For some of my time in Singapore I lived adjoining Thomson Nature Park. It was a wonderful place to walk; a cool escape from the tropical heat. The vegatation was different to that at home, darker and more lush. One afternoon I was quietly working away in the home office and heard a loud bang on the tiled roof. Then another, and another. Someone was throwing rocks on the roof!
A quick perusal ot the yard and street failed to unearth a suspect. My neighbour noticed my pacing and deducing what my concern was, shouted: ‘it’s the rubber!’ And so it was. I’d heard about the explosive nature of rubber seeds but not witnessed it before. Rubber trees were planted on the boundary of the park, and just now they were firing off seeds.
I’d first seen these rubber trees in Malaysia. While driving from Kuala Lumpur to Penang one day for a meeting, a work colleague pointed out the plantations to me. I looked but couldn’t spot any rubber trees. Further on he pointed out another one. This went on for a while until finally I realised that the trees weren’t like the ornamental rubber trees I’d been used to in Brisbane – the houseplant with huge leaves. These were tall trees with mottled bark and small, pinnate leaves.
Living next to the park did have a downside in the form of monkeys. Most days a troop of long-tailed macaques did the rounds of the park boundary, swinging through the trees, shrieking and making forays into the yards and houses. Nothing deterred them, certainly not my shouting and frantically waving a broom. My dog Zac wasn’t a deterrent, they bared their teeth at him and I usually tried to keep him inside until they were safely past. I spotted one leaving the neighbours upstairs window with a pineapple and thought that was funny, until the day one took my handbag from the kitchen table. Luckily I was on hand to apprehend the thief who, realising I was posing a serious threat, dropped the bag and fled over the fence. After that the doors and windows were more firmly screened with chainwire mesh.
Most days in Singapore, Zac and I went for a walk in the nature park. A particular walk taken early one morning stays with me. As usual, Zac wanted to turn left onto the main track. I preferred to turn right. That way we went past the lagoon, which glinted greenly through the tree trunks and gently burbled with frogs. The narrow path was shadowed by the giants of the rainforest. Leaf litter loosely covered a short section of a stony path – treacherous underfoot, the uneven slimy surface demanded complete concentration. It eased back to solidly packed earth. The path widened and led up around a curve; suddenly opening into a wide glade, full of sunlight and birdsong. It never failed to surprise me, and yet its serenity and splendour were what I was waiting for.
Zac won that day and we went left, where the track led underneath the leaning bamboo and loops of liana hung just above our heads. A gleaming gold leaf on the path stopped me in my tracks. It took me straight back to when I was a child, collecting leaves for a school project. Never did I spot a leaf so resplendent. I remembered again why I loved bush walks so much.
That rainforest is thousands of kilometres from home but walking through it reminded me of the best parts of my life. The rainforest was different to those I grew up with, yet the feeling was so familiar.
I was tempted to pick up the leaf but left it for others to enjoy and made a mental collection instead. Rain and wind the night before had brought down many new leaves, whose fresh green lightly screened the layers of gold, crimson, brown and the whitened bones of leaves long fallen. Three-lobed leaves gleamed palest creamy gold, the veins protruding delicately like a dowager’s hand. Giant fleshy philodendron leaves crashed through the branches and landed fatly on the ground. They would change from mottled yellow green to ochre to total decay, with no skeleton stage.
Zac sniffed the trails of other dogs, of monkeys and who-knows-what mysterious jungle creatures. He jumped as a skink skuttled out into the sun, then changed its mind and scurried back into hiding. The hour allotted for the walk passed. We hadn’t walked far, but I’d travelled through a lifetime of memories.