Category Archives: nature

Bamboo Forest (Arashiyama)


What can you say about bamboo?  Bamboo is just a wonder.  Despite being relatively light weight, it has a greater tensile strength than steel and withstands compression better than concrete!  Not bad at all for something that is considered to be a primitive grass! In China, it is used as scaffolding for building construction.  It is also used as water containers and piping, creating chopsticks, building material, creating activated carbon etc.

But, you know, bamboo is beautiful too.  There is something magical, spiritual almost watching the bamboo sway in the breeze and listening to the sound of the leaves.  All the more so when you find yourself in the middle of an old age bamboo grove.

Welcome to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.  Located to the west of Kyoto, it is one of the top destinations for tourists and locals alike.  Beautiful.  I would easily included it in my Squirrel’s Secret Spot series except for the @#%*!@  crowd of people there!  Definitely recommend visiting off-season, during weekdays and as early as possible.  I went in early December.

Kyoto (Dec 2016)
Kyoto (Dec 2016) Arashiyama – Photo by LGS
Kyoto (Dec 2016)
Kyoto (Dec 2016) Arashiyama – Photo by LGS
Kyoto (Dec 2016)
Often said to look like the bamboo forest in the movie, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. (Photo by LGS)

It’s not all bamboo though.  There is also a UNESCO World Heritage Temple (Tenryuji), the scenic Hozu River gorge (go on a boat ride or a scenic train ride or combine the two), a monkey park and other attractions.

Kyoto (Dec 2016)
It’s not all bamboo!  View of the Hozu River (Photo by LGS)

And then, it gets even more excellent!  For about  a week in December, the forest is illuminated and it turns into a wonderland (Arashiyama Hanatoro event).

Kyoto (Dec 2016)
Magical Forest (Photo by LGS)
Kyoto (Dec 2016)
Only distraction is the light of everyone’s handphones! (Photo by LGS)
Kyoto (Dec 2016)
Another world. (Photo by LGS)
Kyoto (Dec 2016)
Slow walk to Hozu River (Photo by LGS)
Kyoto (Dec 2016)
Hozu River near Togetsukyo or ‘Moon Crossing’ bridge. (Photo by LGS)

All that wandering around and gazing at the wonderful sights will leave you famished.  Make a pit stop and refuel at one of the many restaurants, tea houses, food kiosks found all along the access to the forest from the railway station.  I am sure that its all good but I want to make a mention about this stall that makes yuba donuts from scratch.  Familiar yet different and tummy warming.

Kyoto (Dec 2016)
Yuba (skimmed soyabean skin) – Photo by LGS
Kyoto (Dec 2016)
Yuba made into donuts. Delicious. (Photo by LGS)

I loved this place so much.  I will be back!

 

 

Remembering Kaikoura


More than 6 years ago, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit Kaikoura in New Zealand’s South Island.  The town is part of a small peninsular that juts into the ocean and it has the majestic Kaikoura mountain ranges as a background.  It is blessed with abundant marine life and a great place for going out to watch Sperm Whales, the kin of Moby Dick.  Although when I went, it was decidedly choppy and photos taken were handicapped by my advanced state of seasickness.  Nevertheless, it is a beautiful place and I thought that it must be wonderful to wake up each morning to live in a place like this.

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So I am sorry to learn that it has been badly hit by the earthquake a couple of days ago and that the town has been evacuated and there were a couple of deaths.  My deepest condolences.  I hope that Kaikoura will recover from this before too long.

(all photos by LGS)

Chew


His name is Chew Keng Lin.   When I think of Chew, I think of a man of simple tastes and a happy disposition; more contented and at ease in the depths of the rainforest than enjoying creature comforts of city dwelling.  He loved nature and being out in nature. In fact, he made protecting nature his life’s work.

chew

I first got to know him at this place – Endau Rompin.

endau rompin

We were on the same team; I was team leader.  Together we contributed to the building of a field centre for scientific research and nature education in a relative pristine forest are. Today, it is part of the National Parks of Johor or “Taman Negara Johor”.

Chew continued on and became a senior officer in the Parks Corporation.

Tomorrow is Chew’s funeral.  He was only in his forty’s.  I don’t know much but was told he had some kidney problem; sudden and unexpected.

Although I have not met up with him for some years, I feel a bond to everyone who worked together on that team.  We accomplished something important and we all did a lot of growing up together.  That means something.

I am sad that he is no longer with us. I am sad that he passed on so young. I am sad that I will not be able to be there at his funeral to honor and remember him.  I pray that he is in a better place.

Embarrassing Moments in Science


Regular readers will know that the Realm of the Lone Grey Squirrel loves to celebrate excellence……….excellence in failure, that is!  Yes, there is something about epic fails that fills the heart with soul healing mirth and with admiration for the gumption of those who dared to try and fall flat on their faces.  That is why, the IgNobel Awards are frequently feted here.

But recently, the Squirrel had been alerted to a new source of inspiration.  Fieldwork Fails is a book that has a collection of stories of scientists hard at work in the field collecting data and making a fool of themselves in the process.  Kind of a tribute to those who push the boundaries of science and find that the sometimes the boundaries push back.

Here is a couple of examples from Fieldwork Fails which is compiled and illustrated by Jim Jourdane.

science fails 1

science fail 2.jpg

Now I have a few personal examples that I could add to the compilation on account that I am a scientist, have done fieldwork and have experienced epic fails.  But the following is one of my favorite, true, “cross my heart and hope to die” yarns.

This was early in my career as a conservationist and I joined a scientific expedition to a part of the Malaysian jungle that had been relatively poorly investigated by science.  I was really inexperienced at that time but had the wonderful privilege of being in the company of some very respected biologists and botanists and learning from them.  In return, all these eminent scientists asked of me was to carry all their heavy gear through the hot, steamy jungle.

We operated out of a base camp that was almost totally constructed of jungle material.  We slept on stretcher like cots made out of wooden poles and canvas under a shelter that was constructed from various palm leaves laid over a wooden frame.

On one occasion, I had a chance to follow a group of three entomologists who were leaders in their field.  (Entomologist = someone crazy about insects).  After a long day out in the field collecting insect specimens from various traps, we returned to camp and plopped our tired bodies down on to adjacent cots.

It was there, while we lay in the fading light, nursing our sore muscles, that one of the guys spotted an extremely large stick insect up in the rafters of our crude shelter. Now, Malaysia is famous for its many species of stick insects – some of which are very large.

Cameron Highlands - Stick Insect

Anyway, all four of us continued to lie on our cots exhausted, observing the creature from afar and there then ensured an academic debate as to the identity of the curious visitor in our rafters.  One was sure that it was a rare species.  Another disagreed, citing the proportion of the body to the head did not fit the species characteristics.  The third insisted it was yet another species based on the structure and positioning of the legs.  For once, I was wise enough to keep silent and let the experts argue it out.

After, about 15 minutes of heated discussion, one of the experts declared, “There’s only one way to settle this!”.  With that, he got up, reached for his butterfly net and scooped the insect from the rafters for closer examination.  With the prize in hand, all three gathered round to make the final identification.

That’s when they realised that it wasn’t a stick insect at all, it was a …..stick.

Surfing Outback


This week LGS is stepping in the ol’ time machine (otherwise known as my dusty photo album) to go back some 15 years.  It was not the best of times for me.  I was very  stressed, terribly unhealthy and quite unwell.  During this dip in my life, I took a trip to Australia to visit relatives.  I was so worn out that I slept most of the time there.  But I did go on a road trip with them towards the interior of Oz.

Our journey started from Perth and we made our way south for hundreds of kilometers to Albany before we struck out to the north and inland towards the heart of the continent.

 

south australia_0060
As it was spring, the journey started lush and green and colourful (Stirling Range National Park)
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Canola fields
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After the Stirling Range, we endured seemingly endless boring kilometers of flat, dry , dusty featureless landscape (the wild flowers were pretty though)
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Any distraction from the long drive was welcome.  Even a dog cemetery.
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But there were beautiful things to see if you took your time to look
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And there were local inhabitants to meet
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Finally, we made it to our destination of Hyden.  This is where we spent the night.
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Near by is the Hippo’s Yawn Cave.  Caves nearby have aboriginal hand paintings.
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And finally, this was what we traveled all those long dusty kilometers to do!  To go surfing! (Wave Rock, Hyden)

No chance of drowning or shark attack here!

 

Kinabalu Fail


It is often said that “a handicap is only a state of mind“.  Boy, I think I have just the tale to regale you with that demonstrates that very point.

I regularly go hiking with a group of friends into the hills near my home city.  However, some of the group have graduated to bigger things (specifically, bigger mountains).  Some went to the Himalayan foothills last year and last week some went to climb to the top of Mount Kinabalu which is the highest peak in South East Asia at 4,095 m asl.  I, of course applauded and cheered them on from the comfort of my armchair.

Anyway, the ascent is normally taken in two stages.  The plan for the first stage was to climb for over 6 hours to the Laban Rata Resthouse at 3,270 metres and then to attempt the second stage to the summit very  early the next day.  The plan is to get to the top while it is still dark and then watch the sunrise.  Apart from being a fantastic sight, going to the summit any later in the day and most likely the view will be blocked by clouds or bad weather.  The following day, they would make a 7.5 hour descent off the mountain.

mountain
Photo credit: Soong Mei Ling

 

view
Majestic View (Photo Credit: Soong Mei Ling)

 

Upon their return to civilization, my friend Timothy, shared with all the armchair travelers, the tales of their adventure.  He told of the hard but rewarding climb to Laban Rata rich with beautiful flora and grand vistas.

Unfortunately, he told us, that on the morning that they were to make their assault on the summit, the weather closed in with rain and mist.  The team leader decided to cancel the final ascent citing “POOR VISIBILITY”.

Poor Visibility at the Top (Photo Credit: Soong Mei Ling)
Poor Visibility at the Top (Photo Credit: Soong Mei Ling)

We all were listening to Timothy’s account with great interest and all commiserated with him and the rest of the team for going so far but yet failing to reach the top due to poor visibility.

Ironically, I came across the following newspaper article a couple of days later about a group of seven climbers that made it to the top the very next day.  Truly, “a handicap is only a state of mind”.

blindnews

Well how about that for “poor visibility”, Timothy?

(Editor’s Note:  Despite giving Timothy a hard time about this, the truth is that the Lone Grey Squirrel was to chicken to even attempt the climb in the first place).

The Coming of Man


I hope you will take time to look at this video. Notice the squirrels right at the beginning. Now don’t you agree that the world would be a better place if you humans would just return it to squirrel rule?

If you are ready to discuss the terms of your surrender to the Squirrel World Domination Army, please leave a note in the comment section of this post.