There is a need to experience our forests the way they were meant to be; respect them for the wonders they hold.

‘I sit silent and alone from morning till eve in the deeper silence of the enchanted old forests… the hours go on neither short nor long, glorious for imagination.’

Naturalist John Muir (1838-1914) on the Petrified Forest, Arizona.

After a trip to a tiger sanctuary, it is usual to hear an excited ‘Did you see a tiger?’ As if tigers had nothing else to do but come and be seen. Or ecstatic accounts of how the sighting of some bird/mammal was the culminating point of the trip. Do foresters feel pressurised into making sightings happen to attract more people? So that the chosen few can pat themselves on being ‘nature lovers’ who have sighted the tiger ‘in the wild’?

Most people don’t realise that seriously marvellous things happen in forests over time. To be with the forests is to feel the cool wind in the trees; to hear the swish of leaves spiralling down, the sudden cackle of the giant squirrel or the hoot of the langur, the chirping of the cicadas; to see and feel the play of light on giant trees and seemingly frail lianas that bear remarkable weights, the myriad lives inside tree trunks, the immaculate straightness of a dead tree or the silvery lines of spiders’ webs. Art is seldom so multi-sensory; every minute is a living landscape in process.

A forest is a phenomenon so diverse and widespread that it needs to be understood in totality. But seldom is there any front page news from the forest apart from the occasional fire or storm. Do we understand that the good of a tree is only half over at its death, when it provides nesting cavities, perches, food for birds too? Being in a forest can mean absolute stillness, yet continual dynamic change. Historic past is encountered in the present.

But many city dwellers actually want to experience the city everywhere they go, even inside wildlife sanctuaries. I realised this after an exhilarating trek in the Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala. When we reached a forest guesthouse, I saw the following entries in the guest book: “We need TV facility, otherwise it is boring after we reach”, “Provide room service”, “Allow other mobile operators to install towers”.

We need to respect forests and sanctuaries for the wonders that they encompass, to accept the blessing of a sighting when it happens. Not rush around disturbing the peace because you ‘have to sight’ what you thought you should before you leave. What we need are individuals who can appreciate the roughness of the forest floor and the smoothness of the mulch as much as the coolness of the river or the gentle heat of the sun through the canopy; who revere the smallest insect or frog or bird along with the largest mammal; who are as grateful to sight only a black-naped hare amid the dry deciduous Melghat Reserve in Maharashtra or a jungle cat in the moist deciduous forests of Uttarakhand’s Corbett Reserve! Can we just be, and experience our forests?

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