They stretch from sand to stormclouds with enough lordliness for hornbills to choose them as a throne.
They sprout nuts and fruit alien to the English visitor, but welcomed by a hungry plantain squirrel.
They clothe fences built by people, sheltering reptiles in their sprawl.
This is Singapore.
People have had creative ideas about what to do with this island for generations, but for all the skyscrapers, golf courses and godowns, there is no doubt that this is first and foremost a humid, beetle-buzzed, rain-lashed benevolent dictatorship run by plants. Every square metre where something can grow, something does. They even scramble over each other, climbing high like children.
Epiphytes – plants that live harmlessly on the surface of other plants, usually trees – are as common as daisies here. Amongst them, more lizards lurk.
It would take several lifetimes to document the bewildering variety of wild living things in south-east Asia. I’m travelling around the region for the next couple of weeks, revisiting some places, venturing into new ones.
There are many more moods of plants to learn.
I’ve been reflecting on the nature of memory lately. The basic themes may set the tone but the small details are what bring thoughts alive. That holds true with the outside world, too.
Take Dorset, for example. I barely knew the county before last month, but it is easy to describe in broad brushstrokes: an erratic quilt of heath, farmland and trees, heaped up high into grassy hills, threaded with tiny lanes and dotted with quaint villages. To the south it is underscored by vivid white: mighty chalk cliffs guarding the channel, crumbling cradle of a thousand dinosaur bones.
The Jurassic Coast is a World Heritage Site, of course. Even away from it, the countryside is refreshingly free from motorway noise.
Zoom in a little, and exploring is flavoured by small details. Sundews are not unique to the south-west, but are intriguing little things. They are carnivorous plants that eat insects.
Another heathland predator is very seldom glimpsed. This is the shed skin of a smooth snake Coronella austriaca, Britain’s rarest reptile.
I have only ever seen one, and that was in western Surrey last year.
Back in Dorset, the flowers are shining.
…or not. The twayblade is one of the green orchids and easily overlooked.
Quiet and reclusive perhaps, but it is just as important ecologically as any of its brighter peers.
Keep looking. Keep remembering.
I can still see it: rain peppering an inscrutable sea. Clouds rolling through the pines on grey mountains, the light milky, if it came at all.
Eleven years ago, I moved to a very remote and troubled town in Canada’s broken wilderness and tried to make sense of the fragile truce between human fear and those wild creatures trying to live alongside us. I have more words about that, but for another time, perhaps.
Through all the travel, drama and rain, a small German shepherd was beside me: the most irrepressible, opinionated and original creature in the forest. Chiara made me laugh, often, nearly drove me out of my mind a few times too, and was a reassuring presence on dark days. After we returned to England, my mother adopted her, and that bond forged in wild forests resurfaced in the gentler landscapes of the Surrey Hills.
Chiara left us this week. I will miss her zeal, her humour and her friendship. She was, simply, unique. The memories are powerful. And now I will cherish rain, for it reminds me of her.
I sketched this when I realised that she was dying. It is how I want to remember her.
It has been raining here, too, off and on.
Time rolls on. Summer is almost here.