THE FLORA on MY BALCONY at 5,500’

It is the winter of 2015-16. Or is it? The firewood we got chopped for the bukhari for this winter has remained largely unused. Room temperature rarely fell below 13o C, at which point we light the bukhari. May be because the winter remained dry, with sunshine “daily on the mountain tops”! The peak of ‘Churdhar’ or ‘Chur Chandini’, visible in the distance put on its white cap only once, and then took if off in just two days. Winter wheat in the fields around our village refused to grow.

Our dog Hatchi, made the most of the goodly Sun, spreading out on the balcony; now in the sun and now in shade. For him it was like a short-days summer.

pot

The flora on our balcony was on a roll. It seems that ‘winter’ for it did not happen. In early December there was new flush on the potted Amla tree and next to it, the Ritha (soap nut) refused to shed its leaves. So also the Bauhinia, that very reluctantly shed its foliage finally in the middle of February. It looked as if all the plants decided to give ‘autumn’ a miss. Trees like maple that get leafless by early December at the latest, are still hanging on to their reddish leaves or the other way round!

dogflower

For the Antirrhinums (snapdragon or dog flowers) it remained flowering time throughout. They came out in colorful bunches, maroon and white and pink and yellow, as if it were the middle of summer. The few bushes of Bougainvillea we have seem to be celebrating the dry winter with unending blossoms and the Poinsettia shrubs, though winter flowering, continue to show off their bright red bracts. Roses too kept budding and blooming in succession. By mid-February, delightful little yellow and purple pansies showed up. The pomegranate tree turned crimson with new flush. Two loners, a white and a pink, of larkspur couldn’t wait till the Spring to flower.

A Pair of 'Dancing Ladies'
A Pair of ‘Dancing Ladies’

On fields and roadsides, deciduous trees like ‘Khirk” (Celtis) still have much foliage on them, while the ‘Kainth or Shegal’ trees have come into flowering. I am told Rhododendrons elsewhere are already in bloom. Troupes of the spectacular Himalayan Barbet along with chirping Bulbuls and forgetful Tree Pies, feast on the tiny fruit of Khirk for early breakfast. Only the walnut and ‘Chuli’ have stuck to seasonal undressing and their trees stand bare and dormant.

Though now we stand on the threshold of the real Spring, it has been a sort of season’s reversal with a virtual prior mid-winter Summer Dream. I hope this has been just a ‘dream’. It is scary to even contemplate what if we were in for an unexpected, premature rainy season instead of a real summer! While the weather has always been known to be unpredictable (Internet Devta nothwithstanding!), it is the changing pattern of the seasons that is most upsetting; and not just for humans.

birdThe White Eye or rather flocks of them kept flitting in and out of our bushy balcony, throughout this winter. They seemed to have forgotten ‘going down to the plains’ or is it that they have heard of the terrible smog there with particulate matter of below 2.5?

The upside is that for many years now, bright, sunny days have become the ‘norm’ in much of Himachal during winter. People in the plains, where one earlier wanted to spend winter, are now stricken with the depressing pall of pollution and smog that even blocks sunlight for much of the day. A winter holiday to soak in the Sun and if you’re in the right place at the right time a bout of snow to boot! And of course with ‘pruty flowers everywhere’!

Nodnat - is a pen name that the writer with deep knowledge of Himalayan flora and fauna and a keen environmentalist has adopted. He hails from Kotgarh, in Shimla Hills and retired as Principal Chief Conservator of Forests from Himachal Pradesh forest department.

2 Comments

  • Loved this little vignette of the changing climate. It shows the writer’s deep love and understanding of nature but it also contains a disturbing message. The cycles of the flora and fauna (particularly birds, many of which subsist on flowers) are inextricably connected, and a change in former is bound to impact the latter, particularly their breeding and rearing seasons.. Maybe Nodnat could do a follow-up piece on this aspect too. A couple of years ago I used to see (and be delighted by) a large number of little birds (hummingbirds and song birds) on my land near Mashobra, but now I’m happy if I can see just see one or two! I hope I don’t outlive them.

  • It is always such a pleasure reading your articles.Last week i was trekking in Kandi region and to my surprise Rhododendron forest was already in bloom. It is a worrisome sign!!!!

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