I let out a little gasp of breath every time we step into the forest at Venus Loop. A few meters in, the cool air washes in over you—a sharp contrast to the concrete path leading to the entrance, where it’s generally late enough in the morning that the Singapore sun has emerged with a force to drive any sane residents into air conditioning. But just inside the forest is green light, dark and dappled and promising.
I spent the last week stepping into the forest every day as I helped lead fourth grade classes around a route I’ve become intimately familiar with over the last four years. For me, Venus Loop is one of the places where it all began. I remember seeing my first colugo. I had laughed at its hypnotic globe-like eyes online, but here, it slotted in perfectly, gorgeously, among the trees. I started my now-inactive other blog, Saving MacRitchie, as a result; the CRL was in the news, the focus of the guided walks I began helping with; wild was not a natural thing in a garden city and yet every month I found it again and again the most inevitable thing of all.
Of course, Venus Loop, as we reminded the fourth graders every day, isn’t true wild. It has none of the majestic Dipterocarps you find moving deeper into MacRitchie Nature Reserve, only terentang and giant mahang straining upwards. Hallmarks of secondary forest, sure, but no more. Looking down, ornamental plants line a path dotted with bricks, and show the place as kampung easing into something new. Former village, future forest.
The students were impressed by this archaeology. They delighted in finding every sunken bowl and loose tile, amazed at the layers of memory around them. It amazed me too, because now my own memories layer the landscape as well—here the grass fragmented the spitting cobra hurrying past, here the sun lit the leaves red during the haze, here a Saturn butterfly alighted so close we could not help but gasp, here we saw the grasping fungi on the rotting log—and I felt very old. (A ten-year-old student informed me soon after 17 was an extremely young age, so the feeling didn’t last.)
Still, what I realized over the week is that I have grown with this forest. On my very first visit a strangler fig towered, and over the years I have watched it topple over, and become slowly immersed by weeds, until now where it used to shade the path there is a clearing and a green hillock. Four years ago I felt compelled to photograph it from every angle, but this week I left my camera at home most days and did not feel limbless. I told the story of figs instead and watched the surprise of students at the discovery the fruits aren’t vegetarian. (Spoiler: you’re eating dead wasps.)
And I found the surprise familiar, stretching back to that first wide-eyed colugo, stretching forward to every first step into the forest. It comes from knowing you’ve slipped so easily from the manmade to a world where you can maybe know the rules but certainly never make them. Nothing is quite predictable, even if the route remains the same: a rustle in the grass and the blue thread of a Malayan blue coral, or the bumblebee-bright forms of mating catsnakes, or a flying dragon flashing orange-throated. Each walk brought new things, or old things made fresh by beauty, which, I am learning, is almost the same thing. Only leaves at first light need be jaded.