Posted by: gdevi | December 21, 2009

On Killing a Tree

A week that killed me with grading–four courses and an overload–but I posted the last of the grades an hour ago and I feel so good! Now I can sleep! The linguistics and grammar kids have learned so much; this is why it is so wonderful to be a teacher. What more can you ask for in life? Now I will do all the christmas stuff which I have been very delinquent about–I put up the tree but that is it. Have to send the cards to India, England, North Dakota and Texas and wrap the present for Daya, get a haircut; every time my hair grows an inch I feel so handicapped.  Krish, Dayani and the dogs–they all have longer hair than I do, at this point. But anyway all day I was thinking of this astounding scene in Avatar where the bombs finally blast, shatter, fragment and annihilate the oldest tree in the Na’avi forest.  You should see the movie just to see this scene. It is an incredible scene. You see the tree falling falling falling in stages; when a huge tree falls your senses cannot grasp the magnitude of its destruction all at once. You have to see it in stages and that is what Cameron shows us. It brought me back to when I was growing up in India–I must have been 11 or 12 and we had this huge, huge tamarind tree in our backyard–it was a very big tree–spread out its branches would have been at least a half a mile long in circumference. Very big tree with beautiful sturdy long branches. One spring all the tamarind trees got this heavy ant infestation and our tamarind tree got infected as well. And reluctantly we had to cut this tree down. So we called these men who cut trees for a living and they arrived with their saws and ropes. Unlike here in the US, tree-felling is a low-tech event in India-everything is done manually and takes at least a couple of days from start to finish, especially for such a big tree. I remember them felling that tree–I would sit in the little verandah behind the kitchen and watch them cutting the tree–the first thing you notice about a tree getting cut is the smell of its sap, killing a tree releases a smell, an organic smell, like blood or sweat, the smell of it getting cut, the bone like insides of that humongous trunk, the smell of these men who wrestled the tree down–thin, wiry men, but they were strong enough to confront the resistance of earth, of trees–they smoked beedies–hand r0lled tobacco–sweat running down their back–hacking hacking away at that massive and calm tree trunk with their hand-saws, unmoving, and how they cut and cut and cut into it until it finally started to topple down. It took them two days to bring that tree down and then to dig up the root from under the ground.  Occasionally they would look my way when they started to hack really really hard and splinters started flying from the tree, they would look my way, and tell me, daughter, go inside, these shards will get in your eyes. It was my job to bring them water to drink once in a while. I would stay there though and when these men took a break to smoke their beedies, I would go out to where the tree lay in shambles, branch lying upon branch, piled high in no order, I liked to climb that pile. It was like a trampoline–very airy and light and bouncy because the branches were all still with sap and not dried up and dead yet. I would walk all over those fallen branches; it was just this most wonderful feeling. I would run inside and call Appu and ask him to come out and walk with me on the branches. We would stand there and start jumping up and down careful not to fall through the branches. We also had to be careful not to get bitten by the ants that were living on the leaves. It took these men about a week to remove the entire tree from our backyard and everyday we would go out and jump on it–each day it started to bounce  less and less–getting fried by the sun and drying up and dying quickly.  The hole where that tamarind tree stood was like a crater; what these people who cut down trees for no reason and destroy the environment do not realize is that you are really upsetting the earth, the soil layers, the strata when you do stuff like this. If a tree cannot be saved, it is understandable, but this wanton destruction is so unwise.

Here is a good poem — On Killing a Tree by Gieve Patel. I thought of this poem when I saw the tree-killing scene in Avatar:

It takes much time to kill a tree,
Not a simple jab of the knife
Will do it.
It has grown
Slowly consuming the earth,
Rising out if it, feeding
Upon its crust, absorbing
Years of sunlight, air, water,
And out of its leprous hide
Sprouting leaves.
So hack and chop
But this alone won’t do it.
Not so much pain will do it.
The bleeding bark will heal
And from close to the ground
Will rise curled green twigs,
Miniature boughs
Which if unchecked will expand again
To former size.
The root is to be pulled out
Out of the anchoring earth;
It is to be roped, tied,
And pulled out-snapped out
Or pulled out entirely,
Out from the earth-cave,
And the strength of the tree exposed,
The source, white and wet,
The most sensitive, hidden
For years inside the earth.
Then the matter
Of scorching and choking
In sun and air,
Browning, hardening,
Twisting, withering,
And then it is done.



  1. Happy Valentine’s Day

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