Monthly Archives: January 2012

Jungle Portrait

It is autumn in the jungle. A mantle of fresh-fallen leaves blankets the twisting, jutting, miry forest floor, disguising—but not ameliorating—the slip-slide of gently decaying layers underneath. Autumn here is not the graceful, sighing transition into winter starkness of the northern latitudes; it is instead an energetic moulting season, rust- and sun-coloured plumage fluttering to the ground, replaced instantaneously by fresh and vibrant green.

The jungle looms. Giants abide here, canopied crowns filtering the honey-thick tropical sunlight. Fragrant heartsap and vivid banyan, caught in the slow, choking embrace of parasitic vines, teem with frantically murmuring cicadas and methodical columns of marching termites. Wild mahogany betrays an encounter with a sun-bear, claw marks gouged deeply into the striated bark. Trails meander through the jungle, not hidden but tangled in the undergrowth. This deep, human traces disappear easily, engulfed by foliage so quickly you could almost watch it happen.

The jungle is not a silent place. It is not even a quiet place. The jungle rustles, chimes, calls and drones with the abundant life hidden by its dense and verdant visage. In the middle distance the curious hooting of a gibbon floats through the sticky air; her call is answered by a nearby neighbour, staking territory, warning her to keep away. A toucan laughs, bright sound smashing through the soft green treetops. At the base of a “compass tree,” its roots spreading east and west, sting-less bees clamber out of a tree-sap tube leading deep under the roots; their nest vibrates with a deep, resonant thrum.

Suddenly, a branch rustles and cracks overhead as a russet contour emerges from a crook in the tree top. It is afternoon nap-time, but a young orangutan gives in to curiosity and pokes his head around his mother’s recumbent form to peer down at the forest floor. Pale faces peer back up at him. He is intrigued. Further investigation is required. Mom makes a half-hearted grab at him, but he’s already climbed onto a spindly branch, tilting forward until his weight swings the whole green mess far enough to grab onto the next patch of foliage. He stops, suspended, suddenly shy, and turns his face away from the onlookers.

On second thought, though, he’s not that shy, and he swings out again, this time arresting his barely-controlled descent with a sturdier tree. He shimmies down the thin trunk to get a better look. Toddling around his new perch, he leans this way and that, captivated by his new, temporary forest-mates. Swinging around again, he spots a perch with a better view, just over the top of their heads, and makes for it.

A glance back upwards reveals stealthy Mom suddenly two trees and a couple layers of branches closer. Our little circus performer gets the hint, shuffling back into the safety of the forest. His curiosity (and desire to exhibit) satisfied, he knows that lunch is next on the day’s agenda and is willing to let Mom shoo him away. She lumbers after him, but stops, her own wary interest piqued. Blinking at the gawking, whispering, floor-walking bipeds, she hangs languidly by one arm and scratches herself, unconcerned about the 10-meter drop through empty space below her. She casts back one last unsure glance before propelling herself with deceptive grace out into the murky green and gold recesses of the jungle autumn.

The forest swallows up their russet forms, their progress betrayed only by the swaying, rustling tree tops.

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