A Giant Theater

In this vast panorama only a fifth—maybe tenth—of the land is filled with trees. The rest is taken by thigh-high, chest-high upended cones of the shrub. The shrubs in a given patch are all trimmed to the same height and, seen level, seeing the height they have climbed and the depths they’ve plunged, they are a rollicking green ocean, choppy now in the monsoons. They're a flat-topped shrub, deep green, their stem and branches are twisted and smeared green by squishy moss. There are hundreds of acres of them, falling away before me, rising on the hills on my left, on the hills on the right, running up the hills ahead, and everywhere behind me. A few gaunt trees stand among the shrub, planted to a plan for just-so-much shade. They bring to mind lone strands on bald pates. In the very far distance, on the crests of hills, there there are many trees and they are lush and thick and in a line like a punk's spiky mane.

I have spent an hour and a half walking in the creases between tea patches and then I have climbed back up to the bungalow and am sitting on the ledge that frames the front steps. I am wet: my large sturdy umbrella was blown out several times while I worked my camera and I failed to stay dry while managing the two. Behind me the bungalow is in darkness: this awful wind has blown the power-supply line somewhere. The wind is whistling and hissing and whooshing in turns in and all round the bungalow, and on the hilltops it is taking the trees in every manner, pushing them, pulling them, ravishing them, and the trees grind, and heave, and after a time their awesome motion hits a crescendo and they let off a roar that shakes this world, and then the wind collapses, and the trees with it, and the two rest a while, and begin again.

With four-hundred inches of rain it is no more Agumbe, but this Kadamane Tea Estate here that receives the most rainfall in Karnataka.

In a cusp among the farthest hills a silver glow defines the ridges. From my right tall columns of ribbon-flat clouds advance toward those hills. Each column is as a diaphanous side-screen in a giant theater: they flutter as they move one behind the other in a long file in which the start and the end are merged with the hills ahead and the hills behind. They tread on the tea without being a weight on them. I expect that they will tear up when the next rain comes, but no, they are there, their line unbroken, walking on, but now they seem like a line of furtive ghosts.

When rain begins it is a patter on the roof, then a beating on it, and soon a lashing everywhere. The pouring is intense and blinding in the distance on the hills—the wind, the rain, and the roar that is always with them move with pressing urgency, curving round and away, traveling far and curling back to where they started, kneeing and elbowing the tea and the trees and the hills and everything between them, making up for all the time they’ve been away. The pouring ends abruptly and silence takes its place—now the tea sparkle, the trees lift, and the hills sizzle in steam-like mist. Now there is a new sound, which does not rob the silence, the sound of water gushing everywhere, in ditches and gutters, gurgling down the slopes, gaining volume, the sound growing as it goes. I think of the water-falls in the bends of the tracks, and the streams with their rolling muscles flowing into the swollen red river that I saw earlier in the day.

Darkness has begun to fall. I take a last look at the glowing mist that has filled the trees and capped the hills. It is as though a cold white heat has rimmed this world, this enormous bowl ringed by hills. I decide to rise and by the time I've taken ten steps it is a black night. There is no moon, there are no stars—there is only sound, but I haven’t heard a single bird all evening. In the meantime, lights have come on in the bungalow; I should go in.

Inside, a fire has been burning a long time. I read by it Kapuscinski’s brave account of staying on when all else have left during the civil war in Angola in 1975. A chapter remains where to know who won, and the reportage is terrific, and I finish the book and learn that everyone lost in the Angolan War even if the MPLA won it that November. While I read the play of rain and wind is unabated outside, but it settles in a quiet corner in my mind. Later in bed, when I pull the sheets over me, the sounds come to the fore: the continual whoosh outside, the roaring in the far woods that won’t stop. Thought comes to me that this building where I’m sleeping alone tonight might be blown away by morning, but in a few seconds deep sleep engulfs me and all my fears. I’ve inhaled so much fresh air, all day long, so no dreams come.