When she came to Malaysia with her family, I wanted them to see the richness and diversity of a rainforest. I knew wouldn't be equal to being a very good guide, so I enlisted birdwatcher Mike Chong to come with us to Fraser's Hill for a few days. We learned so much, saw so much. I have a long list in my notebook of all the birds and mammals and insects we spotted. We wouldn't have seen much at all if not for Mike who knew just where to find each species and how to identify them. He could even imitiate the bird calls and start a dialogue with the bird in question so that it would come out of the forest and we could see it. (Imagine talking to a hornbill!) Yes, it seemed like magic.
Helen later wrote this poem for Mike:
The first night after our return, I wake to darkness
fringed with sweeping fronds, dense and
breathing with the forest’s mysteries.
I blunder in its strange dark to recover bearings,
locate the lighted exit of the room’s familiar frame.
Now this landscape is a stage removed, half-blurred by dreams,
its shades and shapes encroach on our security.
You had read its signs for us, unravelling the
tangled script, unmasked the secret rituals of animal society.
Quiet impresario, subdued in camouflage, you perched
on the broad rim of the ancient world,
panning its draped stage, twitched the curtain’s cord,
unfurled the rustling screen to lure the
shy performers from their hidden roosts,
enchant us with the patterns of their primal dance.
Master of mimicry, tuning voice and turning gesture,
measuring the pauses and the distances, you
stole the syllables of wild speech, casting voices back
like skimmed stones to dilate and spread
their rolling echoes across space, until
the youngest in our party, quick to learn,
threw the gibbon’s song into the valley’s throat
to rouse a whooping chorus in defiant dialogue,
competing for the territorial privilege.
Modest magician, with casual flamboyance, you
pulled colours from the forest’s folded sleeve to
flourish in the trained sights of the telescope,
ruffled them for our delight into sudden
bouquets of petals, plumage, by day showering
confettis of bright birds, exotic names, to
dazzle the veiled eye with visions of creation’s
blue - gold flowering, warm our dulled sense
with the molten ribbons of its first fires.
Later, challenging the evening’s gloom
with flashing wands of torchlight
you would startle eyeshine in still hunters
draped in shadow-lairs of night-time foliage.
In the ancient trees, the secret bank, we tunnelled
with your eyes, your ears into the core of
our life’s origins, woken to new wonder by the charge
of a forgotten energy
Copyright Helen Boyles