wild that preoccupies biologist Shankar Raman as he writes about trees and bamboos, hornbills and elephants, leopards and myriad other species. Species found not just out there in far wildernesses-from the Thar desert to the Kalakad rainforests, from Narcondam Island to Namdapha-but amid us, in gardens and cities, in farms, along roadsides. And he writes about the forces that gouge land and disfigure landscapes, rip trees and shred forests, pollute rivers and contaminate the air, slaughter animals along roads and rail tracks-impelling a motivation to care, and to conserve nature.
Through this collection of essays, Shankar Raman attempts to blur, I not dispel, the sharp separation between humans and nature, to lead you to discover that the wild heart of India beats in your chest, too
T.R. Shankar Raman (aka Sridhar) is a constant wanderer with a miserable sense of direction. And yet, having a sense of direction is only important if you have a destination in mind. Which is why, even though he rarely knows where he is, he is seldom lost. When he is not doing field research on forest ecology or mulling over environmental issues, you can find him walking in the rainforests watching birds and trees, or with his nose in a book. In his reading, he is more gourmand than gourmet-Louis L'Amour, Herge, and Bradbury stand with Steinbeck, Leopold, and Dickinson on his eclectic bookshelf. He obsesses over his reading lists as much as his eBird checklists. Living in the Anamalai Hills, he is part of a team stitching fragmented rainforests-one sapling at a time, year upon year upon decade. After he is done plucking the leeches from his ankles and dusting the earth from his fingers, he writes. He writes from his varied experiences in natural history, in conservation practice, in directionless wandering. His reflective essays are born of a conviction that there is a space for quiet yet insistent voices making a case for immersive and deeper perceptions of nature and our place in it.
Shankar Raman works as a scientist with the Nature Conservation Foundation (www.ncf-india.org) and is the author of many academic papers and creative nonfiction essays. His partner Divya Mudappa and he lead a long-term rainforest conservation and restoration programme from a field research station in the Anamalai Hills. Their home in the mountains is visited by neighbourly leopards and temperamental housecats.
Nature, some people believe, is something out there, in forests or far wildernesses, separate from the dwelling or presence of humans. The book you hold in your hand is an attempt to dispel, or at least blur, such a sharp separation between people and nature. From city park to savanna, roadside to rainforest, and ocean bed to mountaintop, nature thrives and throbs around you, inseparable, omnipresent. It both envelops you and forms a part of who you are. You only have to open your senses to nature to perceive its eternal dance of life, death, and renewal, and participate in its shimmering wonder.
Such perception and participation carries both risk and responsibility. The risk, as Aldo Leopold noted presciently, comes when an ecological education opens your eyes to a wounded world: A world whose forests are stripped for timber and commodity plantations, whose earth is submerged by dams and gouged by mines. A world paved and polluted, increasingly defined and defiled by metal, mortar, and money. The sense of responsibility emerges from the awareness that the science of ecology (a word originating from the Greek oikos, dwelling place) concerns the science of home. As befitting a science of home, ecology's core concerns are relationships: life in relation to the environment, people in relation to planet. It is a science that traces connections, from one living organism to another, from sunlight through plant to predator, from humans to earth and landscape. Ecology, perhaps the most important science of the present century, also impels a curative response. It elicits a creative mission to retain the integrity of home, to heal the world of wounds, and restore relationships between people and place.
This collection of essays describes experiences and perspectives gained in wildly varied landscapes and waterscapes, from city and countryside to ocean and deep forest. Written over a period of 25 years, more than half my life time, these essays trace my own trajectory of learning about, engaging with, and reflecting on nature. They chart my journey from young student and naturalist in Chennai, through my training in wildlife science and ecology in Dehradun and Bengaluru, to my present life as a conservation scientist and writer working out of my home and field research station in the Anamalai Hills in southern India. Most of these essays emerged from journeys and field experiences with Divya Mudappa, wildlife biologist and fellow traveller into the wild heart of India. Journeying with Divya has always been an enriching experience of witnessing, photographing, and forming impressions, images, and ideas that finally found expression in these words. I co-authored 10 essays (or their earlier versions) with her, but most of the others, too, are from our time in the field together: out of a memorable encounter, an extended conversation, a close observation, a shared silence.
The essays in this collection are divided into three parts; each may appeal to readers whose inclinations and interests in nature take different shapes: those captivated by the lure and challenge of field observation and experience; those driven by a passion to conserve nature and wildness; and those trying to understand our place and role in nature in a rapidly changing world. I hope that these essays will resonate with you, reader, irrespective of where you live or why nature interests you.
The first part, Field Days-An Ecological Education, recounts things that I learnt or impressions I gained in the field that travellers, students of ecology, or observers of natural history may perhaps experience themselves. This part conveys varied experiences in the field that lasted a few hours or days to nearly three full years of research in forested mountains.
The second part, Conservation-A World of Wounds, carries pieces that stem from a growing awareness of the diverse threats to nature and what we can or must do to avert or reduce those threats. These essays try to link ecological knowledge to conservation policy and practice in the real world. As Leopold noted, in today's world an ecological awareness is inseparable from concerns over conservation, and the essays gathered in the first two parts retain an inevitable degree of overlap in linking field experience to motivations to heal the world of wounds.
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