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Not Out of the Woods

Not Out of the Woods

Salaam dear Reader,

When I was in primary school, I was a scout. I was not a very good scout. I could not master anything beyond the reef knot and I didn’t manage to get any badges besides the obligatory purple fleur-de-lis on my left breast, and my gold Sixer badge right under the words Changi on my shoulder. My most abiding memory was a hike we took in the Changi wood. I remember we had to pass though a pig farm at the foot of a hill (as the pigs grunted, we joked about stealing chickens) and then though a vegetable plantation at the top of the hill. We hiked on down the other side of the hill and into a dense wood.

Ten-year-old me was in awe of the wood. Dappled sunlight streamed in though breaks in the canopy of giant trees, the air was fresh and mossy, the floor crunched under our feet, moist with dew and fungi. My teacher gave me a hiking stick — I was the Sixer after all. We walked though the wood respectfully, acutely aware that we were in — to our childhood minds — sacred space inhabited by forest spirits; benevolent yet temperamental. The Changi wood with its forest spirits is gone now. Also gone is the freshwater creek with its catfish swimming upstream and its motionless yet alert monitor lizards.

Years later our family moved to Bedok Reservoir. I spent many hours at the edge of another wood at the top of the hill on the southwestern corner of the reservoir. The wood was not as dense and the wind would roar though, millions of clapping leaves applauding. But when the air was still, the silence — well, apart from the cicada — was exquisite. And there I sat to read, to write, and even study for my O-levels. The Bedok Reservoir wood is gone now. Also gone is the family of hovering peregrine falcons and the waddling green-crested lizards.

These wild spaces now exist only in memory.

When I look at maps of Singapore from the 80s and the 90s, I see that the Changi wood and the Bedok Reservoir wood were actually tiny. But they meant so much, and their value incalculable. These slivers of wood are gone now. Also gone are the ecosystems they sustained and the life force they reverberated.

In memory and in honour of the lost wild spaces of Singapore, I would like to spotlight the following books:

The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future by David Wallace-Wells

Signs on the Earth: Islam, Modernity and the Climate Crisis by Fazlun M Khalid

Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet by Ibrahim Abdul-Matin

Eat for the Planet: Saving the World, One Bite at a Time by Nil Zacharias

Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene: Environment Perspectives on Life in Singapore by Matthew Schneider-Mayerson

May we experience more wild spaces on our Earth.

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