Sunday, January 15, 2017

50 Shades of Red

For a while now, I have been attracted by tufts of purple fountain grass scattered by the roadside on Dolphin Hill where I reside. This once when I was away and got back after a fortnight, I was greeted by swards of it—gently swaying or flailing madly depending on the intensity of the wind—on the periphery of my neighbourhood. Either the Administrative Office slipped up (unlikely) or the conservancy staff played truant (highly probable), but the weed-lover in me stood to gain in the bargain. Pennisetum setaceum 'rubrum' grass is common to countryside and urban wasteland, both in India and East Africa, two of my favourite destinations in the whole world. 

What is so special about this invasive species that sends me into raptures? For one, a single individual goes through ‘50 shades of red’, so to say, in an entire life-cycle. What’s more, a full field reflects the same—simultaneously—as in a time-lapse gif! The description ‘purple’ in this fountain grass, therefore, is bit of a misnomer. Before I knew better, I thought that the stalks at various stages of growth were different species altogether. A sample of the spectrum of shades the grass runs through in its life-time looks like this: blood red, maroon, wine red, plum, burgundy, crimson, scarlet, brown, wood purple, and even pink, before it loses its blush and becomes ‘Plain Jane’ beige, cream, and buff. During these stages the hairy spikes and sharp contours of the taut seed-heads go through their own metamorphoses becoming more blunted in appearance and fluffy.

A field of purple grass is a photographer’s delight. The plumes blush at the first flush of the sun. The filament-like hairs on their margin throw up a golden aura that is hypnotic. My predicament then is like a hungry lion in the midst of a mega herd of wildebeest.  There is stimulation overload as the stalks outdo each other vying for the attention of my lens. I have shot individual stalks with character, 'strawberry popsicles' laden with dew drops, bouquets of burgundy and other monochromes. At sunset hour, the grass heads internalize the glow of the retreating sun providing stunning backlit shots. That is as much as stalks as a ‘subject’ is concerned.

The fountain grass gets me excited for other reasons. I love green that dominates our countryside, but as a nature photographer I find the virid canvas boring and am always on the lookout for alternatives for a vivid bokeh (a Japanese term for the much-sought-after or desired background blur by creative photographers).  I can anticipate countless possibilities to capture wildlife against the backdrop of the Pennisetum. 

Butterflies and dragonflies fancy this firmament and birds such as chiff-chaff and grassbirds find it a good place to hide and forage. The blood-red male Scarlet Skimmer aka Crimson Darter aka Ruddy Marsh Skimmer dragonfly (and its golden counterpart) cling to the stalks disappearing under your very nose, in a Houdini act. When camouflage artistes that are symbiotic to this ecosystem present themselves on the stalks it is sheer magic. 

At the end of its life-cycle, the seeds that are ever-so-delicately held together on the stalks cleave at the slightest hint of breeze leaving behind bare needles. Often times as seeds shed off the stalk, cottony wisps stick out. On closer scrutiny—this once—I discovered a white spider, well camouflaged!

All Photographs in this blog and website are the Author's Original work/Copyright. 

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