Posted by: cochinblogger | October 15, 2010

Foliage on the Rampage

I’m gratified that my favorite color, green, has become the flavor of the century. The whole world is going green, it seems, or at least wanting to go green. So, living as I do in God’s Own Country, Kerala, one of the greenest patches of land on earth (but a lot of whose pristine forests have been converted into plantations), let me pay tribute to the power of the color green in words (mostly those of a writer called Elizabeth Bowen) and in photos (mine). Let me celebrate the victory of the verdant over the synthetic; in a land as lush as Kerala, no sooner, it seems, is one’s back turned than the foliage takes over, swallowing everything in its path. I’m unashamedly partisan, firmly on the side of the foliage.

The most vivid, unforgettable description of invasive foliage I have ever read is from the pen of Elizabeth Bowen, whose short story “Ivy Gripped the Steps” begins like this:

Ivy gripped and sucked at the flight of steps, down with with such a deceptive wildness it seemed to be flowing like a cascade. Ivy matted the door at the top and amassed in bushes above and below the porch. More, it has covered, or one might feel consumed, one entire half of the high double-fronted house, from the basement up to a spiked gable: it had attained about half-way up to the girth and more than the density of a tree, and was sagging outward under its own weight. One was left to guess at the size and number of windows hidden by looking at those in the other side. But these, though in sight, had been made effectively sightless: sheets of some dark composition that looked like metal were sealed closely into their frames. The house, not old, was of dull red brick with stone trimmings.

To crown it all, the ivy was now in fruit, clustered over with pale fleshy berries. There was something brutal about its fecundity. It was hard to credit that such a harvest could have been nourished only on brick and stone. Had not reason insisted that the lost windows must, like their fellows, have been made fast, so that the suckers for all their voracity could not enter, one could have convinced oneself that the ivy must be feeding on something inside the house.

The last sentence, ending in “the ivy must be feeding on something inside the house,” is disquieting; there is an undercurrent of menace there. The previous sentences had prepared the ground for this disturbing idea. Man-eating ivy?

In the midst of so much worldwide deforestation, it’s heartening to see these victories, modest as they are.

Cochin has more than its fair share of vacant plots of land, thanks to absentee landlords, most of whom live overseas. These constitute a miniature ecosystem, teeming with insects, snakes, garden lizards, butterflies, wasps, bees, birds, squirrels, skinks, civet cats, mosquitoes, and other creatures.

The municipal authorities had announced that absentee owners of such vacant plots should clear and maintain them, as they had become breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

But given the fact that the municipal authorities are as toothless as newborn babes, we know how seriously such directives are taken. For urban butterfly photographers such as myself, this is perhaps just as well. šŸ™‚

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