One Step Forward…

June 26, 2013

…several steps back.

This is not a happy post.

Last week I was so thrilled with my garden. I’d planted everything I’d ever wanted and a few things I’d not even heard of and it all looked lovely.

Now… sigh…

The Jacaranda looks like this

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The Golden Shower looks like this.

tree
Actually, you can’t tell what it looks like, because you can’t really see it in the picture. All you can see is the stake. But if you look really hard, you can see a dried up stick tied to the stake. Yeah – that’s my beautiful tree.

The gulmohar, which had no reason to fail, looks like this.
_MG_1821

Some callous *%&($*&^($*&6-ker went and pulled off all its leaves.

The hedge looks like this.
_MG_1814

Those spring-onion type things in the background are lilies which were a gift. I’ve just planted them – give it a day or two and then we’ll know whether they’re going to bloom or die.

Remember that hibiscus, one of the very first things we planted? It blessed us with half a dozen blooms in quick succession, then gave up the ghost and was as good as dead. I’d moved it from the back to the front some weeks ago, hoping it would revive in the direct sun, and it did perk up a bit and get a few new buds. But no flowers have come yet and now its leaves look like this.
_MG_1817

The grass is the worst of all. It looks like this.
_MG_1812
_MG_1811

Now I’ll bet you’re thinking – hey, that actually looks quite nice, what on earth is she complaining about. I’ll tell you. It’s supposed to look like this.

grass

See the difference? Yeah, I know the first one looks a lot better, but see – that’s the mat approach. Ok, if you already know about grass, you can skip this part. But if you, like me a very short time ago, know nothing, read on. So grass can be planted in two or three ways. One is through seed – of which I know nothing. The other is through mat. Mat is usually used for Mexican grass, not Bermuda, and it’s really neat. You just unroll it and spread it out and you’re done. That’s what all the fancy apartment complexes and corporate complexes have. It’s low-maintenance, but takes a lot of water and needs a good dose of chemical pesticides to fix the termite problem it comes with. But Bermuda is known to be more drought tolerant than Mexican, so we didn’t really have a choice. And I’m not sure if Bermuda is ever done in mat, but it is conventionally done in this sapling format – which is why it should not look like the lush green thing in the first two pictures and it should look like the sparse balding thing in the picture above.

The thing is, we still don’t have a gardener. Actually, when we started to do the grass work, a man came knocking on our gate claiming to be a gardener and offering to do the work for us (for the paltry sum of Rs 1500). And Amit sent him away.

So I spent two hours working on planting grass myself and all I got for my efforts was a backache. It’s bloody slow work. Not to say it isn’t relaxing and peaceful and all that – it is. But all the same. We had these three extremely heavy and bulky sacks of grass in our driveway and the nursery we’d bought it from had adjured us very sternly to get it all done in less than 48 hours (while also assuring us that it was quite possible to do so on our own sans gardener). After two hours of tedious (I mean, peaceful and relaxing) work, I calculated that it would take about ten hours of work to get the whole swimming-pool area done. And that meant it would take me at least one week (and two weekends).

But what to do with the grass in the meantime?

I suggested to Amit that we lay it out with the earth sods face down and water it thoroughly and hope for the best. I’d done that with a bit of leftover grass from the initial planting so many months ago and the small patch seems to have happily taken root in our back yard right where it was dumped. Maybe this will take root too?

The thing is, this is not exactly a mat of grass, it’s more like big, uneven clumps of grass torn out of a field and bagged up and sent to us. So when we spread it out (which was itself a good 7 person-hours of hard work) it didn’t exactly give us a flat, level, Wimbledon kind of surface. It is all up and down and clumpy. And I’m not at all sure it’s even going to take root. What if it just withers up and dies? That’s a lot of money and one whole Sunday irretrievably down the drain.

On the other hand, what else could we have done? There’s no way I could have planted all that grass in one or two days. And if we’d just left it in the sack, it would surely have withered up and died.

And now that it’s there, lumpy or not, if it settles down and puts down roots, I don’t think I’m going to do anything more to it in the foreseeable future. The most I might do is to get some more grass and cover up the area I had so meticulously planted. Since it’s not exactly Wimbledon anyway.

Huh. Back to the drawing board. So much for the dream garden. That thumb of mine is still the wrong colour, it seems.

PS: I probably shouldn’t say this, because next week I might have to write its epitaph as well, but for now at least that king of my garden, the Java Cassia (apple blossom) is doing ok. Let’s hope it lasts.
_MG_1818


Maternal Love, Paternal Love

June 22, 2007

It’s finally raining, and the poor chicks are not getting any food. That’s because their mother is sitting firmly on top of them, keeping them warm and dry. She’s crouched low in the nest, feathers fluffed up, look of resignation in her eyes, leaves dripping water from above, chicklets doubtless yelping for food below.

It’s really quite enchanting to watch her feed them. When she flies away to look for food, there’s not a peep from the nest. Then, when she comes back, you can actually see her cheeks bulging with food that she’s not allowing herself to swallow.

When she alights near the nest, the chicklets pop up, the tallest one visible, the other two still hidden by the untidy bowl of twigs. She deposits some of the food inside the nest and stuffs little bits down the three gaping gullets in turn. When her cheeks have emptied out, she picks up some of the stuff she had deposited and does another round of stuffing. Sometimes she sits on them for a while after this, other times she leaves again, to gather more food.

Yesterday and even this morning, the father was visible, being helpful, but with the advent of the rain he’s disappeared. This is the time for him to be maximum helpful, if you ask me, bringing crisp, warm, crunchy stuff for wife and kids, but no; doubtless he’s sitting in some cozy, covered nook, chatting with the other guys and drinking and smoking too, perhaps, while the missus keeps the kids safe and dry.

Having said all that, I must admit that I can’t actually distinguish between the two with any degree of certainty. It could be that they have been taking it in turn to brood and to feed and to provide rain-proofing. I think the woman has a few specks of white on her breast and that she is the less aggressive of the two. When I was photographing the chicks yesterday, I think it was the mother who went and complained to the father, and I think it was he who flew right up to the window, demanding, indignantly, to know what exactly I thought I was up to… but that could be an entirely mistaken assumption based on human gender stereotyping.

Anyway, assuming that the less aggressive bird, who sits in the nest most of the time is the woman, it is her mate who isn’t too fond of me. On the rare occasion that he approaches the nest, if he catches a glimpse of me hovering behind the curtains, he squawks and hops around in a highly irritated manner. She is much more accustomed to me, and only flies off reluctantly if I happen to be talking too loudly or moving too fast. He, on the other hand, hasn’t seen enough of me to like me yet, I suppose – of course, if he had seen enough of me, he couldn’t help but like me… heh heh…

I hadn’t been able to get a shot of the two parents together, far less the entire family, so I finally rigged up my camera to the laptop, put my camera on the tripod, hid myself behind the opposite curtain, where they weren’t used to looking for me, and waited. Sure enough, both of them hopped towards the nest and both of them were feeding the chicks! I clicked away with the remote shooting facility on the laptop and they were unaware for the space of about a dozen shots. Then the male – suspicious as always – decided to investigate the peculiar clicking sound coming from the strange black object (my camera, that is, not my head) and came and sat on the window sill in a rather threatening manner. I suppose protecting his family from strange clicking objects is as much his idea of filial devotion as keeping them dry is hers. Sigh. I took the hint and disassembled my gear, but I was not too displeased with the results.

Any which way, it is quite an experience o observe the family life of crows at close quarters, though I still wish they were somewhat prettier creatures.


Crow’s Nest

May 15, 2007

No, I’m not referring to my hair.

Since it’s my work from home day, I’ve been whiling away my lunch hour trying to shoot the crows at their nest. I haven’t managed to get a shot of the two of them together, but I did manage to get one of what I presume is the female crow (crowess? crowhen?) sitting on the eggs.

It was quite difficult to get her to cooperate. She flew away whenever she saw me coming. What kind of a mum is she, abandoning her eggs like that? I waited patiently beside the window, camera at the ready, but she wouldn’t come to the nest. She sat on a neighboring branch and waited and watched and watched and waited. After a while, the second crow came by, and she talked to him briefly, seemed to be instructing him to buzz off and buy some worms and whatnot from the nearby grocery. He flew off, and she resumed her watching and waiting strategy. This had been going on for half an hour, and my knees were beginning to complain.

So, I got out the tripod and rigged up the camera on that. I did want a remote shutter release, but we haven’t got one, so I approached the window with camera and tripod. She didn’t seem to mind the tripod so much – after regarding it warily for a few minutes, she returned to the nest and sat on her eggs. I sat below the level of the window, so she couldn’t see me, and gradually raised my head till I could look through the eye piece. Actually, I had already set up the shot, so I didn’t even need to look through the eye piece, I could have clicked blind. Anyway, apparently my head behind the tripod was not considered much of a threat – I guess she just didn’t like the sight of my face! – and the click of the shutter didn’t disturb her either.

My shot for the day accomplished, I turned to my lunch, taking a seat facing the window so that I could watch while eating. Yeah, yeah, invasion of privacy and all that, but who told the stupid birds to go and make their bedroom right outside my living room window? They’re invading my privacy by watching me eat lunch if you ask me.

While I ate and watched, I witnessed a rather shocking event. A crow came out of the blue and started trying to mate with the crowess who was sitting on the eggs. She cawed frantically, in what seemed to me a rather protesting manner. Apparently this was not her approved mate – or perhaps she was just not in the mood? Before I could come to any conclusion on this, another crow came and angrily chased the offending crow away. So was this her husband, flying to her defence? Had I just witnessed an attempted extra-marital rape of an “expecting” crowess? This was not doing the reputation of crows any good. Carrion eaters and rapists of expectant mothers! They’re almost as bad as humans! At least the husband came to her defence – what would have been even worse would be if he had just stood around and watched – and applauded!

Did you know: the collective noun for a group of crows is… you’ll never guess this one… no, not flock, not even if they are birds of a feather… it’s… murder! No kidding: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crow


Bird-watching

May 13, 2007
Has anyone else noticed – those of you who live in Bangalore, I mean – that there seem to be more birds around the city, over the last few months?

Actually, to be precise, I’m not sure whether there are more birds around, or whether whatever few birds there are, are more audible. But I have been noticing that I seem to hear the birds more than I ever did before. Yes, I know some cellphones have bird-like ring tones, but believe me, it’s not them, it’s the genuine item. (As an aside, it’s not just cellphones that sound like birds; the other day the rear brake on my bike was squealing, and I swear some bird thought it was her mate calling to her and she answered. Unfortunately, the second time I braked, she figured out she’d been fooled and didn’t respond.)

Around my office I have noticed of late that there are a lot of those small brown birds with a dash of red and forked tails buzzing around. Also, when I use the bathroom in the office, I can hear some small birds twittering away outside. I can tell you, it doesn’t make me want to leave the bathroom any sooner. Of course, my office has five-star bathrooms that are kept cleaner than my kitchen is, and what with my non-existent workload and not-so-entertaining colleagues, there’s not much incentive to leave the bathroom anyway… but that’s another story (or perhaps it isn’t; but in any case, it’s not part of this story).

Coming back to the birdies – nowadays, before the alarm goes off at 5 a.m., my sweet slumber is broken by the chirruping of a bevy of birds outside our bedroom window. There’s practically nothing on earth that can make the sensation of waking up from deep sleep – and that too at 5 a.m. – a pleasant one, but if anything comes close to it, it’s being woken by the cheeky sound of birds conversing busily outside the window. And no matter what your alarm clock, or how pleasant and polyphonic the ring-tone of the alarm on your cellphone, it is still going to be an irritation and a most detestable thing to be stubbed out with a curse in the shortest possible order. But with the critters twittering outside your window – well, you can’t turn them off even if you want to, so you learn to lie in bed in the dark (yes, dark – the early birds don’t even wait for dawn!), sleepily listening to them and counting the minutes to 5 a.m.

For perhaps a couple of years now, there’ve been some crows hanging around outside our flat. Now I’m not such a keen observer of crows, so I can’t be sure that it’s the same crows, but I do know that he/she/they always sit(s) on the same few perches at about the same time of day and hold(s) a raucous conversation with whoever happens to be around. Crows, of course, are not a very lovable sort of bird, being big and black, with a rude, scratchy voice, and carrion hunters to boot. It really is difficult to love a creature that eats dead rats; at least owls, who eat live rats (as far as I know), are nicer looking in a predatory sort of way.

So what with everything, I didn’t pay much attention to the crows, except fearing once in a way that they might come in and nibble at my breakfast, which lies on the dining table near the verandah door, while I bathe and dress. However, they have never ventured to do this, probably having no great fondness for puffed rice (dry rice? rice flakes? It doesn’t seem quite right to call something “puffed” rice when it is totally flat like a piece of paper, but I hope you know what I’m referring to) soaked in soy milk.

The other day I noticed that these crows have made a nest in a tree right outside our living room window. At first, it was a straggly, messy nest; but over the past two-three days, they’ve been working at it. There’s now quite clearly two of them, though gender is impossible to detect. One of them is particularly fastidious… he (or, more likely, she?) perches just above the nest and carefully tidies up the home, pushing a twig in here, pulling another one there, considering the matter with its head on one side, then hopping across to make some more adjustments from another angle. It appears totally domesticated and quite sweet. Sometimes both of them cluster around the nest and discuss what home improvements they should make next. I think there are no eggs in the nest yet, but probably it’s just a matter of time.

Naturally, the photographic opportunity is irresistible, so there will be a photo-feature coming up if all goes well. I only wish they were some prettier birds than crows, but perhaps it is a good chance to see the “sweet” side of an otherwise ugly bird.


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