Breath: A Meditative, Photographic Journey Through the Jungles of SE Asia

Drop #75


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.

Collared Scops Owl

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.

Spectacled Langurs

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.

Flying Lizard

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:

Magpie Robin

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.

So, broadening our view, we notice droplets all about, clinging to leaf, flower and spike alike.
An ant drinks from one with two busy front feet. Hydrated, it will soon fall back into work, beautifully automatic. In fact: there are its colleagues running up a trunk, carrying the spoils of their clinical work.
The mossy pond, into which the streamlet flows, is aflurry with life. Damsel and dragonflies flit all about,

Damselfly (perches with wings raised or closed)

Dragonfly (perches with wings spread)

and here is a Waterhen, sneaking around the edges, thinking it’s invisible. Maybe it is! The Striated Heron nearby is using the same ploy to catch fish; why not, it’s been working for generations.

Whitebreasted Waterhen

 A Stork-billed Kingfisher flies by in a flash of blue and warm brown,

Stork-billed Kingfisher

and on a bright red heliconia at the water’s edge, sits an even brighter Olive-backed Sunbird. It’s a male, and he’s ready to outshine all the others to pass on his genes – but first, some tasty nectar.

Olive-backed Sunbird

On the ground, nearby, a troop of Macaques, with little ones in tow, forages for fallen fruits and nuts. Some are too young to keep up, but can hitch a ride.

Blue-winged Pitta

They flush a Blue-winged Pitta, which flashes the bright white patches in its wings as it flies; then lands on a rotting stump colonized by rows of mustard colored mushrooms. The air is humid, but there blows a little breeze to replace the old with the new – bringing freshness and oxygen to what would otherwise become stagnant. It’s always shifting, and ensuring new life, this place that can appear so still. And speaking of which: a new shoot has shot through a dead leaf on the ground. What will it become?
Above it, another has sprouted on a low twig, its veins, an ode to symmetry. Countless others like it, humble and perfect, embrace their twigs to make up branches, and these, join trunks to form trees. The tallest is the Tualang, reaching 80 meters long, with buttress roots angling off a main trunk thick as twenty men. Each massive specimen, that came from seedling centuries ago, has taken its place with oozing grace, to sit here and produce. It is a favorite of nesting giant honey bees, whose massive combs hang off high branches. But Dipterocarp trees dominate the jungle here, along with Durians, Kapoks and Figs, each a densely populated ecosystem, offering shelter, sustenance, real estate, and shade, and having done so, for many decades, without complaint.

Forest Giant

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

About EM Vireo
flooding the world with fiction

6 Responses to Breath: A Meditative, Photographic Journey Through the Jungles of SE Asia

  1. MCL says:

    Great piece, amazing pictures, wish I could be there now …

  2. Os Ishmael says:

    Great post. Love the image of the Sunbird!

  3. Tony says:

    I enjoyed that very much.

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