In such a vast panorama only a fifth—maybe tenth—of the land is filled with trees. The rest is taken by thigh-high, chest-high 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, especially choppy now during the monsoons. It is a flat-topped shrub, deep green, whose stem-branches are twisted and covered in green moss. There are hundreds of acres of them, falling away before me, rising on the hills on my left, on the hills on my right, up the hills ahead, and everywhere behind me. Only a few gaunt trees stand among the shrub, planted to a plan for just-so-much shade—the stubborn strands on pates gone bald. On the crests of hills the trees are lush and thick, like hair on the punk’s head.
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 the camera and I failed to manage the two and yet remain dry. Behind me the bungalow is in darkness: the power-supply has been halted by rain. The wind is whistling and hissing in and around the bungalow, and on the hilltops it is taking the trees every way, pushing and pulling them, ravishing them, and they grind together, and heave, and reach a crescendo of movement and a voluptuous roar erupts from them that shakes this world, after which the wind collapses, and the trees with it, and they rest a while before the next bout.
The rain comes pouring and stays and comes back again. Ganesh (the General Manager of Kadamane Estate) was confident when he told me that Agumbe has lost its status to Kadamane, that it now receives the highest rainfall, four-hundred inches last year.
In a cusp between the farthest hills there is a silver glow that is now covered, now uncovered. Columns of flat cloud the height of hills move stealthily on the right, as though wishing not to interrupt the lovemaking all round. Each column is like a diaphanous side-screen in a giant theater: they flutter as they move one behind the other in a long line in which the start and the end are merged with the hills in front and the hills behind. They walk 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, now seeming like thin tall furtive ghosts.
When the rain commences 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 their insistent sound move with pressing urgency, curving round and away, traveling far, curling quickly back, touching 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—the tea sparkle, the trees lift, and the hills sizzle. But there is a sound now, which does not rob the silence, the sound of water gushing everywhere, in grooves and gutters, falling from the roof, gurgling down the steep slopes, gaining volume, growing louder and louder as it goes. I think of the water-falls in the bends of the tracks, and the muscular streams, and the swollen red river that I saw earlier when Ganesh took me on a tour of the plantation.
Darkness has begun to fall, and 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 the world. Abruptly, darkness falls. There is no moon, there are no stars—only sound, but I haven’t heard a single bird all evening. The lights have come on in the bungalow; it is time to go in.
The fire before me has been burning since five. I read Kapuscinski’s account of the civil war in Angola in 1975. The FNLA and UNITA have converged on Luanda in multiple columns from the north and the south. The MPLA have begun to mobilize the whole population for the decisive battle for the newborn nation. A chapter remains, 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. The play of rain and wind is unabated outside, but it settles in a quiet corner in my mind. Later, when I pull the sheets over me, the sounds come back to the fore: the continual whoosh outside, the roaring in the far woods that won’t stop. The thought comes to me that this building where I’m sleeping might be blown away tonight, but in a few seconds deep sleep has engulfed me and my fears. I’ve breathed so much fresh air, no dreams come.