Sabtu, 02 Agustus 2008

A Birds Eye View of Ubud

Being so tiny, I am invariably overlooked, which certainly has its advantages. I mean, who could possibly wish to persecute a creature as diminutive as myself? Whilst wandering through the rice-fields, your attention will be drawn to my song, a sort of scratchy insect wheeze, succeeded by a clear belling note. The Balinese call me tje-tje-trung, which sums it up rather well, I think.
Golden-headed Cisticola is the name usually applied to me by English writers on the subject. On hearing my song, you will trace the source and find me perched atop a stick, in the thick of the growing crop. In fact you will not find me elsewhere. My entire life revolves around the padi (though, unlike the munias, weavers and sparrows, I feed not upon the grain, but upon small insects which may be harmful to the crop); even my nest is secreted within the rice-stock. And thereby hangs a sorry tale. Are you prepared for the telling of it?

The so-called Green Revolution is the crux. In former times, the farmers hereabout grew only traditional strains of rice, which yielded two annual harvests; whereas, now, they get three at least of this rapid-growth, high-yield, genetically manipulated stuff. It is awfully hard for us to adapt our life-cycle to such greatly accelerated growing; and, when the reapers come, I am sorry to say that many of my kind are cut down before they are fully fledged. However, the blinkered boffins who scheme in their laboratories care not for these environmental niceties; their sole concern is to create the fastest-growing, highest-yielding type, in order to feed the starving masses – or so it is said.

In the fields north of Ubud, you may still happen upon the odd plot of native variety, standing head and shoulders above the new. And, when you do, may I ask you to pause and compare the two -- which seems to you the finer? – and reflect upon our fate.

I Need No Introduction. Who can fail to be familiar with my appearance – huge pink beak and prominent white cheeks, black head, grey breast and mantle, and wine-coloured belly? You have guessed correctly: Java Sparrow is my name. Such a prosaic name for such a pretty bird! Ahem! But being a pretty bird presents a problem and this is just one of my problems: I have a reputation, not altogether underserved, for eating large quantities of rice. Did you know that my very scientific name is Padda oryzivora – the paddy-field bird which devours rice?
Thus have I and my kind been miserably persecuted. Practically extirpated, on the one hand, for being a crop pest; trapped and kept in a cage, on the other, for being so pretty.My only view of Ubud, these days, is through bars. Most of the time, my gaze falls upon bare walls: every now and then my owner suspends me in my prison from a beam on the balcony. For mercy's sake, what is to become of me? Which is the more desirable – to languish in solitary confinement, or to see all my friends at liberty? Better that I were dead. Snared by the farmer's lad and eaten.
Of All The Birds Of The Field, none can be more familiar, or have a finer overview, than we Egrets; long-necked, long-legged and elegant, resplendent in our gorgeous, snow-white plumes. You may profess not to be a bird observer, but when you see a crowd of our kind, strolling through the fallow and flooded, or newly-planted, rice-fields, you will feast your eyes on the spectacle for certain. And when a flying phalanx fills the sky, your gaze will as surely be drawn heavenward, until the last vestige of shimmering ribbon is lost behind the trees.

Every inch of Ubud's territory is known to us, and far, far beyond. We hear you complain about urbanisation, pollution, environmental degradation – you name it – yet we have no gripe to vent. Indignant we may wax at times, but you will hear our squawking only if disturbed, or, between ourselves, in flight, and at our roost.

Changes there have been, admittedly. But pray tell of a human population centre, be it Ubud or elsewhere, whose appearance has not altered. For us the essential remains - that limitless ocean of green and reflected sky, where we may forage to our stomach's content on such delicacies as eels and frogs. Those Grey Frog Hawks, which compete with us from time to time – why, they barely skim the surface!

Do not talk to us of sustainable development. Such jargon is meaningless to our minds. By all means let us speak of progress, which ought to be the sole criterion of change. Wherever we go in Ubud, which is the heartland of Bali, we now behold signs proclaiming: 'Do Not Shoot The Birds'. There is progress for you: for us it is a triumph!
We are very free, and not only are we free, but we are also protected. Far more than that; we are considered sacred by the villagers with whom we share our home. You are most welcome to come and visit us. The name of the village is Petulu Gunung, situated but a short distance north of Ubud. Thousands upon thousands of our tribe roost and nest in this hallowed enclave. In tourist brochures and guidebooks, we are touted as a Major Tourist Attraction.

In the soft light of a late afternoon, we fly back in formation from the fields to our fold. You may watch the trees turn white, snow-white, with our augmenting numbers. Does it put you in mind of another clime, another realm? Sit here, on this weathered stoop, relax, have a cool drink; you are on holiday – though we are not – and mark us well. Consider the birds, and their bird's-eye view, with deeds, and not words; we count upon you.



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