When you go for your morning or evening walk with your spouse or friends (or even dog), what is it that you generally talk about? Well, usually you’ll be bitching about your boss or plotting out the diabolical business kill you are going to make that day or the next. Or, how totally committed the government is in trying to take away as much of your money through absurd ancillary taxes and telling you when to stand and sit, what to say and wear, what to eat and drink; sometimes, it may even be about a new recipe that you’ve come across or a spot of gossip about the neighbours.
But it will not be about how stunning the laburnums look, or a question as to why the koels seem to be hysterical these days, or what the heck that little rotund beetle is doing, rolling a ball of dung across the path (if you see it at all). For the most part, most of us are, alas, blind and deaf to “everyday” nature around us. We just don’t notice it.
And yet, if you do pause to stand and stare — and listen — you can be let into a whole new universe that exists all around you, and will hold you in its thrall for the rest of your life, even in big cities (Though, of course, the more rural areas and smaller towns with larger gardens, parks and wooded areas hold an advantage). So, how do you get taken in, hook, line and sinker?
The first obvious prerequisite would appear to be to spend as much time outdoors as possible. That said, a lot of god’s creatures have also discovered the advantages of staying at home with us. It’s cool, (hopefully) clean, and food is usually easily available — and there is the bonus of being able to make monstrous human beings scream and flee when they spot you – especially if you’re a mouse or cockroach (but make yourself scarce because they’ll be back with murder on their minds!) So you, the human, can observe the birds, beasts and insects of the field within the comfort of your home, even if they do give you the odd panic attack.
The key word here is “observe”. A passing glance will not do. Sit down, take a little time out and watch how that gecko on the wall stealthily stalks a fly or mosquito or cockroach. (It can be more interesting than yoga!) I’ve watched a gecko plot its strategy to take down a moth that settled — after much blundering — on the wall opposite to the one it was on. It sped upside down on the ceiling at the edge of the wall right to the other side — and then began the slow, stealthy stalk that any tiger or leopard would have been envious of! The moth didn’t know what hit it. And observe not only with your eyes, but maybe, even more so with your ears. So, stand, stare and listen.
The next thing you need is a magnum dose of curiosity. How did the gecko manage to skim across the ceiling upside down without falling? The great god Google will have a fascinating explanation. Similarly, what the heck are dragonflies doing, dipping and touching down on the shiny bonnet of your car? How is it that spiders don’t get entangled in their own webs? Every fresh observation you make must be tagged with a host of questions: what? where? why? why not? when? If you can’t think of questions to ask, take a child along with you!
With curiosity comes a sense of wonder. What’s the technology behind the fact that while it’s almost impossible to peel a raw banana, it peels so easily when it’s ripe and ready to eat? For that matter, how did so many types of fruits realise that birds, animals and insects (and us) were suckers for sugar and nectar, and seduced by the colour red? Where the heck did the 300 singing bullfrogs turn up from overnight on a monsoon morning in an erstwhile dried ditch? Where were they just the day before?And where will they go tomorrow? Believe it or not, all these creatures, big or small, have their own schedules and timetables to follow, just as we do.
Sometimes, the realisation of exactly how and the scale at which nature works can be jaw dropping. Some years ago, I did a ballpark estimate of the number of tiny spiders that spider wasps stashed away as baby food at any one time in the residential complex where I lived. The estimate for indoor spider wasp nurseries was 25,000 spiders, probably more than double that if you took common areas (such as balconies, stairwells and lobbies) into account. So, you ask yourself the obvious question: what would happen if those spiders had lived? How would have the balance of nature been disturbed? Would they have taken over the world?
The more you look and listen, the more you will become aware of the rest of the world’s inhabitants — and what’s happening in their lives. You’ll know by the sound of heckling bird calls, that there’s a cat on the prowl (and the cat will know that its cover has been blown). Perhaps, the biggest and most significant realisation will be that it’s these creatures of jungleland — the insects, amphibians, animals, reptiles, birds, fishes, trees, plants — and all forms of microscopic and aquatic life — which are running the show on the planet. Not us.
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