Abandoned houses are strangely fascinating. They are places which people once called home. You can stand in front of it an imagine it full of light and life. And now the people are gone, and it is just home to entropy. What happened to those people? Why was this house not occupied? It was at a good location, right at the edge of the lake. How could anyone just walk out and leave? Or did they not leave?
The Family had strained her back and walking was an effort. We’d sat on a deck with a coffee and watched the lake through the afternoon’s rain. As the sun began to set I walked past the road up to the abandoned house to take a few photos. The grass in front of it clutched on to a very thin layer of soil over hard volcanic rock. Little hollows in the rock held rain water. It was slippery. One slip, and I would certainly damage the soil, and perhaps myself if I fell on the sharp edges of the rock. Sunset, the rain clouds, and the structure built a wonderful ambience. I tried hard to catch the sense of loss, the beauty of the landscape and the sky, the dilapidated building with a mat of grass on its roof.
I walked around the building. A slight breeze had set in and it was blowing waves over the water. The lake is large, and even this little breeze could excite fairly large waves. This is a hard place, with extremes of weather. It is not close to a town; on the other hand, it is close a major highway. In a few more monsoons the roof will cave in. Then the walls will become stumps, providing a windbreak for larger plants. Soon, the last signs of people who could have lived there will be gone.
What lies over the hill? That’s a question that keeps us going, isn’t it? But sometimes what’s on this side of the hill is so beautiful that you don’t want to budge. Perpetual youth is the curse of never being curious about what lies over the hill. The rest of us, we love the view here, but we want to plow on and check out the view from the top as well.
Sometimes you get a glimpse of it from down at the bottom. Looks like someone’s made a good place for a selfie or two, a share on social media. This climb will be worthwhile, you think as you set off.
At other times you reach the top, exhausted. To your dismay you find that it’s not the end of the road. There’s the steep downhill bit. It looks quite scary, and the path is wet. Do you really want to do it? Are the distant plains quite as nice as they look from up here?
Sometimes you wish that someone had made a keyhole in that mountain, so that you can spy on the other side without needing to climb. It does happen, you know! These hills are full of tunnels.
But sometimes,the other side just falls on you. There’s no way you want that. You roll up the windows quickly and get away from it fast, before all that falling stuff drowns you, or washes you down the hillside. Driving in the Sahyadris during the monsoon will give you all these new perspectives on aging and geology. What you make of these lessons is up to you.
Monocots abound. They may be only a quarter of all flowering species of plants, but that’s still a huge number of species. The striking blue petals of this dayflower (Commelina clavata, Jalpipari, of the family Commelinaceae) was actually what attracted my attention when I ambled past the rice fields outside the village of Pargaon. not far from the Pimpalgaon Joge Dam in Pune district of Maharashtra. The centimeter sized flowers were trimerous: three petals, three stamens with yellow anthers, and three stamenoids (false stamens). The pistil was below the anthers. The leaves were smooth and lance shaped,
PoWO lists the range to be in Sri Lanka and India, stopping west of Assam, then jumping to Myanmar, skipping Thailand to appear in Malayasia and then on the islands of Java and Sumatra. These geographical gaps must arise because of inadequate reporting. I’m pretty sure that this plant grows on the berms of rice fields in Bangladesh, Assam, other states of the north-eastern India, as well as in Thailand. Many of the dayflowers have edible leaves, and I read reports that the leaves of Jalpipari are eaten in southern Africa (where it must also grow). I wish I knew that. I would have tried to get a few of these plants home to grow in our balcony herb garden.
This note is added later in the day. I took a look at photos that I took during a walk in Nameri national park on 5 November, 2015, and came across this photo. It is clearly a photo of Commelina clavata in flower. Nameri in in Assam, and rather far east of the West Bengal border, being right at the border with Arunachal Pradesh. The national park is part of a larger protected ecosphere as the Pakke Wildlife Sanctuary of Arunachal. This observation therefore extends the range of C. clavata almost all the way to the eastern border of India. It may be just a matter of time before the gaps in PoWO’s range map are filled in.
Dayflowers (family Commelinaceae) should be easily identified you think. They have only three petals, and all three-petalled flowers are monocots. But sometimes four petals are fused into three. You need to count how many stamens there are: multiples of three or not. Once you have got to monocots, you have cut out three quarters of all flowering plants, and identification should be straightforward. There are only about 60,000 plants remaining to choose from. But it is easier to recognize dayflowers from their false stamens, the staminodes. These are the three stems bearing what look like minute white flowers in the middle of the flower in the featured photo. The stamens bear the purple pollen sacs that you see. The flower is about half a centimeter across, and, since it lacks a pistil is male. I don’t have a photo of the female flower. If you look carefully, you’ll see a tangle of filaments near the center of the flower. I wonder what purpose they serve.
I made life harder for myself by not examining the plant carefully when it was in front of me. I was misled by the leaves of a pea-like plant through which the bare flowering stem arose. Eventually I found a photo in which the plant was visible in the background. From that I found that the stem probably lies along the ground, and sends up an erect branch bearing a few buds. The lower leaves are lance-shaped, about 2 to 4 cms long. Unfortunately, I can’t see what the upper leaves (along the flowering stem) look like. Still, there is enough evidence that this plant is Murdannia spirata. I found it in a ditch near a rice field, which agrees with observations that the species likes wet fields. PoWO lists its range as encompassing India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, southern China, Vietnam, and across the sea in Taiwan, and parts of the Philippines and some parts of Java. It has also been introduced to Florida, where it seems to thrive. I have not been able to find its name in Marathi, which perhaps indicates that it is not very common in the Sahyadris.
I was glad I found the little anecdote about the genus Murdannia being named after Murdan Ali, who was the keeper of the herbarium at Saharanpur in the mid-19th century CE. He is said to have compiled a checklist of plants of Western UP in Hindi which was unpublished and is now presumed to be lost. Nothing else seems to be known about him. Botany and plants do not seem to catch public imagination, although pharmacology would be a non-starter without it.
Orb-weaving spiders (family Araneidae) are generally what I notice, not the ones which hide in leaf-litter. The one in the photos above had woven a neat web in an opening in a wall when I first saw it. When I came by with a camera late the next day, the web was much less neat; it had torn and been repaired. Either someone’s hand had gone through the opening, or the rain and wind had torn it. I don’t know much about spider identification, and I have not seen a field guide for India yet, so anything I say is a guess. Just based on the shape I wonder whether it belongs to the genus Eriovixia or Eustala. This one was in the middle of its web during the day both times that I saw it, so that might rule out Eriovixia, which weaves orbs, but then hides in leaf-litter with a telegraph line connecting it to its web.
This seven-legged spider is quite likely to be a species of giant wood spiders, perhaps Nephilakuhlii. The banana shaped body is what leads me to this tentative identification. I guess it must be on the older side, since it has lost a leg, perhaps in a fight. I spotted it in a nallah on the side of the road when we stopped at a tea stall on Malshej ghat. That portion of the nallah was thick with spider webs, all of this one species. some of the specimens were smaller, likely younger, and had red legs, and dark bodies without the spots. Do their legs darken and spots appear on their bodies as they grow older? Or was this a different species? Even if it is different, the yellowish colour of the silk in the web indicates that it still belongs to genus Nephila.