It’s a matter of perspective: the forest floor looks quite different when viewed from 90 feet up by flashlight. Hanging off a rickety wooden balcony in our tree-house in a forest in rural Kerala, my two companions and I had just had the experience of having our generator not start up, and were now surrounded by the deep blackness of the forest night with two little lanterns hung nearby.
We hoped for fireflies, but didn’t see any. But the view the next morning made up for it- a swirl of purplish mist which would part to reveal a mountainside of tea gardens bathed in early morning sun. A ride down the hand-operated, open elevator later, we would descend to the ground by the side of a brook. We spent many hours on the rocks in this brook, navigating the small rapids and the slippery, moss-covered rocks or dipping our feet in the gin-clear water like contented children on summer vacation.
We ate our meals on an open verandah on the banks of the brook, watching the sun come out and then hide again every five minutes. The food was warm and fresh, simply served on banana leaves and tasting heavenly. Sometimes, the rain would send fine sprays of mist into our table. Then the sun would come back and dry us off.
Driving back to the city, we stopped at a roadside stall selling such delights as fresh forest honey, handmade vetiver soap and little vials of pure eucalyptus and rose oil. Later, we stopped at the roadside again to drink tender coconut water, compelled by the gap-toothed grin of our gawky adolescent vendor. Masses of pink and orange wildflowers bloomed everywhere. Watermelon fields tended by girls in bright clothes shone in the tender golden sunshine.
It made me think of something said by a wise old owl I once knew: Sometimes, we don’t know the beauty of our own land.