Breath: A Meditative, Photographic Journey Through the Jungles of SE Asia
July 19, 2012 6 Comments
A meditative, photographic journey through the jungles of SE Asia.
All photos taken by E.M. Vireo
Air rushes in, from high to low. Atmospheric, systematic, clean and alive, it replaces old with the new. From above, the canopy is showered in sunlight, though scattered clouds pattern the dense mantle here and there with globular shadows. Tributaries snake brown curls through the green, as the forest’s many denizens carry on unseen.
Though it’s still morning, it’s already hot. A Crested Serpent Eagle circles up high, riding warm drafts to cut up the sky. Below it, swallows and swifts fly frenzied fugues as they feed on the wing, snapping up and gnat, mosquito and moth, expertly skimming the reaching treetops.
The forest here is extensive. It links three countries but never did know where the one began and the other ended. Vines hug branches, fungi neighbor mosses, bromeliads grow on the trunks of trees, and that’s all the geography this ecosystem needs. A long valley links old growth with a swath of lowland jungle, rivers and ponds, which all pitch in and get along.
We go in, take it in, past the highest points of the tallest forest giants, into the midstory, leaving the light behind. We almost missed the Collared Scops Owl, snug in it’s high daytime roost. Let’s not disturb it, and move quietly by, past the point where the jungle blockades the sky. Only the most opportunistic rays of sun will get through, to be caught on route by a net of endless leaves. No, there are not five or six greens here; there are millions. This is the realm of the high altitude frugivore, and no place for acrophobia! Great, Pied and Wreathed Hornbills have found the same fruiting fig as the monkeys, who are happy to share.
Here come three Spectacled Langurs, with their long limbs and tails, and endless curiosity.
What has grabbed their attention now? A paradise tree snake slithering by. This tree has plenty for all: reptile, bird, primate and bug. And where there are insects, there are those that prey on them. A Flying Lizard glides in, flaring its throat flap as it lands. He’ll snap up a tasty bug soon enough – well, at least, that’s the plan.
Further – we take it in deeper, absorb it all, reaching the jungle’s lower level: a shaded, often quiet place, but not right now. A White Rumped Shama sings, a Drongo calls loudly, and the cicadas drone ominously on a repetitive loop. Four, five, six kinds, all of different pitch, timbre and length. It looks so still, but if we pay attention, we will start to notice movement:
A female Magpie Robin drops onto the forest floor, looking for grubs in the leaf litter, while her partner serenades her from a low perch. One of the river’s small side streams flows by here, letting in a few intrepid rays of sun. A butterfly has found itself a lovely patch, showing off the electric blue on its back,
and on the rivulet’s shallow banks, hundreds more have collected to mine the mud for minerals. Aesthetically, the gathering is beyond what any of us can articulate, with its dazzling display of color, line, pattern and shape - just look at the geometry in these five pastel beauties.
One takes off, flying with a delicate jitter, following the sway of the stream past a Red Raffleasia, a parasitic flowering plant that gives off quite a stink, avoiding the hungry spider, waiting patiently on its impressive web,
and landing some ways away, on a twig above a pond, on which a droplet has formed. The smallest union of water with itself, it reflects the tiniest beam of dulled light.
And here, we (all of us) reach the end of our inward journey. We can take in no more, not this time, and now, must expand again, moving back out with the damp, rising heat. Out, out, back into the air, the cycle continues till we’re no longer there. We must give back all we’ve soaked up, to take it in once more – this is the system that sits at our core.
We climb up the sturdy trunks, passing squirrels, trogons, tree frogs and wasps, to their tallest branches, where a gibbon swings, delivering its haunting, undulating song. But (though it’s tempting to stay and take in the show), we keep moving out, past the forest’s last grasp, back out into the air, where the sun isn’t lost.
Back above the canopy the forest recombines into one green mass – its diversity hidden, its intricacy masked. Out, out we give in to the wind, this one breath spread about, and offered to the sky. And now, with nothing left to give, there’s room once more, to let it all back in. Again and again for the length of a life, it’s out, and in, end and begin. So quick and automatic, we do it without thought, but each breath unites us with everything.
By E.M. Vireo