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Wood For the Trees


I had been hiking through the reserve for two days when I arrived at Cathedral de Alercer. Officially the Alercer National Park in Chile was closed for the rainy season. When I arrived at the southern gate the ranger tried to discourage me from entering and totally forbade me from camping. So I hitched to the western gate and fortune was upon me – the ranger was tucked up in his hut listening to music to escape the heavy rain. I slipped through and set off along the pathway which now was a stream. The first bridge I reached had washed away and the water was gushing. But I wanted to see the giant Alercer trees, giants that were over 2400 years old. Removing my shoes I entered the raging torrent to mid thigh depth and felt my way through the boulder riverbed. Across the river I then had to scramble up the recently collapsed bank to get back on the path. It was not to be the last time.

It was worth it. The forest breathed, swirls of mist inhaled and exhaled across the canopy of the forest. Lakes were pristine and in the copse of Alercer giants there was a quality of light, sound and air that could only be described as spiritual. Camping there I could have been the only human in existence. It is a moment that I will cherish forever.

For the past two weeks, most of the concerned world has waited with baited breath to see if the summit in Copenhagen will spawn any binding international agreement on how to regulate the production and emissions of CO2 gasses. Despite a growing consensus that humanity is having a devastating effect on the global environment, a by product of our spiralling population, there is no poignant proposal to curb the exponential growth of mankind.

Experiencing ice and snow for anyone living in the Southern hemisphere is usually in a beverage or on Discovery Channel. Not that it is absent, but is usually restricted to very high altitudes. Growing up in Johannesburg in South Africa winters were a layered phase of the year. Chilly at night, the high altitude contributed to forming ice over the dogs water bowls and glazing the lawns with frost. Setting out for the day you dressed in layers, peeling items of clothing off as the day warmed up in the sunny clear skies. Now 20 years later the sunny skies remain but the frost and iced over bowls have vanished except on rare occasions.

The discovery of Mt Kilimanjaro by European explorers initially brought to question their navigation skills by their peers back home. To find snow capped mountains on the equator was initially considered impossible. Sadly the glaciers, like so many in the world are in retreat with predictions that in one generation both Mt Kenya and Mt Kilimanjaro will be ice free, the consequence of global warming.

I am in the process of reading a very sobering book on the future prospects of human survival as a species. The author, Jared Diamond, takes a comprehensive look at the history of mankind, the attributes that have shaped our progress and the inherent traits that may well be our downfall. The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee was written in 1991 and made some disturbing predictions, the most chilling being future genocide atrocities and deterioration of living and environmental conditions amongst many.

Mans ability to reproduce exponentially, doubling our global population every 35 years and our continual decimation of natural environments where the main topic of the book. Here at home one of the disturbing facts is that with the current rate of migration and population growth is that our comprehensive range of nature reserves and national parks will need to be ploughed over to feed a hungry population. It will be a sad day when the expanse of Kruger National Park is nothing more than crop land, a rolling landscape of mono culture extending greater than the confines of Israel. Devoid of over 450 species of woodland and savannah birds, teaming herds of antelope and prides of lion

Here in the Garden Route we pride ourselves in having the Outeniqua and Titsikamma Forests extending from George in the west to Blue Lilly Bush in the east. The forest represents 80% of South Africa’s Afromontane forest, a miserly 20% remnant of the country’s original forests and only 2% of this region’s original forests.

Against this uncertain outlook on the future, gardening definitely is a rewarding activity. A year ago, determined to offset our personal and business carbon footprint I started planting indigenous trees. The first trees were planted along a natural corridor between pastures to provide a screen, a wind break and cover for our wildlife. Using mainly Outeniqua Yellowwood, I did mix in some wild Almond and Red Elder. From a landscaping perspective some Coral Trees, Keurboom (Virgilia), ficus, Camphor Trees and Rhus species have been placed in and around the garden.

The tree count in the Garden Route is a healthy tally of 139 species, staggering when you consider that the entire extent of Canada contains only 9 species of trees, three of them broad leaf species and the rest conifers. While the difference in diversity is a function of latitude and natures response to tree disease, it does endow me with a wonderful selection of trees to select from. To emulate the process of succession in the establishment of a forest I have used the pioneer species of Virgilia in open land with a cluster of hard woods around it. For the spaces where the Australian pioneer Acaias, Black Wattle and Black Wood, have grown I have added yellowwoods, wild plum and ficus. When the indigenous species have grown sufficiently I will cut out the exotics for firewood. The pioneers grow rapidly, provide shade, attract birds and enrich the soil with nitrogen. In total I have planted 36 trees and still have a further 25 to plant. Hopefully this offsets my carbon footprint. More importantly, may it be a small start to replacing some of the forest that was cleared to farm by previous generations.

After the rain last week, the growth in the garden was amazing. Blooms opened, trees grew noticeably and there was a lushness about the farm that has been absent for past 8 months of drought. Even the Elephant Ears which we planted two weeks ago, looking like shrivelled dry drift wood have put out shiny foot long leaves.

To mark the end of Trish’s visit we had a farewell meal before her return to Johannesburg, and managed to prepared a salad of rocket, spinach and our first radishes from the garden.

May the rulers of the world become leaders and reach a consensus that will guide our future to a sustainable one. And for now may I see the trees of a future wood.

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~i'll second that!~

19 Dec, 2009


if only all the worlds leaders were gardeners...since i caught the gardening bug, i have learnt so much about our wonderful planet. i am hopeing that they do make the changes we all need.

19 Dec, 2009

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