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Only after the last tree has been cut down;
Only after the last fish has been caught;
Only after the last river has been poisoned;
Only then will you realize that money cannot be eaten.
- Cree Indian Prophecy

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Christmas Lights in a Swamp - A New Year Story

by Pipit Tai

........I too, have to plead guilty to pollution when I .......

It was eerily silent except for the soft chugging of the boat engine. Ghostly shapes crept up in the dark and fell away like the wake of the boat as it slid easily over the mirror-like water, its silvery surface reflecting what little light left in the clouds above. The air was heavy and still in anticipation. A bead of sweat trickled down the nape of my neck sending shivers down my spine. The moon failed us. A desperate and lonely howling seemed to follow us along the banks like an unseen being in torment for a soul.

In the distance, a greenish shimmering glow. A sudden cold wind blew up and tried to sneak through every pore of our clothes. All eyes turned towards the strange fluorescence that seemed to churn in angrier and angrier waves. As the boat drew nearer I thought I could pick out hundreds of eyes blinking furiously in the dark.

Suddenly, voila! A Christmas tree in the swamp, then another and yet another. Someone mentioned, "Make sure no wires, huh!". I almost expect the lights to turn on, flood the room and be greeted by smiling warm faces and arms carrying presents, loaded with hugs and good wishes. No such luck. Instead we are treated to one of the wonders of nature - fireflies, swarms of them, blinking in almost perfect harmony.

Forest explained that the fireflies can only be seen around Berembang trees which are food for water snails which in turn are food for the larvae of the fireflies. The fireflies perform their mating dance to blinking lights on moonless nights and then lay their eggs to hatch and feed on the snails after the fact. I didn't know if there were accompanying tom-tom like drum beats too soft for us to hear. It is mind-boggling that such primitive acts of predation, survival and sacrifice can create such a beautiful sight - a wonder to behold. This dual character of Nature was painfully driven home by the mosquitoes which fed on us while we marveled at the fireflies. Guess that�s nature for you, a seemingly endless and wondrous equilibrium of life which is being threatened by the blind uncaring clumsiness of man.

At the end of the boat trip, we were met by what seemed to be white ice floes surrounding our landing jetty by almost a football field. The boatman explained that they were soap suds created by drain water of the town being pumped into the river. What a beautiful night! What a sad anticlimax! I too, have to plead guilty to pollution when I relieved myself in the jetty's toilet which is just a hole in the planks directly above the river's edge, the sides of the planks stained by some rather inaccurate and careless aim. It looks like it is not only Nature which is having a tough uphill battle to stay pure and pristine. At the back of my mind, I wondered when the next tsunami is going to hit us in return.

Still, it was a rewarding trip, made even more pleasant by the fact that we had a sumptuous seafood dinner in Nibong Tebal, probably helped also by the fact that Forest hardly ate anything, being impartial to certain seafoods - which left larger helpings for the rest of us. Now, what did I say about survival and sacrifice just then? Long forgotten, I think. The memory of all that delicious food just replaced that grand philosophizing! That's probably the biggest horror story yet. Heh-heh-heh.

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