Fishermen and beachcombers have carved a trail from the entrance of the ferry terminal to the artificial shore of Tanah Merah. The well-trodden path runs by a coastal scrubland of acacias and casuarinas, fast-growing pioneers which have colonised this vast terra nova between Changi and a shoal of eastern reefs. A dense brush of ferns and sappans occupy the understorey, while the wayside is dominated by lantanas with pink-purple spikes and ivy gourds that clamber over the shrubbery.
Usually, there isn't time to linger here, for we'd arrive well before daybreak and intent on unearthing the aquatic secrets of this wounded strand and skirting the resident stonefish who lurk by the loose feet of the low seawall. But there was about an hour to kill yesterday before the tide retreated, and though the afternoon was fading and the air thick with the ashes of distant swamps, a number of butterflies remained active in the fringing vegetation. A few blue pansies fluttered around and sought unshaded perches for an evening bask, where their open hindwings displayed the brightest shades of a day of gray. Among the prettiest of their tribe, these nymphalines are common, though alert and elusive, inhabitants of urban wastelands where their host, a widespread weed, forms knee-high trails of soft leaves and delicate bell-like blooms.
A lone common tiger floated over the grasses, assured by its promise of unpalatibility, pausing at times to sip from coat buttons and white heads. Like its migratory cousin from North America, this tropical monarch relies on a member of the milkweed family during its early stages and has prospered from the creeper's abundance on the island, though this may not persist amid unremitting efforts to forge a mere sense of greenery in a city that insists on expanding but has never grown up. Closer to the ground, in the dimmer edges of the hedge, blue and grey lycaenids still danced over the herbs that feed their young, having survived another day of invisible threats and turbid skies. In a little while, when this hollow wood sleeps to the shrill songs of small bats and owls, they would retreat to leafy shelters, wind down their wings and surrender the dark to snails and other nocturnal beasts who browse in the bush and bury themselves in this beach of borrowed sand.