From the Lake to the Trees

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Some lovely branches against the sky from the Pyrenees caught my eye. Their curling intricacies fascinated me, especially when the sun shone through – and so I photographed it.

On another note, posting will be sporadic to totally absent over the next ten days due to the fact I’m travelling and will likely have no internet, nor the time to schedule posts. But I hope to return with lots of lovely birds and other creatures to share.

Branches

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Over the past week, I’ve had the chance to experience something out of my reach for the past four-odd years. It was not seeing a rare bird (unfortunately). Neither was it a sighting of a tiger (extremely unfortunately). It was, ladies and gentlemen… winter, and, accompanied with it, snow.

The snow itself was brief, and is shown (if you can spot it!) in the above image. But the actual experience of going birding somewhere where you weren’t drowning in sweat after fifteen minutes was so liberating. While I learned from experiences in China and brought gloves when photographing outside, the experience of being huddled on a bench, watching the robins (robins. robins.) with bated breath was unforgettable (not only for the fact I almost got frostbite).

Winter is a rare commodity in tropical Singapore, as you may deduce. The fact I had to travel thousands of miles to experience its existence is only slightly sad.

But winter was only one component of the past week, which has been an emotional rollercoast of birds, of breathtaking landscapes, of absolutely spectacular buildings – you guessed it (or probably didn’t; either works): I was in Spain. The photo above was taken in the Pyrenees, just a kilomter away from France. (Oh, yeah. I can walk to France. No problemo.)

Look forward to more in days following, because I’m so excited to be sharing it with you all!

A Banyan Story

So the last week has been just… wow. Seriously. I have no other words. It’s been a chaotic whirlwind of just stuff happening, one after the other after the other.

So, first thing’s first. I’ve talked about the banyan tree before on this blog; I was under the impression, however, that I was talking to a cyberspace void.

Apparently, I was not. Someone named Joyce contacted me after reading that post and asked whether I could participate in a project telling the stories of Singapore’s trees and people, in honor of SG50. It’s called Singapore, very old tree, after a postcard with precisely that caption. And last Saturday, I went back to the banyan tree to meet the artist, Robert Zhao Renhui, and one of the organisers behind it, Adeline.

It was wonderful talking to them about what they do and what they’re planning to. The project aims to publish a book of these trees they find, and an exhibition will be hosted at the National Library May this year. My story – hopefully – will be included.

However, due to the timing of our meeting – in the middle of the afternoon – it became a bit hectic. Not because we were short on time – far from it. The sun here was the party that refused to cooperate. It was a Goldilocks situation. When photographing, either the roots came overexposed and the branches exposed correctly, or the complete other way around. The only option was to wait for clouds to cover the ball of flaming gas that was the source of all the trouble.

The moment that happened, it was showtime. We ran to position so fast you’d have thought a bomb was going to explode. The fact that it was just a few photographs did nothing to decrease the tension. The clouds would only shade the roots for a few seconds, and we had to make the most of them.

According to Robert, what makes this tree interesting are its root formations – it is, quite literally, holding the hill together. Fig banyans like it exist all across Singapore, but the extensive root system of this one is unparalleled.

Have you got any stories about trees special to you or simply just fascinating? Tell me in the comments!

2014

We have come to the end – of an era, maybe not, but of a rotation around the sun, of the usage of 2-0-1-4 in dates, of – well, really, nothing. Still, it’s as good a time as any to round up what I’ve done and figure out where I’m going. No doubt you’ve been overladen already with these kind of posts, but really, I can’t think of a better time just to say thank you. When I began this blog, I expected nothing. And I mean nothing. As in zilch, zero, nada, in terms of followers, or likes, or really anything. You guys have overwhelmed me. The fact that people want to (or are forced to) actually read my rants about nature is beyond comprehension. This year has been a huge one in terms of my photography and my experiences in nature.

My trip to Africa in July produced many unforgettable experiences which I am far from done with sharing with you guys. In October, I visited Kullu, a district in the Himalayas; aside from 25 species of birds, I came away with a renewed appreciation for the simple beauty of nature. And just recently – two days ago, in fact – I returned from a trip to Coorg and Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary. I’m still at a loss for words to explain my experience there, but when coherence returns you will see what I saw, as best as I can show it to you. Closer to home, I made numerous trips to MacRitchie (including one trip with Lavanya of My Nature Experiences, who is a person so amazing I have no idea why I didn’t meet her sooner, and also my former partner in crime for the Crazy Tiny Insects challenge), Dairy Farm Nature Reserve, Sungei Buloh, Greenleaf Forest, the Green Corridor, and many, many more fantastic places within Singapore. When this was combined with an afternoon spent with Birds of Singapore, my count of birds I’ve seen within – you guessed it, Singapore – was pushed up to a whopping 92, not including swiftlets. (They are irritating little buggers to identify, ok?)

On the photography front, I would like to say I have gained a greater understanding of a) how and when to use my camera and b) how and when not to use my camera this year. Maybe it paid off. I won a Consolation Prize in the NParks Trees for Life competition, and also received third place in an intra-school photograph competition, for a photograph I featured earlier on one of my Journal Journeys posts. (I haven’t mentioned this earlier on my blog, actually. So yay?) In addition, my photograph of Karambe, the largest black rhinoceros on the Masai Mara, received Spotting of the Day on Project Noah. My photograph of a yawning African Spotted Hyena was selected as Pic of the Day on National Geographic’s Great Nature Project.

I have no idea why any of you would have wanted to read all of this or indeed why any of you came here in the first place. I certainly have no idea why I came here or, indeed, where I’m going. So my New Year’s Resolution, I guess, is to keep it fresh. Never forget the feeling of whispering forests in the afternoon, or the call of birds at some unearthly hour in the morning, or the thrill of excitement in identification and realization. Nature is – well, nature is what it is, and that is something uncorrupted by humans, something more beautiful than hoping or wishing or any of these twenty-six letters, really. And nature, I believe, is essential – for us, in the moment of knowing, and for itself, in the moment of being.

Beneath are all of the photographs I’ve uploaded to this blog this year. See at will. This is my 100th post, fitting for my final words of 2014, which (really) don’t matter. Still, for what it counts – thank you.

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Star’s Eye View

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Stars as seen from the campfire in Kullu, India. My inability to identify any constellation other than Orion’s belt has been a source of great frustration for me; my brother, Neel, has had greater success. Nevertheless, being able to see the stars – even if I can’t understand them – is a wonderful feeling. In Singapore, due to our residence in a condo, we’re lucky if we see the moon most days. My envy for those living in the countryside or somewhere where the stars can be seen regularly is reaching unparalleled heights.

House, Tree, Stars

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My second attempt at star photography: after the relative blurriness of ‘Roof and Stars‘, I decided to grab some books from the shelf for tripod #2. Through balancing my camera’s lens on those, I managed capture the above image. Upon later review, I found that the Milky Way itself had made an appearance directly above the tree.

The Old Banyan Tree

There are some things that I know are beautiful– like sunsets, or leaves falling, or simply landscapes passing by in a car. But some things are hard to capture in a photograph, and the end result is often either clichéd, or invisible, or simply blurry. This is probably testament to my experience in photography, which is, admittedly, minimal, but it still frustrates me when I see something but can’t capture it.

Thus, the old banyan tree.

When we first moved to Singapore, my mother and I went walking a lot. We’d just start and go somewhere or the other around the neighbourhood, and that was how she showed me the tree. It’s a beautiful tree, and majestic, and simply overwhelming. (I’m not certain it’s a banyan. Sue me.) It has roots that reach down till the pavement in constellations of branches, delicately weaving in and out of each other. The tree stretches up into an overhang. It projects an aura of history, of having witnessed a lot, of having been there for forever. I go biking regularly, and every time I do, I make a point to go past it. Every time, I can’t help myself from slowing down as I crest the hill it lies on top of, can’t help myself from looking back as my wheels pick up speed as I go down. When I got into photography, I knew that I had to take a picture of it– some day.

One day, I did. Walking in the Singapore afternoon, I carried my camera and went up to it. I wanted to capture it as I saw it. Little did I know how hard that would be.

One part of it is its location. It’s technically located in someone’s garden but is so big that it’s visible from the road. However, that location means that a hedge bisects it. There’s not enough space on the road in front for a full-frontal shot. The house in front is undergoing construction. There’s a lamp post in front of it. The branches are so thick and dense the tree is permanently half dark and half light.

It’s just not photogenic. Some things aren’t. Some things, I think I’ll have to accept, just can’t be captured in a picture.

That’s ok, though. That’s what memory’s for. That’s what living nearby’s for. That’s what real life’s for.

The Old Banyan Tree
Looking over that day’s pictures, I decided to do this side view in sepia. It’s ok, but doesn’t come close to capturing the tree. You do, however, get a fantastic view of the obstructions that cover it.