Tree at my window

Kartik Pramanik has had an irresistible desire to plant trees since he was ten—enough to turn the char areas of Chapainawabganj, once desolate and barren, into a lush green land. Like Elzeard Bouffier in The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono, he was not interested in whose land it was. All he cared about was that it was dying for want of trees. Water was scarce; he carried pitches of water for miles. This he did with the money he made as a barber. “Trees are life,” he says, now 76.

When we consider that all this had sprung from the hands and the soul of just one man, armed only with his physical and moral resources, it reaffirms our faith that men could be as capable in the realm of creation as that of destruction. When I reflect on him, I am taken with an immense respect for humanity that is worthy of God.

I don’t know if there has been any study on the impact of Pramanik’s effort on the local climate. But this we know: Trees help combat climate change. A large tree can provide a day’s supply of oxygen for four people. An acre of trees absorbs enough CO2 in a year to equal the amount produced by a car driven for 26,000 miles. They are natural air conditioners. The evaporation from a single tree can produce the cooling effect of 10 room size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day. There are good reasons why fairs and bazaars in the rural areas are organised under large trees.

Fallen tree leaves can reduce soil temperature and loss of soil moisture. They decrease soil erosion. Decaying leaves enrich the soil. Sound waves are absorbed by leaves and branches. A belt of trees 100 feet wide and 45 feet high can cut down traffic noise by half.

Studies show that patients recover quickly when their hospital room offers a view of trees. Urban vegetation can result in slower heartbeats, lower blood pressure and more relaxed brain wave patterns. Trees create an ecosystem for birds and animals.

Trees can also be assets to count on. I know a poor man in Faridpur—a proud, successful father now—who sent one of his sons to Malaysia, another to Italy and married off his only daughter to a respectable young man. How did he manage to do all this? “By selling the Mahogany trees I grew. The seedlings were a gift from a kind-hearted man,” he says with a sense of gratitude.

Trees can do more that cannot be measured. Last year on a summer day, I was in a rickshaw on the Satmasjid Road. The puller looked exhausted as the mercury rose. As usual, the traffic came to a standstill after a while.  Lucky for both of us, the rickshaw stopped under a banyan tree. Everything magically changed. Instead of the harsh dry winds that attacked us minutes ago, a gentle breeze was blowing. In the shade, we were not being baked anymore. In an expression of relief, he went, “Ahh…”

It won’t be long before we won’t have any trees left in this city. We are cutting them down for all kinds of reasons—for building apartments that resemble cages and shopping complexes that look like prisons. We have created a new urban reality. Sometime trees are felled for “protesting” in the name of political progammes.  What does it take to move our conscience?

Tens of thousands of Bhutanese came together last month to welcome their newborn prince not by throwing a big party but by planting 108,000 trees.  Have governments in this country been concerned at all by the diminishing forest areas? “We talk about sustainable development. Sustainable for whom? Certainly not for nature. I think it a great paradox of our time. I do not have the answer as to how to break the cycle of production, consumption and pollution.” says Dwijen Sharma, environmentalist and writer.

Trees are our friends. Once I learned a good deal about moving through grief from some of them. They were not mine. I lived in an apartment surrounded by them. I had just lost someone. At times, I experienced numbing grief or ‘painful unpleasure’ as Freud would call it.  At night, I would be tempted to take out the photo album, just to look at a picture, just for a minute, like an addict on the verge of relapsing.

I resisted. During a fierce thunderstorm, I had seen the branches thrashing back and forth, slamming against my window with a thud, and then sliding down slowly before being lifted aloft again. A week later, birds came.

Eventually I found a bigger, cheaper place and decided to move out. I was going to miss the place. I couldn’t sleep. The next morning, I found the trees not moving at all; as if they knew I was leaving. I pushed the thought away. I wanted to be as still as them and stayed there until I was.

Surely, one can find peace in being with trees.

Source: The Daily Star