Down In Jungleland
It’s funny how we take them for granted: I’m terrible at identifying them and there’s really no excuse, for unlike birds, trees don’t fly away. That’s probably because you keep thinking, “ah it’s not going anywhere, I can always come back and check it out!” Which, of course, you never do.
Sadly, trees do disappear and it’s equally astonishing how they keep getting in our way even though the only way they can go is up. Somehow they’re perpetually blocking the routes of our flyovers and bridges and roads — not to mention the Metro rail — and also the winter sun. Also, birds perch on them and crap on our shiny new cars. So down they must come, felled totally or lopped horrendously. Of course, in these days of “environmental awareness” replacement trees are planted (10 per casualty) in places where we think they will not come in our way, but heck, what does it matter because most don’t survive very long.
But it’s time we stood under a tree and thought about it a bit. This giant that towers 50 feet or more above your head and has a rustling green canopy the size of a circus tent started life as a miniscule seed, or fragile sapling. In almost total silence, over a period of maybe 50 years, it grew, drawing only water and minerals from the earth, carbon dioxide from the air and sunlight to construct its graceful cathedral-like structure. And in the process, sustained a host of other life forms: ants that cruise back and forth like traffic on highways, myriads of beetles and grubs buried under the bark, birds and mammals that help themselves to berries, drupes or fruits — and build homes in them, bees and wasps busy with their nectar-making and pollination duties and generations of children who take joy in swarming up them.
All the while, the tree gets on with its own business — pumping up water from deep underground, its leaves producing food, starch and sugars, through the magic of photosynthesis — while emitting oxygen as a waste product and enabling us to live, its mesh of roots holding the very earth together. Its flowers, often dazzling and fragrant, attract insects with treats of nectar and pollen. Fruit, bursting with sweet juice, is dangled enticingly to tempt birds, bats and other animals which will in return, scatter its seeds far and wide. On top of that, it air-conditions and purifies the environment too and provides shade on blistering days. And nearly every part of it — roots, leaves, bark, will have some medicinal value.
Can any human-made factory emulate that? Can we produce anything at all, without making an ungodly din or fouling our surroundings?
Its architecture is a marvel of civil engineering enabling it to withstand ferocious gales — coconut trees have leaves like sails stuck way up on the top of one supple mast, and roots which don’t seem to go too deep, yet they’re out there on the beachheads meeting the monsoon head on!
Tree defenses: thorns and spikes, poisons like tannins, cyanide and nicotine, and alkaloid-filled leaves which could give a buffalo a heart attack. And trees are long-lived — the oldest range from between 2,000 to 6,000 years, so they’ve seen most of history as we know it. And consider this: no trees, no wood, no sailing ships and planes, no trains, no exploration, no history as we know it, no paper and no cooked food!
And what do we do? We squint up the trunk of a 400-foot tall giant that maybe was around in the time of the Pharaohs, swagger a bit and switch on our power saws. And bring down entire rainforests.
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