Sunday, January 18, 2009

Planting Trees

A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease. Every hidden cell is throbbing with music and life, every fiber thrilling like harp strings, while incense is ever flowing from the balsam bells and leaves. No wonder the hills and groves were God's first temples, and the more they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord himself.

~John Muir

Trees are poems that earth writes upon the sky,
We fell them down and turn them into paper,
That we may record our emptiness.

~Kahlil Gibran

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in their way.

~William Blake

One of the more memorable moments of my life occurred when I returned to a place where I had planted pine seedlings when I was a boy scout. It had been less than twenty years since the chilly spring afternoon when we set out the pines. Seeing them after that passage of time, I could not believe how high they reached into the Carolina sky.

Since then, I've planted dozens (if not hundreds) of trees and had the pleasure of watching some of them grow tall. With a little luck, I’ll enjoy the shade of trees I’ve not yet planted. But I will need to plant them soon.

The humble shepherd, Elzéard Bouffier, in Jean Giono’s parable of The Man Who Planted Trees, is a source of inspiration. And after reading the story again, I began to wonder about real-life Elzéard Bouffiers.

With just a little work, it was easy to find equally inspiring individuals who have established forests on barren stretches of the planet. Some amazing stories of reforestation come from India:

Vishweshwar Dutt Saklani in Uttar Pradesh, is a small time farmer who started planting trees to seek solace after the death of his brother (who had initiated the practice) in 1948. Since then, Vishweshwar has planted 100 hectares of land with oak, cedar, walnut and rhododendron. People were dismissive of him until they saw the change that his work had brought about in the village. Denuded hills became green, land became more fertile and dry streambeds filled up. Fodder and fuel were in plenty.

Nestled deep in the Garhwal hills of Uttarakhand the Pujar village echoes with the voice of the 'Tree Man' as Saklani is popularly known, as he goes into a trance and sings an ode to his trees.

His mission to turn the forest once barren, into lush green hills has rightly earned him the title, Vriksha mitra or friend of trees.

For Saklani, the jungles were his second home where he walked the forest trails planting trees. His daily walks gave life to over 50 lakh trees across 1,200 hectares around his village ranging from the rhododendron to his all time favourite, the Himalayan Oak.

Many villagers who have grown up watching the tree man at work feel inspired by his dedication to the forests. Asha, a teacher, said that he treated the forests like his children and he has contributed a lot to the environment.

"His main aim in life was to plant trees. He would leave home at four in the morning and return late in the evening and food was never a priority for him," said Deepak, a local.

In another instance from India, Bikkalu Chikkaiah and Thimmakka were a childless couple who worked in a quarry close to Bangalore. They decided to raise banyan trees in lieu of the children they were unable to have. So they chose a barren piece of land en route to their quarry. The couple planted saplings and put protective barriers around them. In the evenings, they lugged water from a well a kilometre away. 40 years later, 284 banyan trees provided shade to a 3km stretch.

Similar examples are highlighted at:

In 1998. Environment News Service shared the story of a tree planter in Mangalore, India:

Standing in a sun-scorched arid stretch of land he had newly bought, Abdul Karim made himself a promise, "I will turn this ochre expanse green."

Nineteen years later as he walks through that land, there is the twitter of birds in the air scented with the fragrance of wild flowers. Karim has kept his promise, creating a whole forest out of nothing.

[After planting the forest] Karim dug a pond in his plot and the villagers were amazed to find plenty of water in it. It was the first time someone had struck water in that part of the village. But Karim knew, from his feel for nature, that there would be water if there were trees. The deciduous trees he grew were the kind that drink in water during the rains and release it to the earth during summer. The leaves they shed helped replenish the groundwater level.

As the trees grew tall, birds began nestling in them. "Birds are the natural carriers of many seeds, and they dropped the seeds of many varieties of trees and plants here," says Karim.

"Thus trees like sandalwood and ebony began growing here. If we respect nature she shows us greater respect."

To him, the forest is like a living being. He has never cut wood or even broken a branch or killed any of the animals. They are guests in his green shelter, and he makes no money out of it. "This forest is not for making money," he says. "I created it to enjoy living here."

Entire ENS story at:

Here's one more hero of reforestation:

Dr. Wangari Maathai of Kenya founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977 and has become known as “The Tree Mother of Africa.” The grassroots environmental group that she organized has planted more than 30 million trees across Kenya to prevent soil erosion. In 2004 Maathai became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.

Wangari Maathai discusses the relationship between culture and the environment:

Too often, when we talk about conservation, we don’t think about culture. But during our work with the Green Belt Movement, we realized that some of the communities had lost aspects of their culture that facilitated conservation of the environment.

Culture defines who we are and how we see ourselves. A new attitude toward nature provides space for a new attitude toward culture and the role it plays in sustainable development.

Mount Kenya, African’s second highest peak, is a World Heritage Site. It is topped by glaciers and is the source of many of Kenya’s rivers. Now, partly because of climate change and partly because of logging and encroachment due to crop cultivation, the glaciers are melting. Many of the rivers flowing from the mountain have dried up or their levels have declined. Biological diversity is threatened as the forests fall.

Mount Kenya used to be sacred to the Kikuyu people. If the mountain was still given the reverence the culture accorded it, people would not have allowed illegal logging and clear-cutting in the forests. Cultural revival might be the only thing that stands between the conservation or destruction of the environment.

More at:


Anonymous said...

Among some of my fondest
memories are the days I spent
helping my dear friends plant
thousands of seedlings/bare
root trees on their property
in Wyoming.

Anonymous said...

I too remember planting seedlings in a logged area of the Piedmont. Many others have participated; my ecology professor Dr Bob Peet at UNC wrote that the majority of forest land in North Carolina in the early '80s was cleared land in the 20's- we live in a state that is more forested than 80+ years ago, hard as that may be to believe...

Class of '74

GULAHIYI said...

Hello, '74...good point about this state being more heavily forested. I need to scan and post a photo from my 1896 edition of "NC and Its Resources." It shows a nearby farming valley that looked like Kansas - hardly a tree to be seen.