Singapore's autumn' leaves me grateful

Singapore's autumn' leaves me grateful
Golden, brown or bronze - little piles of parched fallen leaves all over the island bear witness to the prolonged dry spell Singapore has experienced.

SINGAPORE - If you were one of the many people who assured me when I moved to Singapore 18 months ago that there are no seasons here, please step forward. You owe me an informal apology, both collectively and individually. This is autumn.

And it's beautiful, to be cherished precisely because it is so rare.

Yes, I understand that there are no clearly defined seasons in certain parts of the tropics, but over the past weeks of parched weather, I have been delighted to see myriad dry leaves skittering across our many paths and gardens, blown in random patterns by the moody, unpredictable wind. What baffles me, though, is the universal urge to sweep away this carpet of leaves.

Every day, I see cleaners and landscapers toiling to rake and fill huge bags of these fallen leaves.

I'm certainly not a card-carrying greenie, but as an avid gardener I know the value of plantfriendly mulch derived from fallen leaves, twigs and soil.

I also know, first-hand, how dangerous an unprecedented autumn can be. In one of the three countries that I have called home, I watched as a prolonged dry spell in a cruelly hot summer brought autumn forward by several months, an effect I had never seen before.

Tall trees heavy with thick foliage but starved of any moisture in the soil were swiftly denuded as they shed all their leaves. That should have hinted at the fury that Nature would soon unleash, as uncontrolled wildfires claimed 173 lives in a single weekend.

Back during my childhood in the Indian city of Kolkata, our garden held many attractions for me, not least of which was the leaf pit.

It was a large square area enclosed by trees that were an informal boundary beyond which we were not supposed to encroach.

But despite being warned repeatedly about creepy-crawlies and highly poisonous snakes (yes, our neighbour once found a cobra in her garden), which curious pre-school child could possibly turn a blind eye to the allure of a pit of unknown depth that comprised at least 15 cubic metres of leaves whose bottom layer was probably older than I was?

So you get the idea. I have a life-long affinity with these autumnal vestiges of well-tended trees. When I recently discussed this with a friend, I referred to Singapore's spreading leaf carpet as golden.

I was immediately corrected.

They are not golden; they are brown, I was told. Golden was far too poetic and borrowed too heavily on my background as a photographer.

So we compromised. Not golden. Bronze was what we settled on instead. A bit more prosaic, certainly, but more acceptable.

Yes, I fully understand that last month was the driest February in Singapore since 1869, and yes, I was among the many people who scanned the skies each day, wondering how a seemingly unalterable generations-old weather pattern could suddenly change so drastically. The dark-grey clouds seemed to have vanished.

Even the comforting cacophony of thunder, like crashing cymbals in a frenetic orchestra, was no longer a part of our daily lives.

For a while, it was a novelty.

Then days stretched into weeks.

My umbrella sat, forgotten, in a corner. But I actually marvelled at how long Singapore continued to look green, despite the prolonged spell of dry weather.

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