I’ve noticed that our first human instinct, when meeting the wild or the unknown, is to react in fear and violence. Perhaps it’s just the human need to survive, but an irrational fear of nature seems to characterise the urban Singaporean consciousness, whether we like to admit it or not.
For example, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and came across a post where a man shared how he encountered a juvenile snake in his condo while walking his dog. He alerted the security guard to it, who reacted by heading over with a stick ready to kill the snake. Luckily, the man told the guard to watch the snake while he brought his dog back home first, then returned with a trash bag to secure the snake before releasing it into a forested area unharmed. Ironically (because we so often characterise snakes as villainous predators), the man even recounted how he had to coax the juvenile snake quite a bit as it was afraid of him, and kept curling its head and body in fear before it finally slithered into the trash bag on its own accord. His post was met by the community with gratitude and praise for his kindness, as well as criticism of people who are quick to react in hostility towards certain creatures due to misinformation about them.
This got me thinking about the kinds of relationships we are nurturing, and the types of stories we are telling ourselves and our children about the world we live in, and the creatures or critters who co-inhabit it. Growing up, I was warned by my well-meaning parents of the dangers of bees and snakes; they would sting and bite. I’m sure these fears are not unfounded, as they’ve had their own share of encounters with wild creatures growing up in the kampung, but I like to think there must surely be a way we can relate to the wild other than in fear and violence.
So yes, while I’ve been stung by a hymenoptera (it only stung me because I stepped on it by accident in the dark, and it was trying to protect itself from my foot), I have also held a red dwarf honey bee in the palm of my hand after spoon feeding it some diluted honey water as it gathered its strength and waited out in the shelter of my windowsill during a monsoon rain. It matters what stories we tell. It matters that we make kin.
Another day, I read about a hybrid stork that was spotted by a hiker at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. It had a broken neck midway which hung down to its breast and was struggling in the shallows. Because of its injury, its head dipped into the water as it struggled to keep itself steady with its wings. The authorities were alerted, and while some wanted the stork to be rescued and attended to, the habitat prevented human intervention. In the end, a resident crocodile was photographed eating the bird, putting it out of its pain and misery. And while some netizens responded by accusing NParks of careless indifference, others agreed that nature should be allowed to take its course since this was after all, a nature reserve, and storks were not endangered species. It was hard for me to watch the video of the injured bird struggling—I witnessed its pain and will to survive, and I felt sadness for its suffering and relief at its death.
When do we intervene, like the man who went out of his way to rescue a lost snake from his condo, and when do we let go and allow nature to do its work, like leaving the stork to its fate? The questions posed have no easy answer and at the end of the day, perhaps it’s down to each unique circumstance and the people who are gathered in these encounters who make the call between kinship, acceptance and hostility.
Lately, I’ve taken to weaving macrame plant holders to house some of my indoor plants outdoors. Using rope made from plant fibres, I find it poetic that these once-alive plants now hold other houseplants in their new forms. Yet, the rope only becomes a plant holder through the act of kinship between the weaver, rope and houseplant. Measuring the size of my pot, I cut eight equal lengths of rope, tying them into a secure knot at the base, before splitting them into pairs to hold the pot at four sides. Macrame is also a creative endeavour in that the weaver exercises complete artistic freedom to knot and weave patterns of their fancy. This time, I choose to braid the plant fibres into my own version of a four strand braid, and the result satisfies me. My alternanthera can now hang outside my living room window in a beautiful macrame holder that sways about in the wind, thriving under the indirect sunlight that it needs, its leaves turning burgundy where it was green before; weaving macrame is an act of kin-making, and in kin-making, we nurture love.
There is a lot to learn about entangled living from the weaving of macrame plant holders. Like them, we too are bound to others in complex and reciprocal ties of kinship, compassion, kindness and empathy. When the time comes for us to make the call, may we pause before reacting. May we choose hope and love over violence and fear. It matters that we make kin.
Esther Vincent Xueming
Co-editor of Making Kin: Ecofeminist Essays from Singapore
Author of Red Earth (Blue Cactus Press)
EIC & Founder, The Tiger Moth Review