Not in my backyard: The last urban oasis under siege

This is a view of what I see when I look out from the upstair back balcony of my home. And I’m so privileged to have this much of greenery in my backyard.

I live in Pagoda, Nugegoda, a suburb of Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo. This is a crowded, urbanised area, but there still are a few pockets of greenery left. Like this one, that I clicked with my daughter Dhara’s camera on June 5, World Environment Day.

All this greenery is packed into an area no more than a few hundred square metres in extent – it’s really small. But at the same time, it has a concentration of larger trees like coconut, jak fruit and arecanut as well as a good deal of shrubs and undergrowth. And it attracts creatures who are looking for an oasis in a neighbourhood that is increasingly built up.

Last Christmas, I gifted a small, inexpensive digital camera to Dhara, who just turned 12. She has been having lots of fun in the past few months, shooting people and what little of Nature that she can find in our corner of suburbia.

It’s no rainforest for sure, but she’s captured images of several species of birds, snails, a lone monkey and even a couple of rabbits (Okay – these are being raised by a neighbour and aren’t exactly in the wild! But 30 years ago, we did find rabits in the wild in this same area…)

But this level of biodiversity might not last too long. In recent weeks, the little patch of suburban jungle in my backyard has come under siege. Apparently a change of ownership has taken place, and the new owners are drawing up plans to clear the land and build one or more houses. Already, some of the larger trees have been felled (they didn’t seem to value the timber either – they just chopped the trees and carried them away – for dumping?).

So in the near future, as the march of ‘progress’ claims yet another bit of unbuilt land, these photos may be all we are left with.

By happy coincidence, the same week my friend and eminent scientist Ray Wijewardene emailed me this poem which I first read many years ago. I’m very grateful to Ray for sharing this in the same week that I was lamenting the imminent demise of my wonderfully green backyard.

A poem by Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree

A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed
Against the earths sweet flowing breast

A tree that looks art God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray.

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Photos by Dhara and Nalaka Gunawardene