The view from from window of my room at 4 O’clock in the Evening:
It is 4 O’clock in the evening. The sunshine is becoming pale at the approach of the evening. The mornings, evenings and nights are becoming cooler. Sky is still clear. Sitting in the same room of my home on the third floor, I am looking at the scene out side from the window.
The outline of trees looks like the drawing of a child making lines with a pencil which are not straight but serrated. The shadows and lights are playing exclusive games in the branches which are swaying due to strong breeze. When one is there other is gone and vice versa. There is a meadow below and cows and buffaloes are grazing lazily. As they graze, cranes accompany them to catch the insects which are scurried due to the grazing animals. Many of them can be seen perching over the tops of animals.
The shadows of the rows of trees are beginning to lengthen and crawling over over the fields and are moving towards my room. Some boys are trying to catch fish from a pond near the edge of tree rows. The pond is irregular in shape and its still water looks shines due to sunlight falling on it. From above it looks like a shard of glass, very longish and narrow. White cranes and black egrets are plunging into the water occasionally and rest of the time sit on the nearby bushes.
Airplanes keep on coming at very low height as they are descending preparing for landing at Chandigarh airport which is very near. Sometimes very huge cargo plane is seen passing very near our buildings with deafening noise.
Sitting in the room of my home which has large glass panels opening in West direction, I am looking at the Sun going down leaving behind a copper colored hue in the West. The sky is smeared with mild clouds of different transparencies. There are thick columns of of poplar trees which are now loosing their individuality and taking on dark shroud. There are kites flying and sometimes swooping down on their prey. Snow white cranes are leaving the grazing grass grounds and flying towards their homes. Even as I am typing these words the whole scene is becoming ambiguous and soon darkness will swallow the day.
It is the spring season here. The nature has broken its hibernation of freezing cold and there is a thaw in the season. The plants and trees after shedding the old leaves are adorning themselves with fresh light green leaves. Within days the skeleton branches are covered with leaves. The days are becoming longer and hot. Soon it will become very hot and unbearable.
The weather in India are not uniform and every 3 months weather changes. This is why the natives here are in continuous struggle with the weather. There are extremes of weather in North India. This gives India a vast variety of vegetation.
The bottlebrush trees also called Callistemon so called because their shape resembles the brush used to clean the bottles. These days the trees are laden with these flowers of red color. There is a strong contrast between the rich green leaves and these flowers which hang like garlands on the tree.
All day long different animals and birds visit these trees to lick the pollen from the flowers. First in the morning are monkeys especially their kids which can easily reach the ends of the branches where the flowers are located. They eat the nutritious pollen and then snap the flowers from the branch. After this parrots come in big groups. They chatter, make noise and lick the pollen. They are the worst and break most of the flowers and the ground beneath is littered with fresh broken flowers.
Nightingales also come. If you look closer you will find the honey bees hovering around the flowers. There is a continuous buzz. They are the gentlest and use the flowers to make honey-one of the nature’s best gift to us.
There was a time when things started rolling on with advent of photosynthesis by cyano-bacteria or green algae which began preparing its food from carbon dioxide and water which were the only substances available in plenty. They paved the way for introduction of oxygen into the atmosphere and for beginning of life dependent on oxygen.
In fact, both the products made by photosynthesis namely sugar and oxygen are used by animals including humans for sustaining their life. We animals are thus the species who learned to make use of the leg work of others to their own advantage. Of course, in today’s world, human beings who do this are termed smarter than the others.
So what the plants and algae used for making their food is being recycled back to the atmosphere in the form of green house gases. Plants use CO2 and H2O and took energy from the Sun to convert these to sugars and animals extract that energy from the food synthesized by plants and algae and return the CO2 and H2O back to the atmosphere.
CO2 is in fact one of the end products of burning the fossil fuels like coal and petroleum which are the preserved forms of energy of Sun due to being buried away from the reach of oxygen. Since all industrial activities use extensively these fuels, levels of CO2 are rising in the atmosphere to alarming levels.
Trees breathe the CO2 through the stomatal pores present in their leaves. They also lose the water through these pores during the day. They are smart enough to adjust the size of their leaves so as to optimize the intake of CO2 and loss of H2O for proper growth.
One such tree was born in 1948 in a isolated place on the edge of a pit 30 kilometers from Dutch city called Eindhoven. By 1990 it was a big majestic tree as most of the Birch family trees are. Scientists from the laboratory of Paleo-botany and Palynology named it fondly “Big Betty”.
During each autumn, the tree will shed a carpet of dry leaves into the pit. So layer after layer is deposited inside the pit. But scientists noticed a peculiar thing about the leave size. Each year the leave size began becoming smaller thus reducing the stomatal index. This was due to the fact that as levels of CO2 rose, the tree needed fewer number of stomata to inhale the same quantity as required and thus avoided the undue loss of moisture from the leaves. In fact when the levels of CO2 were plotted against the stomatal indices of leaves over these years, they matched the patterns of levels of CO2 variations. So the stomatal index was used to calibrate and interpolate the results to guess the levels of CO2 in the past.
The winter season is here and I am really afraid. It is because although we belong to North India and were used to the bitter cold and harsh summers but we have been living in Mumbai for the last 25 years and become acclimatized the weather of the place. There is hardly much winter in Mumbai. But now I have returned to North and stay in Dehradun which experiences a very severe winter.
The changes are taking place. The sun is rising late each day. Earlier I went out for morning walk at around six o’clock. It is dark now at this time and the walk time has been delayed by about an hour. The nights are long and dark and day seem to be over even at the noon. The houses where I live have an awful design which prevents any sunlight from shining on most of them. Whenever the sun comes to pour its benevolent light there are trees everywhere acting as shields and prevent the sunlight from reaching the homes. The home has already begun to resemble a cold storage and feet become cold and numb.
The darkness never leaves these houses and I always feel like running away from them to get into open for some sunlight. In summer these houses become furnaces. No air ever circulates in them.
So I try to go for walk at around 45 minutes past six. The sun is not out yet. There are crows sitting on the branches of an dry tree and make incessant noises. There are kites surveying the area on the ground for any rats or other game. Sometimes I went out in the dark and found the stars shining in the sky along with the moon. I walk about 4 kilometers and find so many people walking. Almost all of them are regular.
The darkness in the East begin to dissolve and a red color hue spreads across. It is the advent of sunrise. Now you find a bunch of storks flying in a formation towards the place nearby where they will land at a river and forage for all day. Each day they make this journey and return in the evening to rest on the tree tops.
I return to the home and coldness envelopes me again. I take tea, some breakfast, bath and dress and leave for the office. The coming days shall be even more harsh when the real winter will set in.
Forest Research Institute (FRI) in Dehradun is about one and half kilometer from the place I live. I regularly go up to the gate of the institute during my morning walk. Many a times, I extend my walk to the inside the Institute. It was established in the year 1906. Nowadays it conducts trainings for the candidates selected for Indian Forest Service, for the forest rangers, M.Sc courses. The institute itself is situated in a very big campus which have trees of every kind found in India.
Institute is situated in the middle and building is majestic. Despite being so old it mesmerizes the beholder. It houses the laboratories, museum which contains specimen of wood of trees, non woody products, the bugs which thrive on the trees and is divided into 5 modules. Guides are also available if one wants.
This is about the buildings but the real beauty is outside where sprawling green grass lawns, water brooks, the mighty trees, bamboos of umpteen variety can be seen. As everyone knows, the work of growing the trees is a very painstaking one, it must have taken years for many trees to reach their majestic heights and beauty.
As you walk through the jungles and woods, you feel transported to an altogether different world. A world that is so peaceful and serene and you are compelled to praise the God who has created it all. The varieties of the trees are numerous ranging in size from few centimeters to hundreds of feet. In the morning time one forgets that he is in this world but feels that he is in heaven. There is no pollution. The air is fresh. Yonder the blue Mussoorie hills form the backdrop. When sky is not overcast, it is so blue.
I remember the dialogues between two brothers in the movie Slumdog Millionaire after being thrown from the train near Agra. When dust thins before them and the visage of Taj Mahal looms before them. Younger one says “is this the heaven? ” Elder one tells that No, we are not dead it is real. Similar experience is felt if you leave your thoughts that encumber you behind. If you get a chance visit this place and feel for yourself.
I visited the place after many days and took some snaps. Due to the clouds and early morning, the pictures are a bit hazy as if one is seeing them in the dream.
When we observe the trees and plants around us, we find that even the plants of the same species bear different sizes and shapes. In fact no two trees are alike even if they are growing near one another. This is the result of the intense competition and many traits that trees have to face and acquire.
Every tree tries to reproduce to propagate its lineage. For this it produces seeds. But this is not the end of the story. The seeds have to be broadcast away from the tree preferably to a place where the parent tree does not have its influence over the resources required for growth. To scatter the seeds the tree shall in ideal case try to grow very tall and branches at the top.
Now take its another trait. Every tree has to harvest the sun energy. For optimal absorption of the energy the tree shall desire to have the design in which branches shall be horizontal and non-overlapping. This way every leaf will act as a energy cell.
Third trait is mechanical stability. For this the tree shall want minimum horizontal branches because the branches shall try to destabilize it.
Now as the saying goes no one gets the complete world. The foremost truth about the life is compromise. So when all the traits compete simultaneously there is compromise. The mixing ratios of the traits is the result of the helplessness of the tree. This behavior has been called “Frustration Principle” by biologist Karl Niklas. Niklas used computer models in which he kept the two traits constant and varied the third one. The results were as expected but when he mixed the traits in different ratios the final shape of the tree was like we see in reality around us.
This can be compared to smart cellphones which have a camera also. Although camera does good work but it cannot replace the stand alone camera. Similarly we have gadgets which can do many jobs but they are good for picnics where it is not the refinement but collection of many tools which come as handy but are not as perfect in quality as the individual tool shall be. But then who wants to take a lots of tools for picnic?
As soon as the winter went away and yielded its place to Spring season, the nature which has been lying dormant, has put up the best show in the form of flowers of all colors. In fact, there is a riot of colors. Plants, shrubs and trees, none of them wants to be left behind in bearing beautiful flowers and contribute to the show. Flowers of contrasting colors, shapes and sizes. The trees flower slowly and till late when here in India till the sweltering Summer sets in.
One thing, I noticed about the pattern of blooming was that trees tried to put up the Show not simultaneously but with time gaps. This is akin to fashion show in which the models occupy the ramp one after the other to show their assets. The reason may be that they wanted to keep us in pleasant mood for longer time by keeping the aesthetics of the surroundings. Another reason may be that they might be avoiding competition to avoid comparisons beholders draw because they (trees) may be aware of the adage “comparisons are odious!”.
So, first of all came beautiful golden yellow Amaltas flowers with the scientific name Cassia Fistula. Before the trees burst into flower bunches, most of them saw to it that they were completely devoid of leaves and their branches looked like skeletons. Bunches of flowers began hanging from the branches like garlands. Only after some days the leaves also come along.
Along with the Amaltas also blossomed the Peltophorum pterocarpum (‘Copperpod, Golden Flamboyant, Yellow Flamboyant,Yellow Flame Tree, Yellow Poinciana) with yellow small flowers. They are not as showy as Amaltas. The foliage of trees is very thick and flowers look like stars in the green colored sky. By this time the Amaltas flowers have lost their sheen. All day these flowers fall to the ground and heaps of them collect or are swept here and there by the wind.
After this began the show by Pride of India, Queen Crape Myrtle, Hindi: Jarul जरुल , Manipuri: Jarol and botanical name is Lagerstroemia speciosa. The flowers are purple colored bunches peeking from the thick branches. The path turns purple with the fallen flowers as if some naughty child had spilled the blue inkpot. These are very big trees and flowers are partially covered behind the leaves.
Now the April has begun. The heat is terrible. The flowers are withering away. Amaltas flowers have been bleached white by the Sun. Others are also fading. But the Last challenge is not over. Only a few days earlier, Gulmohur trees have begun blooming. And everyone knows how showy they are. The trees become like flames and seem to mocking the Sun. These trees are also very high. The flowers are all over the tree which have thin leave density.