Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hobbies for the Horizontally Inclined

It isn’t easy being a nature lover. People expect so much more from you. If you haven’t hugged a couple of trees before breakfast and knocked off a poacher or two by mid-afternoon, people think you aren’t doing the job right.

Then there’s the list of Recommended Activities, any single item of which is enough to kill you dead. For starters, you’re expected to go white-water rafting in Shivpuri. This is a particularly nasty activity conducted from uncomfortable camps which you reach after hours of being bounced around in a badly sprung vehicle on a road that is only scheduled to be constructed. You reach camp only to be thrown right back downstream in a raging torrent surrounded by jagged rocks. If you survive, you’re supposed to go trekking over terrain a mountain goat would baulk at or rappel down rock faces that would daunt gravity itself. Then there’s surfing, camping and parasailing, all fraught with danger and much physical fatigue.

Isn’t there any way of being a nature lover without tearing a ligament every other day? Yes, there is. I hit upon it while I was doing a stint of bird watching. Bird watching is itself a substantial improvement over the aforementioned atrocities – if you have a powerful pair of binoculars, you can even do a lot of it from a strategically located hammock. However, it suffers from the drawback that to be a proper birder you must have a bird to watch, otherwise you’re just gawking around at the trees waiting for a bird to show up.

And that’s when it hit me: why not become a treewatcher instead?

Treewatching is the perfect nature activity for those who are soft in the butt, not in the head. Just look at the advantages it has over other nature-oriented hobbies:

First of all, treewatching makes no unreasonable demands from your physique. You can have a beer belly, adventure phobia and couch affinity, and still be a successful treewatcher. In fact, all you need are a pair of eyes and a gentle disposition. And the eyes don’t have to be open all the time either.

Secondly, unlike in bird watching, where you have to go out and actually find a bird before you can meaningfully watch it, a tree is always there – ready to be watched at your convenience. And if you feel a bit tired after a hectic hour of lying in a hammock with a glass of lemonade while avidly studying the foliage, take a break. You can always turn over for a restful nap and continue watching when you wake up. It’s not like the tree’s going anywhere.

Also, treewatching is an inclusive activity. You can enjoy it with the entire family – youngsters, older folk, pets, even neighbours. No nonsense about treading softly and screaming in a hushed whisper if you twist your ankle. Trees are not easily frightened, so noise isn’t an issue at all. In fact, you could have treewatching parties if you like. Call your friends over to the chosen tree, bring along some beer and pizzas, and you can have a nice time watching the tree and singing tree-watching songs.

Finally, while most other nature-hobbies have rigidly defined ‘seasons’, you can treewatch round the year. And I say this from personal experience. There’s a very nice Silk-Cotton tree right outside the office window that I have watched regularly for over a year now, through rain and shine, autumn and spring, winter and summer. I have watched it while sitting in a chair, while ensconced in a beanbag, while sipping coffee, with the AC on, with the AC off, and also through a rain-wet window. I have practised full observational rigour and have amassed considerable documentation of its foliage, flowers, fruit and social life.

In fact, if ever there is an international conference or symposium on this particular tree, I will doubtless be asked to be its Chairman. So, Treewatching can get you international recognition, too.

Recently, a colleague hobbled painfully into the office after a trekking holiday. He’d been bitten, he said, by a small squirrel during a short but bitter scuffle over a nut that he was trying to steal in order to assuage his hunger after he turned left at the wrong tree stump and lost his way in the wilderness. What a way to spend a weekend, I said and gently led him to a beanbag by the window. I showed him the silk-cotton tree and explained to him that just like with women, getting unnecessarily physical with nature is likely to lead to injury. Much better to express love in a graceful and platonic manner. No danger of feral squirrels either.

He’s bought his own beanbag now, and is thinking of investing in a modest pair of binoculars. Another Treewatcher is born.


  1. Haha, that was very 'you', Sidey!

  2. I just read a bunch of posts, and learnt many things including the existence of a silk-cotton tree (even god seems to have trouble making up his mind).

    You are really funny Sidey :-) Good to see that you are picking up pace (from one a month in 2010 to two a month now)..... Cheers...

  3. Thanks, Shivki. Keep reading, keep learning, keep coming back for more :)