Culture & Society

Of Ecological Imbalances, Sitka Spruce, And Yellow Berries  

In a world where everything is connected with just a click, I long for disconnections and unremarkable moments and days

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I am a quintessential solo traveller and my peregrinations on mountains have helped me in understanding the mountain economy and role of nature of in it. Being from mountains, I develop a longing for mountains, coniferous flora, silence of mountain peaks, and modest magnificence of cedar trees in every four months and I make small trips to quench this thirst. The thirst this time led me to a tranquil resort named Silent Trails-Sanctuary in a hamlet called Padampuri ahead of Bhimtal. In a world where everything is connected with just a click, I long for disconnections and unremarkable moments and days. In fact, nothing relieves me more than being disconnected completely while being connected only with my thoughts. Perhaps, this is what spiritual practitioners called mindfulness but this state is preferable to me merely because it acts as a fertile ground for my creations.  

Being an avid reader, I longed to be there again and read amidst sounds of birds and insects of various kinds. The resort is a home to rare species of birds such as grey-hooded warbler, drongos, whiskered yuhina, and Himalayan woodpecker. This abundance of avians is most sought-after among people from metropolitans who flock towards these parts of hills in these months. These hills also lure buyers of picturesque estates. As a result of it, numerous resorts of large-scale builders have cropped up violating all norms of ecological components of a geographical region. Recently, Supreme Court has passed a stay order on a resort named Devanya Hills in the Bhimtal-Mukteshwar region alleging that it would lead to large scale deforestation in this verdant region.  Hence, I foresee a similar plunder and ravaging of these unscathed forests whenever I see any pot-bellied builder from Delhi.  

My non-utilitarian trip this time was also solitary and I expected to find solace in the bounty of books that the owners have preserved from 1930s in the form of an expansive library. A bile of guilt arose in my throat as I saw their yellow pages and I lamented for the irony of our times where everything is reduced to maddening race of productivity. In this period of neo-liberalism, reading has become mere a leisure activity of nerds and elites or just an act of escapism which has no functional use. From the shelves of the library, the tomes of Sir Walter Scott, William Wordsworth, and Lord Mountbatten that had become relics mocked at my helplessness. I came across another solitary traveller from Delhi on the first day who was reading in the garden. I was surprised to see another female traveller as I had rarely witnessed any such female other than me in these forests. She was sitting and reading between wild foliage for at least two hours. I had also not seen such admiration for nature, silence, and reading among women of Delhi.

The girl from Delhi and I became friends as the days passed. On our long walks on hill trails, we explored myriad species of deodaar (Cedar Deodara), spruces, and other members of family tree Pinaceae. She surprisingly was an immaculate mother and wished to collect all kinds of wild cones and their nuts for her twins. She also rummaged each end of the forest for yellow himalayan raspberries (Rubus ellipticus), furled fronds of brackens (Pteridium), and twigs of nettles (Urtica dioica). On finding any of such fruits or leaves, her elation was like that of Archimedes on making his renowned discovery and I marvelled that what was so exotic about those wild fruits growing on mountain wastelands. I also hailed the sense of individualism which she and her husband had retained in their marriage contrary to all mainstream marriages where only domesticity rules.     

I usually visit such places to seek inspiration for my writing when it depletes in the city. Therefore, wild species of spruce, walks on daunting hill pathways, and unpredictable weather of mountains with me often transition into poems or memoirs after the trip. I had always wished to preserve even the most trivial vignettes on a hill forest such as falling of young closed cone and strong aroma of turpentine emanating from it but I tend to lose most of the occurrences, experiences, and their interpretations while in transit from my mind to a paper. This time I wished to discover more species of Cedar trees as it is one of the most inspirational conifers for my creations. In this quest, I discovered a Sitca Spruce and witnessed it in its full glory. I had earlier thought that no tree could be more beautiful than a Himalayan Cedar and Sitca Spruce broke this myth. While I laughed at my Delhi friend for her passion for wild leaves and fronds, she couldn’t understand my ethereal love for Cedars and dead poets. Although I was unable to journal the allure of wild berries and Sitca Spruce with a desired depth, they remind me of these lines of Robert Frost, ‘The more the sensibilitist I am. The more I seem to want my mountains wild.’ 

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