Bringing Nature To Our Balcony
The Rainbow Episode
This happened years back. My elder daughter was a pre-schooler then. One evening she came back all excited. In her baby accent she announced proudly that she had seen a rainbow. Those eyes filled with wonder explained everything, yet I let her go on explain it with her thrill. It had amazed her beyond words. Her eyes were so full of disbelief and joy! The sky spreading different colors, it was like magic to her.
That night when I was tucking her to bed she said,
“Ma. I want to sleep under the rainbow!”
I tackled the situation then saying “Sweet Dreams!”
That was her first brush with nature’s wonder.
The question and her desire haunted my mind for long time afterwards. Living in a concrete jungle, where you look through the window to see the sun rising between your neighbors’ apartments or setting through a mobile tower, sleeping under a rainbow is a DISTANT dream. I did remedy the situation not in a 100% real manner but in a very artificial manner.
The Kissanpur I created for my daughters.
Both my daughters feel happy sleeping under that rainbow and that comforts my mind.
While my elder daughter settled soon with realities of life, my younger daughter, Arundhati, continued to be in her dream world for long. She would see a wriggling homeless earthworm after rains, she would bring it home. During our trip to Wayanad, she packed her bag with many empty matchboxes, besides other stuffs like magnifying lens, binoculars, strings, bread crumbs for birds and what not. Those empty matchboxes perplexed me; to which she said she wanted to get back some snails and worms home. A snail with its home on its back had to be re-sheltered again?
A scary encounter with leech there did not deter her from stepping into leech infested stream again. Her curiosity of natural world is wild; she has her unique exploratory way of learning rather than the traditional didactic approach.
I sit back and recollect:
One of the most joyous and wild experiences I had in my childhood was that of our gang climbing up a cashew nut tree and sitting on one of its extra long branches. We used to take turns to shake it vigorously. Twice or thrice, may be more, we have fallen from that branch to the ground 3 to 4 feet below. We would get up laughing our stomachs out and climb back again and again for the same experience!
Mothers of my generation will agree that we stayed outdoors more than our children have. Played with a sense of gay abandon. Some of us may have played outside for 3 to 4 hours in a stretch; can we imagine that for our children?
Today, trees are replaced by jungle gym structures!
The physical boundaries have shrunk, there is always the ‘stranger danger’ and with both parents working, today we have a whole new generation of ‘latchkey children’.
Anxious that we are for our children may fail to bond with nature, we hit nature resorts and wild life destinations on our holidays. During one such outing to a butterfly park, a tiny butterfly landed on my daughter’s hand. Oh! You should have seen her! She stood there like a statue, afraid to even breathe lest the butterfly flies away! It kept walking on her tiny fingers and after some time flew away. A close brush with nature, she was around 8years old then!
She kept looking at it longingly as it flew around, hoping it would sit on her hands again. That day she very unwillingly returned home.
Bringing Nature A Little Closer
Finally, when Arundhati realized she couldn’t stay outdoors to experience nature, she decided to get nature indoors. And I was her partner in crime!
She googled on ‘how to get butterflies and birds home’. She found her love and friend for life: NATURE! Together we explored the internet; I must admit here that I discovered a whole new world through her. I could see her add life and colour to it little by little. Under her instructions I set about collecting pots and her choice plants. Of course all her wild imaginations couldn’t be converted to reality! But I managed to have two terracotta lily pools and plenty of potted flowering plants and some bird feeders. The empty space soon got converted to a ‘cool little green oasis’.
This was an instant hit! A squirrel soon took procession of the 6by10 ft. area. This little fellow was our regular visitor and it was christened Rorrel (Rodent + Squirrel) It would sprawl, roll, scavenge the grass lawn for wheat grains scattered on it; in short have a good time. My daughter would lay flat on her tummy, locking eye contact with the squirrel. It surprised me how she could be still for so long. The above picture was taken by her one of those days.
Rorrel in a few months gave birth to two babies and there was another round of excitement.
My daughter brought her friends home to proudly display the squirrel nest and babies. She raved about how her friends mentioned that she is so lucky.
Yellow! Yellow flowers attract butterflies, she read. And tiny water pools attract birds. The main components for Kissanpur were yellow flowering plants, water lilies and fish for the pools all set among pebbles and stones collected from mountains and beaches. She wanted to add frogs too. Eww.. who does that, I protested. We tried many varities; yellow dahlias to yellow hibiscus to yellow lantanas. Finally the experiment with yellow lantanas paid off and we had butterflies visiting us.
The water pools of course had steady visitors, from crows to pigeons to coucals to falcons. The pools get direct sunlight for short period, so the water remains cool. One of the favorite pastime of my daughter is to watch the birds bathing in the pool splashing water all around. The lilies I planted in them flourished and fish too multiplied there fast. This was indeed the best part of our Kissanpur!
My job was to photograph the events during the day, so that she could come back from school and see the happenings of the day.
The visiting monkey who often paused for a drink from the pools was always rewarded with a fruit or two. In return it expressed its gratitude by giving good poses holding the bamboo plants’ branches. This particular picture was taken on a weekend when my daughter was home.
When I saw her jumping with excitement.
I was confused which was the actual monkey!
Over the years we have had a series of wonderful experiences; a praying mantis laying eggs, pests creating havoc among tender shoots, marigold flower plants completely conquered by spiders, suspended pupae and last but not the least honey bees building a huge beehive in our balcony. This happened about 3 years back. She was 11 then. No amount of cajoling my daughter to see the danger of having a honey bees’ nest within 6ft. helped. She was not letting anyone bring down the nest. In fact she almost came out with a white paper stressing we have to save honey bees to save our world.
Finally we gave in. The balcony was out of bounds for all for 4 months, except for me to water the plants. Then one day, when the bees’ nest was full of honey, the honey collectors came, shooed away the bees with smoke and collected a huge amount of honey.
We, of course got many bottles filled with pure honey. It was sheer
happiness for me seeing them relish this ‘home made’ honey.
Latest update from Arundhati’s Kissanpur: 6th April 2014; A pigeon has laid 2 eggs in one corner. What surprised her most was that the pigeon laid eggs without building a nest.(Below is a 1 minute long video taken by her.)
Her googling provided her with info and she made these notes:
– Pigeons are one of those few birds which sometimes lay eggs without building its own nest.
– They lay eggs near to sources of food and water.
– The mother pigeon keeps rolling the eggs with her beak, probably to warm it from all sides.
– It takes approx 18 days to hatch
– If the mother pigeon leaves the eggs for too long it would mean the eggs are dead.
– It will take another 3 to 4 weeks for the chicks to fly away.
That means before her vacations are over she will see them fly away.
Arundhati takes care to leave some grains for the mother pigeon in its vicinity.
I see her taking photographs regularly desperately hoping
the eggs would hatch when she is around with her camera, so that she can record it.
Arundhati’s friendship with NATURE is still on and I hope I have provided her with enough so that it continues her whole lifetime!