In stillness, we find our peace ~ Katrina Kenison
In Singapore we ushered in a rainy 2021 that washed away New Year celebrations, resolutions, and hopes for a Covid-free year. February floated in on a pleasant breeze bringing with it dry, cool days that lasted through the month. Happy to be blessed with a rare, calm breeze more common in other parts of the island, I stepped out for a walk more than once a day, soaking in the sunshine without its attendant humidity.
March has been scorching, with brilliant sunshine flooding my bedroom each morning, setting the tone for a hot day. I’ve been reluctant to step out for my post-lunch walk, the highlight of my workday. The short outing from the screen coupled with the relaxing greenery of my neighborhood gives my eyes a much-needed break. But the intense glare of these summery afternoons has made it difficult to enjoy the walk. I apply sunscreen, wear a hat, sunglasses, and of course, my mask. With hardly any part of my face exposed to the sun, it seems less of a break and more like an elaborate charade with all the layering and covering up.
Not surprisingly, after a few warm days in a row, thunderstorms follow. It begins to rain each afternoon, usually around 3 p.m. Dark clouds gather outside my window just as remote teams gather for a zoom call. Loud thunder interrupts introductions. Ribbons of lightning abruptly cut conversations. I rush to close windows and still pay attention to what’s being said. Sheets of rain fall with a hypnotic intensity, making me lose my train of thought mid sentence. And then equally suddenly, all is still. And wet. And inviting.
I step out cautiously, unsure whether I should take an umbrella in case the clouds make a u-turn and return to empty their contents. But I like the gentle drip-drip of droplets that still cling to low hanging branches of familiar trees. A short walk along the busy road and then the detour that leads to the nature reserve.
Sometimes I climb up to the steep motorable road that leads up to the World War II monument and then take the trail at the side that leads first up and then down to the quarry. It is unbelievably silent. Although the hum of traffic can be heard if you listen intently, it is much easier to focus on the quiet cobbled path that cuts through the mess of trees and shrubs blooming profusely either side of the path. Fallen branches and emerging saplings criss-cross each other, eager to catch rays of light that slip in through the thick canopy.
Benches parked at prime locations, once fully taped off, now beckon a solitary walker like me to sit, to rest, to take in the view. Sometimes I feel like I am the only human for miles, isolated from civilization. It’s not true. I can walk back home in 15 minutes if I choose. But I prefer to stay and enjoy this illusion of solitude.
A few minutes of silent contemplation works its magic by allowing me to shrug off the mantle of hectic city life with each step into the dense foliage.
I climb down the stairs and turn right towards the lake at the quarry. The grass, freshly washed and gleaming with pleasure, smiles at me, tempting me to take off my shoes and touch it with my bare feet. I can’t resist.
The ground is squishy and soft. I stand still and feel the warmth pulsing under the wet layer like a heartbeat. I revel in the textures that tickle my sole. I walk up and down and in a circle.
At my feet there’s crabgrass and twigs, and a few flowers blown off their stems. On my right, I see a turtle making small ripples as it swims in the shallow lake whose water level seems a bit higher than usual. And up ahead, the thick wall of stone, a reminder of the mining activity that provided material to build this city-state.
I sit on a stone bench, trying to not judge the young couple taking each other’s pictures at various locations. Even their laughter sounds harsh in the silence that has rushed in on the heels of a loud thunderstorm. The clouds part to allow a mellow light to briefly cover everything in sight. Soon it will get dark.
I reluctantly retrace my path up the steps and past the bench, feeling calm and refreshed, as if I have sipped an energy drink. A brief excursion into nature has the power to be something more than just a distracting interlude.
If done mindfully, a short walk can be an elixir.
A group of young men on skateboards sit at the base of the 120 steps that lead up to the monument, eyeing the long steep slope with zero traffic. What are they doing here? I have seen similar groups at the Esplanade MRT station, skating or practising dance moves in the underground space, but not here in my neighborhood.
And then I hear the rustling, scraping sound of a skateboard coming downhill. I turn around to see one thrill-seeking young man squatting on his skateboard as it passes me. He makes a micro adjustment and turns his body to make the board turn perpendicular to the road, angling it upwards towards the monument. As he slows down, he puts his hands on the floor. Sparks erupt. He doesn’t wince. With wide eyes, I look at his hands. He is wearing some kind of gloves but the bright streaks of light emerge from his fingers. A second and then a third man follow in rapid succession, each repeating the sequence – slide, curve, and then, sparks.
“Are your hands on fire?” I ask the first one to disembark. He sees the shock on my face. I notice that he is a teenager with a smattering of facial hair and an innocent smile.
“No, it’s my gloves,” he says and turns over his hands, palms up to show me the circular metal spurs on his gloves that give off sparks of friction as it touches the surface of the road.
“You guys are amazing,” I say, not hiding my administration.
“Thank you, ma’am. Have a nice evening,” he says politely, as he walks up the hill for another round.
I want to stay and watch them again. But I also need to get back home. A few more emails to answer before I can call it a day. Call it a week. And begin my week long holiday.
Are you planning to take a break from your regular routine soon?