for Singapore. That’s what this place was, and at its very core, there is so much of Singapura that remains for those who ask, who learn, who look.

Just a few days ago, one of my friends and I finished the walk. We started up north this time, further north than we needed to because the maps are not obvious, and followed the rest of the trail from Woodlands south to Hillview.

Before finding the trail, we lost ourselves on a fortunate detour that took us to the Rainbow Bridge in a part of Singapore we’d never seen before.

And by the time we found the trail, running perpendicular to a current MRT line, we discovered a Singapore that was well and truly Singapura, and before that, a forest.

There were a few times when this northern stretch converged with modern life, but the excitement of seeing different trees, different plants, different flowers, and hearing different birds and animals remained throughout the walk. These are parts of this place that I have never seen but that remind me, somehow, of places I have known. Perhaps in a different story in a different life.

I have a great respect for these places that have taken me from my everyday to a totally different world that was once the world. In discussions of change, I think we forget how rapidly change can occur. And because we forget that, we also lose sight of what exactly is changing, and to what degree, and when. And we forget that nature is stronger than we are.

A very special off-shoot of the Green Corridor is a short walk through Clementi Forest. We heard about it back in May when we saw a few women, covered in mud and exhilarated, rejoin the main train and celebrate. Clementi Forest is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a rainforest. Now. Again. It has grown over the rail line that is still visible through the mud, under fallen trees, and in the gully that was dug long ago to house it. To imagine this island, known for modernity, as the rainforest it used to be is today’s equivalent of the impossible dream of a world powered by technology.

And to take the time to seek out the impossible is to find yourself in a different place, a different world than what you thought you knew. And that’s just it, isn’t it? We only know what we know and there is so much out there to leave us in the child-like embrace of wonder.

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.