Editors note. This poem was written as a sponsored fund raising marathon over one 24 hour period. To sponsor please visit http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/CharlesBarber1 Enjoy!
A Love of Trees
by Charles Barber
Perhaps it all began back in my childhood
When as a kid, aged about 7 or 8,
My brother decided to model me,
(Having just acquired a new camera)
As his daft younger brother,
Hugging a tree.
Of course it is only the photo I remember,
Now lost in a distant attic, or buried at a dump,
But still the connection remains,
And a part of me will always be
Somehow connected to the trees.
Other early memories crowd in on me,
A walk on holiday, in which I lagged behind
And went the wrong side of the fence,
And became separated from my parents,
Yet was not scared, in truth enjoyed the freedom
Of wandering lost amongst the trees,
Carelessly exploring the wood’s secrets,
Only, of course, revealed to me.
Or later when a bit older,
Lying in the dappled shade
Of our birch tree grove at the bottom of our garden,
Looking up at a perfect summer sky
Reading aloud the poems of Gerard Manly Hopkins,
Believing that I was really communing with nature.
Oh the sweet glorious innocence of youth!
And then a long ago bike ride,
Down numerous country lanes,
Overhang by guardian branches,
Cycling away from problems I didn’t understand,
Till at last I found an oak tree to sit against,
Relaxed my mind and body against its rough protective bark,
Till I was not quite sure whether it was me or the tree,
That decided to go to Hong Kong.
Back in England, those same problems and insecurities,
Led to the dreaded black cloud of depression,
And a lovely lady named Peta,
Using her skilled therapeutic skills,
To help me out of my prison.
I still remember the most important dream
(Or at least that is how it seems to me),
I was walking through a barren burnt landscape,
And then suddenly, there were numerous tree seedlings,
Stretching as far as the eye could see,
Little signs of hope, joy and survival
Sprouting from the scorched, forgiving ground.
So, when many years later, my dear wife
(who incidentally Peta introduced me to),
Picked up a copy of The Ecologist for free in London,
Thinking it might interest me,
And within it there was an article by Daniel Elkan
About the work of Mike Hands
To find a way to prevent the destruction of the rainforests
By helping slash and burn farmers farm in a more sustainable manner,
By growing crops within alleys of a certain type of tree,
Maize in Inga alley. Photo Gaston Bityo 2012.
It somehow felt like something,
I needed to be involved in,
Which is why, as Rainforest Saver needs all the money it can find,
I’m writing this damn fool poem,
So please if you’ve got this far,
And wish to help both poor farmers and disappearing rainforests,
Sponsor me, or make a donation to the charity
And/or check out the web site
At www.rainforestsaver.org .
For this may not be much of a poem,
And I may not be much of a poet,
But it’s written with a deep respect for those on the front line,
Sowing the seeds, planting the trees, training the farmers
To become the saviours and guardians of the rainforests,
For this is a battle to be fought with spades and sweat
That we cannot afford to lose.
In these difficult economic times,
When banks are being bailed out,
We risk losing sight of perhaps the biggest bank of all,
The rainforests store a huge bank of carbon,
Which if lost, would have devastating consequences to our climate,
And a huge bank of species diversity,
Which once squandered can never be regained,
Which would have serious consequences for the future
And our food security.
Rainforest, Honduras. Photo Tiiu Miller 2009.
So next time you bite into a banana or piece of chocolate,
Spare a thought for the habitat from which they come,
For they may still hold disease resistant varieties
That we may need in the future,
And spare a thought for the toucan and the capuchin monkey,
Toucan. Photo Rick Seal.
The scarlet macaw and the jaguar,
The sloth and the giant anteater,
That have as much of a right to some sort of life
As you and I,
And then spare a thought
For the tropical trees, racing to reach the light,
That host orchids and bromeliads,
That breathe in the dangerous carbon dioxide
And breathe out the sweet oxygen
That we all need to live,
And that help to recycle the forests nutrients
So that some of the most diverse and vibrant eco-systems
Can exist on some of the thinnest, poorest soils,
And then consider how much of this wondrous marvel
The cleverest, most wasteful creature on our planet
Has already destroyed.
And then, if you haven’t yet done so,
Find out what Rainforest Saver are doing to help save them
At www.rainforestsaver.org .
Perhaps at some point in the past an adventurous red squirrel
Might have completed his own squirrel marathon
And leapt from the mighty stout-hearted oak
To the elegant rowan and thence to the ambivalent ash,
To the many-berried elder, to the intellectual elm,
To the graceful swaying birch, to the pungent pine
And on to the brooding alder, to the whispering weeping willow,
To the proud upright poplar, to the worldly majestic beech
And down to the plucky hazel and on to the generous chestnut,
Then to the shiny holly, next to the friendly field maple,
And even perhaps to the wise old yew,
Carrying on through numerous variations of these species
From the spot now called John O’Groats
To the place we now call Land’s End,
But that would have been before
The humans arrived.
First we plundered the woods,
To clear land for farming,
To build houses and ships,
To make furniture and tools.
All decent, reasonable reasons
To cut down trees.
Yet we were profligate.
Industrial agriculture ripped up numerous hedges,
Industrial forestry gave us monotone plantations,
And now so few ancient woods remain
To remind us of how much we’ve lost.
Yet we were lucky, our soils were good enough
To withstand the loss of so much tree cover
And still produce crops.
Not so in Iceland, which rich in forests
When the Vikings came,
Now has a cold desert in its middle
Where almost nothing will grow.
Just as well they have plenty of fish!
But now let’s have a break
From the mourning of long-dead forests.
Let’s celebrate the wonder of the living,
Taking a ride on the back a mythical bird guide,
That can travel the world,
Telling you stories
Of some of the world’s most marvellous trees.
“Look down from this chilly height
To Greenland’s barren tundra,
Take these extra powerful binoculars,
And you will see a plant with two leaves,
Ridiculously big for its size,
With either red or yellow catkins,
Depending on its sex.
Yes it is small isn’t it?
Salix herbacea, the smallest woody plant in the willow family
Grows to heights of 1 to 6 centimetres
With leaves between 1 and two centimetres
And is reckoned by some humans
To be the smallest tree in the world.
Salix herbacea (The Snowbed Willow) – Photo Opiola Jerzy on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salix_herbacea Creative Commons License.
Yes, it is cold, isn’t it?
So let’s head south to Africa
To visit the strangest looking of trees.
The upside down tree can look,
When it’s shed its leaves
As if it has roots, not branches,
Shimmering in the heat-stilled air.
It’s huge, preposterous-looking trunk
Can store up to 32,000 gallons
To help it survive the drought conditions
In which it thrives,
And its nutritional fruits
With hints of grapefruit, pear and vanilla.
They can be eaten fresh, added to porridge
Or sold to pay school fees.
Yes, this is the mighty improbable Baobab
And you can find some wonderful pictures on the web.
Andansonia digitata (The Baobab Tree) – Photo Quinn Norton on http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baobab Creative Commons License.
Now we’ll turn east. Let me show you something remarkable
Amongst the Tian Shu mountains of China.
Can you see those trees with the glorious yellow fan-shaped leaves,
Clinging steadfastly to the banks of streams
Or the edges of cliffs. These shining jewels
In their autumn attire are none other
Than Ginkgo biloba or the Maidenhair Tree.
These living fossils belong to a family
That pre-dates the dinosaurs,
And some individual specimens
Are believed to be more than 2,500 years old.
Their ability to withstand changing conditions
Is helped by embedded buds near the base of trunk
That can grow back when much of the tree is ruined,
And by aerial roots on long branches
That can produce a new stem if touching the ground.
Yet even these impressive attributes
Can not fully explain
The survival of 6 Ginkgo trees
After the atomic blast of Hiroshama.
Though hideously charred at the time
They now stand as healthy exemplars
Of nature’s strength and endurance.
Ginkgo leaves in autumn – Photo Joe Schneid on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ginkgo_bilobaCreative Commons License.
Now let’s fly south
To a land that’s sometimes called
120 odd miles north-west of Sydney
In the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area,
Until 1994, they’d merely found fossil evidence
Of a certain tree in the family Araucariaceae,
So imagine their excitement when at the bottom of a steep-sided gorge
They found actual living specimens
Of a plant, who’s oldest fossil
Dated from 200 million years ago.
Confusingly called the Wollemi Pine,
Though not a member of the pine family,
I like to think that the aborigines,
Who’s artistic cave paintings in the area
Date from a mere 4,000 years ago,
Knew of the location of these longed for gems
But preferred to keep it a secret.
After all the white man
Has not always had a good record
Of looking after nature’s treasures.
Wollemia nobilis (The Wollemi Pine), protected by a cage at a Botanic Garden. Photo Securiger on
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wollemia Creative Commons License.
But I can feel you’re tiring now,
All these facts and figures can be a bit exhausting,
And Australia’s a long way to travel,
Even when flying by mythical bird.
I’ll return you to your native land,
If that is, you come from the place
Computers call the United Kingdom,
And let you rest under your favourite tree,
The one you call the English Oak,
Even though it’s spread over numerous European countries,
Even reaching to Russia,
And revered by many peoples.
But you English have no compassion,
The oak tree is often placed
Beside village greens
Where you play this strange game called cricket.
The oak is therefore forced to watch
Through the golden days of summer,
People misusing bits of his arboreal brother,
The supple willow,
Now merely a plaything of you humans,
Bits of his body,
Merely sticks to hit a ball.
But it is evening now
And the sixes, fours and catches
Are being re-lived in the nearby pub,
So you can sleep in peace under the oak’s leafy glade,
But before you do,
There’s time for a bedtime story.
This is a tale from the Haida First Nation People,
Who live in and around Vancouver Island.
It is said that when the earth was very young
Their God Tetl flew around the earth,
Deciding where to place all the different kinds of people.
He found Vancouver island,
Where there were many fish in the rivers,
Many berries in the trees,
And many birds singing the sweetest songs,
And decided to place a robust red-skinned, handsome people there.
At first all was fine but then the people began to grow restless,
Wanting more and more,
Even though there was already plenty.
Tetl warned the people to change their ways,
But after a while the people forgot his warning,
The quarrelling turned to fighting
And the fighting turned into a terrible war.
Tetl was furious, and as a black cloud covered the land,
He turned all of the people to cedar trees.
Many years passed
And he decided to give red men
Another chance on Vancouver Island
But warned them what had happened before.
Now the Haida First Nation people,
View the cedars as their brothers,
Make use of the cedars to build their houses, canoes and totem poles,
Revere them as part of Tetl’s wise creation,
And if around the camp fire two young braves
Get too heated and are about to fight,
An elder will point to the distant cedar trees
And they’ll usually make up.
After all trees should be respected and loved
But most people
Wouldn’t want to turn into one.
Now sleep, tired traveller
For tomorrow we visit the rainforests.
Are you ready for the jungles of Borneo?
Now we will fly with the sun at our backs
Till we reach the green uneven blanket
That is so sadly beginning to unravel.
They keep discovering new amazing species here,
Such as a frog with no lungs,
The world’s longest insect
And a ninja slug, (such a wonderful name)
That fires love darts to its mate.
But the huge forests are rapidly shrinking.
It takes less time to fly over the blanket
Before you discover mile after mile of palm oil plantations,
Which makes you wonder how much longer
There will be much of a home
For the orang-u-tan and the pygmy elephant
For the Sumatran rhino and the clouded leopard.
It seems amazing that a product that is not really needed,
Which we can survive easily without
Can cause so much destruction,
But environmentally aware citizens are fighting back,
Activists in New Zealand and Australia
Have persuaded Cadburys to remove palm oil from its products there,
So next time you go shopping, you could check out the situation in the UK.
There is such a thing as environmentally sourced Palm Oil,
Taken from degraded land rather than logged rainforest
But it needs to be labelled CSPO.
Let’s find out if there is a more international campaign
To reduce the uses of palm oil,
And to put pressure on companies
That care only for profits
And not a fig about the rainforests.
Now I’m going to surprise you,”
And here the mythical bird,
Who seems something of an environmental activist,
And who you might even have forgot
You were riding,
Gives an appealingly saucy chuckle.
“Have you heard of Chico Mendez?
The poor rubber tapper, who fought so valiantly
For the rubber tappers’ rights,
And the protection of the Rainforests
In 1980s Brazil,
And who was assassinated
In December 1988.
Can you see those rubber trees?
And now can you see that building
Nestling neatly in the rainforest?
This is a factory that I think Chico
Would have approved of.
The factory here,
In northwestern Acre state
Produces 100 million condoms a year,
And not only helps Brazil in its successful campaign against Aids
But also helps protect the local rainforest.
Chico Mendes must be smiling up above
For his Reserve provides the rubber trees,
Which produce the only natural latex condoms in the world.
Rubber-tapping as you probably know,
Does not kill the trees,
But merely harvests a natural product,
So the forests are protected
And 550 rubber tappers can earn a decent wage.
Only in Brazil
Can the act of making love
Be of such a benefit to rainforest conservation.
But let us turn away
From those sexy, environmentally friendly
And travel half way
Up the sinuous snake
Of Central America,
Till we land on a beach in Honduras.
Here, dear reader, I shall ask you
To get off my aching back,
And bathe your sweating weary bodies
In the warm, welcoming water
Of the Carribean.
You might notice a few older mangroves
And some young ones, recently planted,
Thanks to the owner of the Reserve,
On whose land you’ll now tread softly.
I’ll pass you over to a human guide,
Who will lead you gently
Into the heart of a quebrada.
The quebradas are deep ravines,
Where remnants of the primary rainforest
Have survived, protected by their inaccesability,
And now, it seems to me,
Their abundant variety and vitality
Is spilling out over the rim of the ravine
And into this precious Reserve.
Take a stroll and you might come across
Five species of butterflies in a ten metre stretch.
Look up and you might find Capuchin Monkeys
Squabbling over mangoes or figs,
Or perhaps if you’re lucky
You might see a family of toucans,
Flying casually by.
Heliconia flowers from the Reserve and a student studying a tropical fruit tree. Photos Tiiu Imbi Miller 2009.
But be a bit more wary down in the quebrada,
Though I’m sure your guide will keep you safe,
The arching palms and other trees,
Some entwined with fat lianas,
Some sporting buttresses,
Close over the quebrada’s walls,
Shading out the tropical light.
In the gloom of the rainforest floor
Your guide will be the first to spot the boa constrictor,
And might even show you the pawprints
Of a black jaguar.
Such possible encounters add a certain frisson,
But don’t be too anxious,
Both snake and cat are wisely more scared of Man
Than you need be of them.
At the top of the mountain,
You will climb out of the quebrada,
Be offered a delicious fresh tropical fruit drink,
And after a suitable rest,
Be invited to view an Inga Demonstration Farm.
Here beans, maize, pineapples and cassava
Will be grown in tidy Inga alleys,
Which recycle the earth’s nutrients year after year,
Leading to bountiful harvests and a better life
For the farmer and his family.
Pineapple grown in an Inga alley. Photo Tiiu Miller2013.
Here there will be regular open days
To teach surrounding farmers about the new technique,
And in time poor tropical farmers will learn
To value the Inga hedge.
This means less rainforest will be destroyed
By continual burning
And more will be saved
For future generations.
The great reduction of erosion also means
That the coral reefs beyond the mangroves
Will not be damaged by silt.
Waves breaking over coral reef, N. coast of Honduras. Photo Guillermo Valle.
In time we hope they will recover their former glory.
A restored forest, a settled and prosperous farming community
And a repaired reef, teeming with fish,
Will makes this Reserve
A beacon of sustainable tourism.
(Two days pass, dear reader, in which
You have a wonderful time at the Funavid Reserve).*
But now it is time to climb back on your favourite mythical bird
For one last big adventure.
*We hope that our partner Dr Dodson, who is in charge of the Funavid Reserve, will soon be ready to receive visitors, so if you’re interested in visiting his tropical paradise, please keep an eye on the Rainforest Saver web site.
“Now we must fly back across the Atlantic
To a land called the Cameroons.
I want you to meet a true hero
Of the Inga Movement,
And see how many farmers
Are now taking up the system.
Gaston Bityo, a farmer and botanist,
Who runs the NGO Volunteers Serving Development
To help farmers farm in a sustainable way,
Found the Rainforest Saver web site,
Gaston Bityo Delor, giving instructions about Inga alley cropping.
Contacted Tiiu, our Secretary,
And initially with just one Inga tree for seeds,
Began raising seedlings,
And demonstrating to local farmers
How the new technique worked.
He now has many farmers
In different parts of the country
Trying the new system,
And many, many more
Who are very keen to try it.
Rainforest Saver has helped him to create
The beginnings of a beautiful project.
He now has a truck to transport seedlings,
Which has made a big difference.
Yet a truck needs diesel
And local nurseries near the farmers
Need a paid worker to grow and look after the seedlings.
Gaston is doing a brilliant job with limited resources
But is still dependent on Rainforest Saver
To keep his project on track.
Inga nursery at Bizang. Photo by Gaston Bityo 2012.
So please if you can, give Rainforest Saver
And all its partners in Honduras and the Cameroons
A helping hand.”
So saying, the mythical bird vanishes
As suddenly as it appeared.
My love of trees led me to get involved with RFS
But it is also a sense of injustice that keeps me committed to it.
Slash and burn farmers usually have no land rights
And get pushed onto the worst land for farming.
They have had a raw deal for far too long.
The trees and in particular the tropical rainforests
Have also been continually exploited.
Much of our planet is sick,
But I see each Inga seedling,
That we can help our partners plant
As a kind of health-giving arboreal injection
To help heal our ailing world.
This is not much of a poem,
And I am not much of a poet
But the work of Rainforest Saver
Needs all the help it can get!
Charles. Photo Tiiu Miller.
For more information about how Rainforest Saver is helping poor tropical farmers farm more sustainably and how this can help preserve rainforests, browse this web site.