Fungi feed on the dead. In turn they feed the living who die and feed the fungi in return. Other than being part of these pointless and infinite rounds of recycling, they make great chunky soup and substitutes for steak. That's about all I know about fungi. Thank you.
The fifty or so permanent residents of Pulau Ubin share the island with friendly dogs and disdainful cats who are little feared and have little to fear save the common dangers of an untrammelled life. Panting from the unexpected heat that followed many afternoons of downpour, the mutt on the left has a slight limp and likes to hang out by the GVN Green House under the unwatchful eye of the resident ape. With his pals, they roam the village, rooting for scraps and begging for favours from the tables of weekend feasts. The black and tan fellow is usually seen dozing behind the information counter at Chek Jawa and probably frolicks with the boars when the eastern shore bids the rangers farewell each night. Mangy some may be, but it's a life unwrecked by the whims of those who lose their semblance of sentience in a flightful fancy for a furry.
While the hounds wander the streets and investigate the occasional visitor of fluffy pedigree, it seems every house and hut in the village, from the yard behind Pat Ali's lontong stall to the dark halls of homes converted into bicycle stores, is owned by one or more pussies. Less bold than the canines, the cats prefer to stake out comfortable perches and shun the pokes of muddy ducks. The evening sun was cool enough, though, to persuade a bunch to slink out to the shore behind the tamarind tree, where they sniffed the sand, basked on the grains and chewed at little things that had washed up by the water's edge. None went as far as to get their paws wet – they clearly prefer to savour the taste but not the touch of the salty sea.
This little katydid nymph (identified as Conocephalus sp. by Arthur) is very much in season, with individuals appearing with regularity in the reedy brush of grasses, ferns and herbs along the trail. It's not clear to me how the adults look like, although they probably assume a greenish garb similar to this that renders them near invisible against the foliage. I also harbour the impression that this katydid hides a predatory habit, but this half-inch fella seems to dispel the notion by its hearty noming of a grass seed. The smallest animals boast a flaming red head and thorax, but those approaching an inch are drabber. Does the colour signal an accumulation of unpleasant substances in the early instars, who have yet to earn their wings and with youthful ardour neither watch where they hide nor care what foul grub they cram into their mouths?
The dry strip of sand just above the high line of shredded Ulva at the mangrove's edge of Chek Jawa offers a fine hunting ground for many terrestrial arthropods. Sharing the fine white grains with tiny crabs, beachhoppers, isopods and mudskippers are members of largely landlocked orders who thrive on the peripheries of inward habitats. The most visible prowlers are hunters – mottled brown wolf spiders that clamber over crumbling jetsam of dark twigs and bright calyxes; keen-eyed tiger beetles with iridescent elytra that sparkle like jewels in the midday sun as they take off from a rapid dash; and dogged ants with trap-jaw mandibles ready to spring shut at a hairtrigger. In random synchrony, they scour the surface seeking nourishment from fresh bodies who in turn scavenge on stillflesh.
A few wasps were also pottering about, the most prominent being a dozen or so large (about an inch-long) creatures with broad abdomens of powder blue and humongous eyes in jadeite green. Individuals were hovering and landing at select sites on the sand; some would commence digging only to be buzzed off by another. A number of small holes were already evident and were probably being filled with the living remains of the small flies on which this digger and its kin feed their grubs. Tagged as Bembix sp., the wasps are members of a large family, Sphecidae, with some 8,000 species of solitary hymenopterans that focus on specific prey. Some specialise on cockroaches, others take butterflies, there are weevil-hunters and cricket catchers. Like its similarly-clad cousin across the ocean, this Asian species remains unidentified, but both are avowed foes of Dipterans, to whom they bear more than a passing resemblance head-on. From the boardwalk, one can only wonder, would it not be nice to be born within sight of the sea and bearing a footprint so small that no sign remains of used cradle and empty crèche when one emerges to feel the laden air and taste the flavours of feet daubed in damp quartz? And thence to live by the tempo of virgin wings that power a hawk of minuscule fury? Wouldn't it be so, even if deep down your heart is blue and black from beatings of soft words that sting worse than hard jibes?
Howdee! The shifty duck is getting dumber and dumber. For some reason, now he thinks he can turn me into a bunny but I easily scared him away as he's deathly afraid of pointy things. So instead, he went off to some dive and shamelessly poked a loopy bunny in bare view of the public before waddling off in fear of getting bitten and beat up. Worse, he's taken to dribbling, as he heard it on good authority that this is an effective means of attracting virgins. Unfortunately, he forgot that he is in fact not a crab but has them instead...
Comparing notes over a late lunch, we wondered at the observation that Singapore's nature spots appear frequented most often by people other than nuclear families. On this first day of a long weekend, we saw relaxed gatherings of Indian workers, gaggles of Indonesian youths, boisterous friends on a day out, cheerful couples from China, sporty blondes and brunettes with their offspring in bicycle baskets, slim riders in speedy gear, and weathered rodmen ready for a tackle and a tipple.
It might be a sampling bias, but local clans and their children were few and far between in the crowd of young and restless legs who thronged the village and waded through a minefield of bicycles and vans to seek the island's peripheries. The handful who came within sight offered poles of contrast; palpable fascination and audible eurekas of rediscovery found a counterpoint in whines of "Pa! Why did we have to come to this place!?" Queueing for the bumboat later in the evening, a little girl clutched a plastic bottle that imprisoned two hermit crabs in gong-gong shells. We asked if they realised that the animals would die away from their shore, but her father and brother confidently proclaimed that the crabs would do well. "They need water meh?" was the rhetorical retort of minds probably fed by laughable facts.
Within one generation, a link to the land has been severed and discarded even in memory by a population vastly boosted in affluence but reduced in vision to live by bread alone. Almost daily, the powers serve reminders that this land is desolate and stands solely on the shoulders of stalwart men who must never waver in their daily labour and nocturnal love-making. For many, this mantra has come to mean that there is nothing left to conserve or care for on this red dot that has lost much of its natural heritage but still possesses rainforests and reefs that are within easy reach and richer than many in higher hemispheres. Many are the woods that have fallen. But greater still are those that are lost even in thought to souls in which empty bytes and balance sheets drown out the melody and mystery of green and growing things of which far less is known and much more is to be discovered.
Insulated, as a greater servant of the shore put it, from the greater realities of the earth and water and growing things by cities of steel and concrete, we live in a triple tragedy – not knowing what has and is being lost; not caring that this loss stems from our own apathy; and not pausing to wonder that the ravages we have wrought upon the earth in the name of opportunity costs would ultimately cost us as a species and have already eroded an irreplaceable part of our humanity.
Might the future, on this and other islands, thus lie in the eyes of friends from afar who would cherish and mourn the passing of this isle long before those who call it home awaken to unsung loss?