All landscape artists know that a forest is place of meditation, of peace, of quiet reflections, of immense depth and beauty.
Nature, in all her wisdom, has given us these tranquil places, these little islands of quietude, knowing full well we would need them, to get away every now and then.
Whenever my life gets a little hectic or things are not as smooth as I would like them to be, I turn to the forest near home.
Of course, going there is the best thing, but one cannot just up and away at the drop of a hat. My village is a full day’s drive away.
Sometimes a personal photo will have to do.
All spaces have distinct characteristics, smells, sounds, personalities. And as with people, we learn to identify and love these. So it is with me and the woodland near home.
A forest is made of so many things – trees, of course, but not only.
If I stop to think of the walks we take in the woods, I can smell the fields, the stream, the grass. Depending on the season, each smell is different. Late summer, it is the smell of baked earth, of hot, cracked fields waiting patiently for the rains to come. In the distance, I can see the occasional farmer, ploughing and readying his plot in preparation for the planting. His bullocks are tied to the yoke, and there are usually a couple of egrets on the backs of the oxen, picking at ticks. The ubiquitous stray dog is hanging around, chasing fleas. Most farmers keep a couple of strays, who are useful in providing early warnings of predators and small animals who are always on the lookout for an easy meal.
Our forest has a fair share of wild boar, sloth bears, foxes, deer, elephant, bison, panther, and the odd tiger.
Other than the big cats, all other animals are happy to feast on the paddy or sugarcane that is the staple crop of this area.
When we visit in December, it is harvest time for the paddy. Now it is the smell of freshly cut rice, and long stalks drying in the mild sun. It is the smell of woodsmoke, from the fires made by the women cooking lunch or endless cups of tea.
And the fields are full of busy farmers with their families, hurrying to cut the crop and thresh it, before filling it in big gunny sacks, to be plied high on the tractor or bullock cart and carted off to the rice mill.
This is the busiest time of year, when all the fields are ready for harvest and labour is hard to come by. An unseasonal shower can run a years’ harvest.
The small dirt tracks leading to fields are full of fallen hay, doggy paw prints and cow-dung.
And increasingly these days, tractor tracks.
And the unpleasant and out-of-place smell of diesel fumes.
Once the harvest is done, the farmers hurry to cut the crop in the neighbour’s field, each one helping the other in a barter of labour.
Because it is expensive to pay for labour, farmers usually help out by working in each other’s fields.
By end January, all the fields are harvested and done, to lie fallow and rest until June. The countryside is silent now, and a certain sense of calm settles on the land. The days are short, evenings quickly dissolve into misty nights, and a warm fire beckons. The forest is quiet, birds roost early and everything seems to point homewards. I love all the seasons here, but this is my favourite one – the one in late January when the land is resting, deepened by a gentle beauty, quietly luminous. The forest is asleep, like a child come home after a long day.