Seasonal Wonderlands, on Sony BBC Earth, celebrates the natural world and offers escape from climate change reality
Seasonal Wonderlands, with technical brilliance, celebrates the inter-species connections holding up ecosystems of the natural world.
The roughly 200,000 leaves on each of the approximately 17 billion trees in the US’ New England forests go through a unique life-cycle each year, growing from bud to bright green, and then changing from golden-yellow to fiery red, before dropping to the ground. The New England forests, rich with maples and oaks, are known for this dramatic and colourful change, so spectacular that it can be noticed even from space.
These forests are one of the three landscapes documented in Sony BBC Earth’s upcoming docu-series Seasonal Wonderlands, which focuses on such dramatic changes. The other episodes in the three-part series are the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard, which transforms from frozen winter to rich tundra, and Botswana’s Okavango Delta, whose yearly flooding infuses life into the landscape.
Through taking viewers inside these dramatic landscapes, the show focuses not only on how and why these transformations happen, but also on how the surrounding wildlife responds to this change. In exploring the ways different species adapt to these changeable lands, the show celebrates the interconnected quality of the natural world.
"What happens in each of these places is the big change cascades throughout all life. It’s a chain reaction and all life responds in its unique ways. (It’s) fundamentally (about) how these animals get food and reproduce,” says Paul Williams, director and producer of the New England episode. “We explore the small, intricate details. These films are like interpersonal portraits of these remarkable places where we talk about how the individual species fits into the bigger picture, the ecology, the environment,” he adds.
These minute details and astounding shots are captured through an expert lens, showing how each of these landscapes buzz with life and activity, making the natural world come alive for the viewer in all its beauty and brutality.
As it gets warmer in New England for instance, and water courses through the trees, it picks up the sugar stored in the wood. And as this sugar surges through the tree, fuels the birth of nutrient-rich buds that will open into leaves. However, certain twigs on the trees have also felt the warmth and started coming to life; looper caterpillars, disguised all winter, hungry for sugar, immediately start devouring the buds.
“The diversity of caterpillars in New England is absolutely abounding. What I discovered when we first went to film is that every season throughout the year, there were a whole new group of caterpillars that come out, and feed on the leaves,” says Williams.
The sugar is also feasted on by birds like the yellow-bellied sapsucker and the ruby-throated hummingbird, both flying in all the way from Mexico. The moose on the ground start chewing on leaves, and as a defence, trees flood their leaves with tannin, a repulsive chemical. But even tannin is not enough to stop an insect like the leaf miner, which literally tunnels its way under the leaf, avoiding all the surface tannin and reaching the sugar underneath, draining off the life from the leaf.
Besides species adapting, another theme running strongly through the show is the interconnectedness of the natural world, reminding how all different species exist in a delicate balance. Like the New England episode, which shows how the dominance of oaks and maples in the forest came about, and is sustained. Beavers, with iron-infused teeth, through biting into it, can fell a 10-inch-wide tree in just a couple hours. By felling the softer trees, they are making more place for oaks and maples to spread. Chipmunks, who collect and store acorns for the winter, sometimes forget where they have buried their treasures, giving those underground seeds a better chance of sprouting into more trees.
But most defining is the impact of human intervention on the forest. Four hundred years ago, as British settlers landed here, they cut down the older, bigger trees to build towns and settlements. But eventually, as they moved elsewhere to look for better prospects, the forest reclaimed the land. Now, however, with empty space from the felling of bigger trees, the fast-growing oaks and maples could spread over the land. Today, they dominate the forest, leading to the forests’ colour-changing spectacle.
While given the felling of old-growth trees, it is challenging for this writer to see the intervention in a positive light, if the settlers had not done so, the forest we see today “just wouldn’t be as bright,” says Williams. “I’ve filmed in more than 40 countries, and everywhere I go, you see signs of humanity, how we interfere with the natural world. Unfortunately, in many places, the consequences are negative. But in New England, it’s created this very rich, diverse environment, where the wildlife is thriving. And although humans changed the forest, the forest we have now is very rich,” he adds.
This positive narrative is in line with the overall mood of the series, which focuses steadfastly on celebrating the beauty and life of each place, staying away, for the most part, from the negative impact of man-made climate change, the effects of which are everywhere today. “I’ve filmed around the world in the past 20 years. When I look back at the stories, all the amazing spectacles, I can find a negative impact from climate change on every single one of those stories,” says Williams.
So by offering viewers a window into an almost utopic vision where the natural world is unaltered by human intervention, the show offers a welcome escape from the unending real-world environmental destruction, being a steady balm for mental health.
“We could very easily have found ways to speak about the negative impacts of human beings on these environments. But I think Seasonal Wonderlands is a chance for people to sit back and enjoy an escape into the wonders of nature for a moment. And right now, people need that,” says Williams.
Through exploring the changes of three landscapes, Seasonal Wonderlands, with technical brilliance, shows viewers how despite human intervention, the wildness has remained, revelling in the incredibly strong inter-species connections holding up ecosystems of the natural world.
Seasonal Wonderlands premiered at 9 PM (IST) on Saturday (27 June) on Sony BBC Earth.
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