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Official Magazine of the Nature Society (Singapore)

Joseph Lai's letter to his son depicts very movingly the beauty and poetry of nature and her place in our personal memories and shared heritage. The writing is given great poignancy by the sense of loss or impending loss that threatens all nature, particularly in Singapore.

All of us must have realised at some point in time what this piece expresses—that, in the face of progress and affluence, the legacy we leave our children is that significant places in our lives may no longer exist except as precious memories.

Dr Geh Min
President, Nature Society (Singapore)
Chek Jawa Days

Dear Lai Min,

Chek Jawa days are just full. Remember that windy and sultry day? I led you through the woods.

You appeared hesitant at first. I had your hand in mine, and gave you a squeeze to tell you I was near. Two lonely figures we were, in a tunnel of trees and shrubs, walking upon the soft and winding trail. It might rain, they said, but I was undaunted.

The sea was near. We stopped momentarily to look at the rustling of the leaves and felt the breeze in our faces. "That's the wind", I said. "And that's the sea!" I added in jubilation.

No sooner, the glaring shimmer of the sea broke through the gaps in the woods like a chandelier of lights caught in the wind. We quickened our steps and gingerly picked our way among the rocks and boulders on the rugged shore.

And there you were, bubbling with excitement. You took fancy in almost every piece of broken coral and pebble. If only you could see the twinkle in your own eyes and the quiet joy in a father's heart. For a moment, I felt immortality and that we could walk on in time eternal. Did you not feel the desolate vastness of the sandflat beneath our feet and the sky above our heads? Would you remember the warmth of a father's care when I pulled your socks off so that you could stand in the pools left by the receding sea?

You ran around pointing out all the starfishes you could find and asked in the most natural way if you could keep one in the fish tank at home. I laughed. "It's better they stay in the sea" I said. You held one for a moment in your small palm and then let it go. Time was counted in sea anemones, sponges and fishes trapped in the pools. We were 100 metres out from the shore and there were starfishes everywhere. Two hours passed within a breath and the rumble of the darkening sky signalled our return.

As usual, you tire easily, and asked to be piggybacked. Why not, I said. There will be a time when you will grow up and I will not be able to do so again. As soon as we were back to the rocky outcrop, it began to drizzle. We took shelter under the canopy of the seashore nutmeg and got our raincoats on. The sea rose steadily and covered the meadow of sea grasses like the drawing of the curtain to signal the end of a show. It was time to go.

I look back in fond memory how two of us retraced our path along the forested shoreline under the rain. We took off our caps just for the fun of it. The moistened trunks and roots looked so enriched in tone over the smooth boulders. Even the pebbles became alive in livid colours. The rain also brought the birds back. We too were going home. Every creature, big or small, has a home to return to. With you in my hand, I gave my silent farewell to the families of starfishes that had finally returned to the swollen sea.

I wrote this, my dear son, so that the memory will stay with you forever. I hope you will grow up to feel the same as I do for the home that we share with all these wonderful creatures. I hope you too can experience this unique place with your own child and carry on for yourself the immortality I felt when I was there with you.

I dedicate this poem to you and hope you will discover for yourself, that the true sense of being is being with nature.


When Rain Meets Wind

There is a kind of abandonment
how you come meet the earth.
And sparkle for just that little whilst
before glistening a teardrop farewell
down a quivering grass blade.

Still you remain till like a memory
stirred by a gentle wind,
you rose invisible, and
in shades of white,
set the clouds in the brilliant sky.

Graced with fleeting lightness,
you skip hither and thither,
a young heart just born of gladness,
only too clear that he the wind is near.

He is there seen but unseen;
existed because you existed.
He guides the way you toss and heave,
hand in hand paints white on blue
of imaginations wild and free.

When rain and wind meet,
there's sweetness in the air;
they are happy just being.
Though the grass may quiver once more
the days for skyward rendezvous
are everlasting.

Joseph Lai, 2001

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