Tate  |  She/Her

I'm Calling to Report a Crime

Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests

Session 5: February 2, 2023

That was it.

She had pronounced precisely, perfectly what I had failed to for eighteen years. With that single word she captured its raw beauty: the birds in their sweet symphony. The quiet, enigmatic rustling of leaves. The majestic army of trees, standing tall and unblinking, whether rain or shine. When she said that word I felt its light, sylvan charm rush through me, filling me whole.

She called my home a paradise.

Oh, paradise. She would not know that this magic spell would disappear in a few months.​

Nor would I.

Like a cancer patient, the forest was losing its hair far too quickly. Chunk by chunk the branches fell, with me scrambling to salvage as much as I could. For the first time in eighteen years, I could see through the leaves and branches outside my window. The never-ending patch of green was gone. Pallidly the trunks swayed in the wind, trying to stand tall. What was initially a thick and thriving piece of nature was now reduced to rows of balding, leafless, skinny sticks.

I remember the queasy, stomach-churning horror in me as I watched the squeaky cranes inch closer to the swathe of trees. Slowly they bent down, dug their claws into the ground, and yanked—the tree fell down, not with a single thud but with uncanny similarity to the beat of a million breaking bones. I heard my heart slam to the ground. The death of a tree. I felt like reporting it to the police. (In fact, I did report it to the police.)

I couldn’t take my eyes off the scene—it was that kind of horrific, grotesque thing that you just need to take one last look at. You know something horrific is happening, and you don’t want to hide from it. you want to be exposed to the bare truth of it, you want to feel every inch of it, you want to truly know it before it’s gone. The monotone growl of the machine. The indifferent, repetitive actions: claw, pull, throw. CLAW, PULL, THROW. I watched them struggle with one particularly stubborn tree. First beaten to the ground, it pounced back to life, then beaten again, it forced itself upright once more. What perseverance! Finally, the machine gave up, easily dug a circle around the plant, tore open the piece of ground, and flung the tree over. The breath in the tree died as it wobbled to stillness. Futile perseverance.

I jerked the window shut so I would not hear the sound of death. I pulled the curtain so I would not see. I forced myself to focus on my upcoming exams. For weeks, I made sure I only came home past sunset, so everything was dark, and I could continue kidding myself the trees were still there.

In Singapore, where everything operates with an uncanny efficiency, it’s difficult to build memories in a place that will last, and find a sense of connection to a place. I was lucky to have known and loved a forest, at least for a while, in my life. I remember, when I was sixteen, my teacher asked the class:

“How many of you are satisfied with the greenery in your residential area?”

I shot my hand up in the air proudly. Then, glancing around my class of forty, I was stunned to realize that only one other person raised her hand.​

I’ve always stayed in Bedok, but today I don’t recognize it anymore. Where home was once a place of solace and calm, today it terrifies me greatly that almost every week I see an alien appendage stuck somewhere.

“Save Semakau,” they tell us cheerily, referring to our only landfill, which is rapidly running out of space, while digging out our fine floor tiles to trash.

“Reduce, reuse, recycle!” they nod eagerly, while furiously uprooting our landscapes, replacing them with some more stolen sand. 

“Turn off your lights,” they warn us sternly, while decorating our apartment blocks with TV screens, blind to its invasive lurid artificial light that is more threatening than inviting. 

The absurdity of it makes me want to shout, “Stop!” It makes me want to scream. I’m sick of seeing my home, my memories, my childhood, bought away with dollars and cents. Forcing us to be complicit in delusional development, and to lead lifestyles that no planet can sustain.

Tate is an undergraduate student majoring in environmental and political science. She loves writing about nature and reading Singlit, especially those documenting her Peranakan culture. Outside of writing, she is interested in exploring the power of the law to create spaces for climate justice.