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

2 Responses to “Not in my backyard: The last urban oasis under siege”

  1. Ayesha Says:

    You’re so lucky to have a backyard like that…enjoy while it lasts. But do you look out at it often enough? You will miss it when it’s gone, like many other good things in life, we don’t value nature when it’s still with us…

  2. David Damario Says:

    We are so fortunate Nalaka; It was great to meet you sir in person and it seems we feel the same way toward nature.
    I live in Canada and almost two years ago my wife and I were driving to the north of our subdivision home in Whitby Ontario. We had a beautiful 5 bedroom house with a fenced in back yard and neighbours all around. Well we were driving we drove a bit north into the Greenwood Conservation Park. As we drove there was a For sale sign on an amazing 2 arce property right in the greenbelt. We pulled up the 300 foot driveway with forest and ponds all around…and there on a hill was a beautiful modular structure custom built house …that was in major need of loving care. What drew us was the forest all around. The sounds of the living creatures in the ponds and woods…and we fell in love with the property. For the last two years we have been doing major floors…lighting…decking…and all new windows…but now…we sit on our beautiful deck with our dogs…there are no fences…just the forest as far as you can see in all directions…and at night when you open the windows there is a symphony of listening pleasure created by nature..just for us. I could never go back to a subdivision with back to back homes.
    Sometimes just sitting and listening to nature makes your soul feel connected to the earth in every way. Sometimes we have deer behind our house looking in the windows…and often I have to pick up a turtle that has come wandering out of our pond on to the driveway.
    We are fortunate Nalaka…most of the world is crowded….
    Cheers my friend.
    David Damario

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