24 October 2020

'Sightings' that are simply blinding!

Why do people visit national parks such as Yala and Wilpattu? In a word, ‘sightings.’ Deer and peacocks are seen so often that after a while they cease to excite. If they turned heads in the first place, that is. Elephant sightings can stop you. Bear and leopard are rare. They are the creatures that call for camera-click and fb posts later on.

Thus the vast majority of people who visit national parks tend to focus on one thing and one thing only. Sightings. As in the case of most exercises marked by single-minded focus, one becomes blind to everything else.

Now there’s nothing intrinsically wrong in this. There are tourists and there are travelers. Tourists, local or foreign, have boxes to tick. They need to ‘sight.’ It could be a leopard or a specific tourist attraction. Whales, for example. It could be a list that includes Dambulla, Sigiriya, the Minneriya or Kaudulla elephant herds and later Nilaveli or Pasikudah. Nothing wrong in this.

Ornithologists will look for and see birds. Of course they’ll see the elephants and will no doubt stop and take in a rarer leopard, but it’s birds that make or break a trip. They go around with lists of ‘possibles’ and can, if they are into that kind of thing, rate a trip in terms of sighting percentages. Nothing wrong this.

Objectives define routes and practices. Objectives, when achieved, yield satisfaction. Do it and you can claim, ‘we had a wonderful holiday.’ Nothing wrong in this.

We have heard however that one can miss the woods for the trees. A tourist can and more of than not will. A traveler might not.

We talk of flora and fauna. We know that the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) and the Forest Department are two separate entities. Their work intersects obviously. The tasks that the DWC sets itself to accomplish implicitly acknowledge this:

“To conserve wildlife and nature by the sustainable utilization of men, material and land through participatory management, research, education and law enforcement and ensure the maintenance of biodiversity and forest cover as exist today.”

No forest, no animals. It’s simple. No animals, no sightings, it must follow. No water, no fish. No fish, no fishing. Habitat is key and an experienced tracker will tell you all about the habitat and will have an eye for forest architecture simply because this could tell something about the possibility of sightings. Of course such a tracker could, if you ask and have the patience to listen, talk endlessly about the flora. Such a person will talk about climate and climate change, water bodies and seasonality, habits of creatures framed by habitat arrangement and a myriad other things not always found in tourist brochures or even accounts of ‘safaris.’

They have eyes and ears for a lot of things, not just the signs that creatures leave such as paw prints and droppings, a warning cry or a mating call. They know the sighting-hunger and will feed it as per the particular request.

Travelers, local and foreign, let the world come to them at its own pace. The world and all it contains, one should add. The complement of trees, the unity of tree and vine, the forest-yield to grass and the grass that will not venture into certain sands, pebbles, rocks and boulders, water bodies large and small, receding waters and dried riverbeds, dead trees standing ghost-like in a villu, the intersection of roads, tracks on the path not taken and so much more. In fact the full architecture of the forest which includes butterflies and other insects, termites and anthills, the early morning skyline painted in silver but brushed with orange and crimson at dusk, night skies, clouds formations, wind-excited ripple across the water, the dance of lotus leaves and, yes, so much more.

Nothing wrong with sightings and celebration of the same. Nothing wrong in satisfaction being pinned to sightings. Nothing wrong in not seeing anything else. It’s good to see. It’s good also to be open to ‘sightings’ unplanned.

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...':  [published in the 'Daily News']  
Eyes that watch the world and cannot be forgotten   Let's start with the credits, shall we? 
The 'We' that 'I' forgot 
'Duwapang Askey,' screamed a legend, almost 40 years ago
Dances with daughters
Reflections on shameless writing

Is the old house still standing?
 Magic doesn't make its way into the classifieds

Small is beautiful and is a consolation  
Distance is a product of the will
Akalanka Athukorala, at 13+ alre
ady a hurricane hunter
Did the mountain move, and if so why?
Ever been out of Colombo?
Anya Raux educated me about Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)
Wicky's Story You can always go to GOAT Mountain
Let's learn the art of embracing damage
Kandy Lake is lined with poetry
There's never a 'right moment' for love
A love note to an unknown address in Los Ange
A dusk song for Rasika
How about creating some history?
How far away are the faraway places?
There ARE good people!
Re-placing people in the story of schooldays  
When we stop, we can begin to learn
Routine and pattern can checkmate poetry

Janani Amanda Umandi threw a b'day party for her father 
Sriyani and her serendipity shop
Forget constellations and the names of oceans
Where's your 'One, Galle Face'?

Maps as wrapping paper, roads as ribbons
Yasaratne, the gentle giant of Divulgane  
Katharagama and Athara Maga
Victories are made by assists
Lost and found between weaver and weave
The Dhammapada and word-intricacies
S.A. Dissanayake taught children to walk in the clouds
White is a color we forget too often  
The most beautiful road is yet to meet a cartographer