Thursday, June 12, 2008

Light my fire

The cold wind blew at my face, and I held my wife close. The sound of the motor and the gentle swishing of the water as the boat glided along the Sebung river penetrated the stillness of the night. It was not pitch black as I had expected – more than the almost-invisible moonlight, it was a section of the night sky that provided all the light one could need. The guide could not tell us why that portion of the sky was bright – it was as if there was a perpetual sunset there. And the time was 9pm, three full hours past maghrib time in Bintan. No photograph can capture the sight.

The whole thing was fantastic – the darkness, the river, and the mangroves by the side, and the thought that we were in the heart of the forest. The guide explained that the fishermen lived behind the mangroves, and during the day, they came out to catch fish, crab and prawn near the inlets in the mangroves.

We then came to the highlight of the evening, the reason for us being in that Bintan river. The boat moved slowly to a specific tree among the mangroves, where hundreds of fireflies colluded. Fireflies are not like their confused brethren, houseflies. Fireflies are more charming, graceful and cute, and they’re not all this just because they give out light. They fly slowly like butterflies, and are not afraid to come near you.

Their butts blink with light. Scientists are unsure of the mechanism through which they produce light. But they do know that the light is produced from chemical reactions involving oxygen, an enzyme and other substances in the flies’ body. As a testament to how perfect Allah’s creations are, in relation to our imitations of the real thing, fireflies are extremely efficient in producing light – 100% of the light that a firefly gives off, is light. However, a normal electric light bulb gives off 10% of its energy as light and 90% as heat! [If a firefly were to give off the same ratio of heat, it’ll just explode. Or those touching it will be burnt.]

I held one or two in my hand, and the guide offered us plastic cups to catch them and keep them. I thought it was a pretty absurd suggestion – if everyone were to do that, the numbers of fireflies would decimate and the guide won’t have business in the long run. He actually caught one for us, but I tore the cup on the spot and released the fly. I don’t think it’s right to keep such a beautiful creature in captivity for my own amusement.

It occurred to me that a group of us pay for what is free to all creation. The fishermen probably did not think all the sights and sounds near their mangroves were a marvel. They probably look at it everyday, say hi to the crabs and go about their business and catching and selling stuff. Its us, from the wham-bam action-packed city who have lost touch with the primal state of nature, and pay to go somewhere to see it at close distance. The good thing about this arrangement is that those with the moolah can give to those who might not have much moolah in the form of buying services; the bad thing is that those in the city have lost touch with nature.

According to a class I attended, this harks back to the time of Ibrahim alahis salam (a.s.), whose two sons Isma’il a.s. and Ishaaq a.s. took the two separate routes that we so experience today. Isma’il a.s. and his descendents (mostly) took to the farming lifestyle, more in touch with nature and the elements. Ishaaq’s a.s. offspring followed the route of the city dwellers. In contemporary times, this has continued.

For me – it was great to go through the whole mangrove tour thinggie. I felt in touch with the magnificence of the Creator’s handiwork.


"the" anonymous said...

...into the heart of darkness...

NunBun said...

lucky we didn't see marlon brando leading his own army...