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we took to the woods

Maggots in the cat food after just one day… green mold growing on the soles of my shoes in a corner of the living room. No leftovers on the counter, not even for an hour or two, and no open package, even dry rice or pasta, can be resealed in the casual way we are accustomed to, by just folding over the top a few times, for hot, wet, creeping life is everywhere, and it finds everything.

“At first glance Tanglin resembled any quiet European suburb with its winding tree-lined streets,” wrote J. G. Farrell in The Singapore Grip. “It was a peaceful and leisurely life that people lived here, on the whole. Yet if you looked more closely you would see that it was a suburb ready to burst at the seams with a dreadful tropical energy. Foliage sprang up on every hand with a determination unknown to our own polite European vegetation. Dark, glistening green was smeared over everything as if with a palette knife, while in the gloom (the jungle tends to be gloomy) something sinister which had been making a noise a little while ago was now holding its breath.”

The concrete sidewalks here are built to include fault lines around every tree, because in no time the roots (which at this latitude do not disappear under the earth, but spread as tall knees and ridges in a circle of ten or twenty feet around each trunk) will upend the paving and turn the sidewalk on its head. Each broad, flat-topped tree, moreover, is a little ecosystem itself, with ferns and other plants growing right off the trunk, breaking down the damp bark into soil in the nooks of the branches without waiting for the tree’s death, the whole structure teeming with ants until the bark itself seems to ripple, and full of the parrot chatter of birds (btw, yesterday for the first time we heard but did not see the straw-headed bulbul, whose delicious voice is described as liquid gold). Compared to a solitary Virginia tulip poplar or maple, there is just so much going on.

In Virginia I worked up a terrible burden of worry over what bits of nature I could see; every patch of wild woods or unmowed pasture seemed vulnerable, surviving precariously, in need of protection and tender ministrations. Singapore may be, in a larger sense, an ecological catastrophe — all glass and steel where tigers roamed a century ago, with only three percent of the island’s rainforests remaining — but the jungle, I am discovering, is resilient, and will not be tamed easily. It does not need me to worry over it as it elbows back into the million cracks of the city, swallowing or eroding what does not crumble outright. People here seem to love their weed-whackers as much as Virginians, but here at least they seem to be fighting a losing battle.

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Below, date night; E feeding the resident pigeons; no comment