Saturday, June 16, 2012
My early farmhouse's a microcosm of nature
I read a signage in Kuala Selangor Nature Park: “The firefly is a protected species. Catching a firefly carries a fine of RM1,000.” My thoughts slip 40 years back to Grandpa’s farm in Teluk Intan, a riverine town. Back then, I catch fireflies nightly, putting them in a glass jar, and before I sleep, I’d put the jar beside my bed. The size of a football field with a timber house smack in the middle, Grandpa’s farm changes persona with the rainy and dry seasons. The land is planted with rambutan, pomelo, papaya, ciku and orange trees. Hundreds of fireflies live in the mangrove forest opposite our house and dozens flitter to the front porch every night. In this farm, I learn about nature even before I attend kindergarten.
The fruit season brings new experiences. At night, bats feed on the fruits, and occasionally, a bat shrieks, flaps its wings helplessly, as our tomcat makes a kill. Monsoon rains drench the farm every year end, flooding its low-lying stretches. After a shower, termites emerge from their nests, drawn to the lights in the house. Many drop to the floor, shedding their wings. Toads hop like zombies from the undergrowth, enter the house through the front door and feed on the termites. Grandpa uses a broom to sweep out the toads. He tells me that snakes eat toads, so their presence attracts the reptiles. He always checks beneath chairs and tables for toads before locking up the door and windows.
Exploring the farm’s undergrowth after a rain brings visual rewards. Dragonflies, mushrooms and snails can be seen. One afternoon, I spot tiny black fishes in a monsoon drain pregnant with water. Excited, I scoop them into a glass jar. Yippee! Now, I have pet fishes. Weeks later, I ask Grandpa why my fishes have grown legs. “They're baby toads, not fishes,” Grandpa explains. I empty the contents of the jar back into the drain out of revulsion.
I learn another lesson after the tadpole discovery. I‘m standing astride on the splayed branches of a rambutan tree. While looking for ripe fruits, I hear a rustle below. Looking down, I notice a green lizard as long as my arm in the grass. It looks like a Gila monster. The one in my uncle’s comic, which bites a cowboy and kills him. My palms sweat. My knees wobble. I pelt the lizard with rambutan fruits, using all the force I can muster. It scuttles away to a red-earth clearing. Suddenly, its scaly skin changes from green to saffron. Thoughts of picking rambutan fruits evaporate from my mind. I scamper barefoot to the house, finding Grandpa in the back porch.
“Grandpa, I saw a magic lizard,” I tell him. “From green, it became orange.”
Grandpa is nonchalant. “Yes, yes, it can change colour. What you saw was a chameleon.” Grandpa’s farm is a microcosm of nature, where I encounter creepy crawlies and slimy creatures frequently.