A photo essay
Most wonderful wishes and best regards to all, for the start of a fresh, healthy, environmental favoured and flavoured new year!
We are happy to share with you some pictures from the year past, together with some news – some good and some bad – from the life and endeavors of The Forest Way.
Always grateful for all your support and faith in us,
Enjoy the peek and stay in touch!
Good friends we’ve lost
The Covid wave which devastated India this spring/summer also hit close to home, for all of us at The Forest Way. Many lost close relatives and dear ones. Individually and as an institution, we struggled to keep up with the unfolding needs of the situation, as health services were stretched to breaking point. Efforts to mitigate the worst of the situation through community health provisions did not save three long-time staff members. With great sadness and gratitude to have known and worked with them, we remember them here. May they rest in peace.
Rajamanikam (Kannadikar), from Tiruvannamalai town, worked in the children’s park for more than 12 years. Previously he had worked for many years on the reforestation of the Hill. He was a warm, loving and humorous older brother figure to many at the park, and he brought care and an always young heart to his work. In the previous year he had lost his wife after nursing her devotedly through her final years. He was 75 years at the time of death.
K Lakshmi from Erikarai had worked in the nursery for the last nine years. She died at the age of 50. She was a quiet and gentle presence in the nursery. Her home life had not been easy and her work with the plants was a refuge that she cherished. She passed away in the Government Hospital.
K. Ezhumalai from Adaiyur, known fondly to all as Maappilai, was 45 years at the time of death, from a stroke after a debilitating bout of covid. He left behind a wife and 3 children. He worked as a manual labourer for the Forest Way for almost 17 years, mostly with a smile on his face. Whatever the work, people would be happy to have him on board as he made things lighter with his good cheer and positive spirit.
We’ve continued with COVID relief through the year, though at a slower pace. We’ve distributed provision packets in Tiruvannamalai area, Chennai, Nagapattinam District and for craft workers in Kanyakumari. During the latest rains we’ve offered assistance in some of Chennai’s flooded areas.
During the long summer months while the school was shut, parents from Marudam School initiated a small learning center to provide with extra-curricular activities to children from the area.
We delight in being rain watchers, which means we have been measuring rainfall in Tiruvannamalai every year and have data for over 23 years now.
We follow weather predicting sites and measure rainfall in 5 different places around Tiruvannamalai. You will be surprised at how much variation there is within these 5 places located within a maximum of 10 kilometers from each other.
Our well which is the best indicator of ground water in the farm is watched closely. It is the lifeline of the farm and the decision to grow crops is based on our assessment of continued availability of water from the well. It also happens to be the private swimming pool of the residents of the community and students in the school.
This year has been a fascinating year, with us all set to record perhaps the wettest year in the history of Tiruvannamalai. It is definitely the wettest year in our records. We have so far received 1780 mm of rain with our average being around 900 mm.
It all began steadily, with 7 days of rain each during July, August and September. October had 18 rainy days and 400 mm of rainfall and in November we experienced 23 days of rain and nearly 500 mm. (These two months alone had our average annual rainfall!)
Every water body in this region has filled and is overflowing. There are water birds flying all over. Suddenly it has become their world – a water world. While planning local travel we have to figure out which road is not under water!
And the farm has turned into a swamp. We have multiple streams running through the farm and the road ways have turned into slush paths. There are fish in the most unexpected places. Some of us have taken to wearing rubber boots to prevent and cope with athlete’s foot disease. This looks funny and incongruous in Tiruvannamalai.
There came a point where we were looking skywards hoping for a day or two of sun! In Tiruvannamalai?!
In the Way of the Forest
2021 has been an interesting mix of continuation and consolidation of our well-established greening work, along with some new themes and focuses.
We began planting in July and have planted about 12,000 trees in seven different locations, including plots on the upper side of three seasonal lakes, an ecosystem that we have been moving into in recent years. We’ve also continued our planting on the Arunachala Mountain, which is now clearly at its greatest level of forest cover in a century or more.
This year’s planting focused on a somewhat degraded area on the plain at the base of the hill, along with two locations on the upper slopes, where the focus was on creating patches of evergreen forest among the general mixed deciduous makeup of the emerging ecosystem. Shyam, returning from a four month apprenticeship in ecological horticulture at the Auroville Botanical Gardens brought a passion for the unique evergreens of the Eastern Ghats, and has now taken a key role as part of the vision and monitoring of the planting work.
Seed collection in Aalampoondi, Singarapettai, Melpattu, and Polur
Marudam Farm School
Facing the ever-changing Covid directives and wanting to explore educational possibilities where digital media is not the only player, we chose to leverage being an Environmental school and the fact that most of our students are from the neighborhood to increase our engagement with nature through a variety of projects and activities.
With standing water over most of the ground during the copious North-East monsoon, the vegetable gardens on the farm were hard hit. All of the papayas died due to water-logging, as did nearly all of the vegetables and even a few young fruit trees. Only since the end of November were we able to start picking up the pieces and start afresh, with the hope of seeing some produce in the coming months. Of course, water-loving paddy is a winner in this situation, and by now all our rice fields are planted with various degree of maturation, and we hope for a bumper crop in the coming months.
Thamarai Kulam Updates
Work at Thamarai Kulam has continued in bursts and spurts throughout the past year. Due to Covid regulations we are yet to open the park officially although some areas are ready to be opened to the public. Still, people from the locality come to watch the work and enjoy the space during working hours. Here are a few photos to give a taste of the beauty that is unfolding:
Over the summer our school kids were busy painting a large mural on Thamarai Kulam’s walls, at the guidance of Krishnapriya and Naren, Porkodi and other artist friends
ARS Weaving Center
These year we’ve discovered a whole new colorful and exciting world of embroidery.
We also experimented with up-cycling (using old material to create new artifacts) and learned a whole lot about natural dye. The children delighted in eco-printing, and one of the classes used the summer to design, stitch and embroider their own cloths!
All are welcome to come and see our work and put orders for stitching/craft of any kind.
Interface with the neighbouring Narikuravar and Irula community
It has been almost a year since our new neighbours – Narikuravars and Irulas – have settled into their permanent homes, built for them by the Government. Even before they shifted into our village, we visited them in their previous housing and discussed how we could best welcome them. We started by planting trees in front of their soon-to-be-new-homes, and our engagement with them has been ongoing ever since, planting more trees and taking classes for them to improving their literacy and numeracy as well as trying to impart environmental awareness to life around us!