Some corners of the greenhouses in Lloyd Botanical Garden had a lot of light. As I knelt to take photos of cacti, between shots I wondered at the forms that these strange plants take: the eight-armed spiral of the one in the featured photo, and the symmetric radiation of the bush below. How did they come about?
The slow processes of geology, the breaking and joining of continents, the raising of mountains, the closing of seas, all change the earth’s climate. And these changes break open old ecologies and their dependencies, giving new spaces for change. About thirty million years ago, in the high noon of dinosaurs, the Andes mountains began to lift up. The warm wet winds from the Pacific were blocked, and on the continental side the land turned into a desert. It was here that the cacti evolved. Then, about 4 million years ago, when the isthmus of Panama formed, one group, the prickly pears took the opportunity to move northwards. But it was the formation of the rift valley in far away Africa which finally created the species that could give cacti a way to spread across the world, to the sunlight in front of me.
What is a cactus? As I wandered through the greenhouses holding cacti and succulents in the Lloyd Botanical garden of Darjeeling, camera in hand, I had time to puzzle about this. We recognize them by their swollen stems and thorns. The thorns are leaves modified to prevent loss of moisture, and simultaneously as a defense against herbivores. I suppose in a barren land any plant is fair game, so prickly leaves and thorns are common in plants of arid regions. Cacti also flower, and flowering plants evolved later than the dinosaurs. Interesting, the way they catch light. Just the thing for some black and white photos.
My hard disc is full of ghosts. Electrons streamed through complex orderings of magnetic fields. I dredged out a few images. The end of December is always a calm and quiet time it seems. In years without the omicron I have strolled through gardens, walked on deserted beaches, sailed through calm lagoons.
We seemed to have traveled without a passport on most Decembers. The furthest photo in this bunch was the beach in the Andaman’s Neil Island. We have travelled north, into the colder parts of India, or stayed by the warm shorelines.
Every time I look at a collection of photos, something different leaps out at me. This time it was this photo taken in Mumbai’s Chor Bazaar. The duo look like chess players: looking into the interior of a baroque piece of ancient electronics. A very close look before the next move, I’m sure.