Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Scented Forest

I am no forest-wallah, so please do take all that I say with a pinch of salt.

Now that the disclaimer is over with, I can start theorizing.

The pine trees in Uttarakhand confuse me to no end. The very first time I traveled in the mountains, I gasped in delight as I saw the pine forests. And they ARE beautiful. The forest floor is covered with needles that form a smooth red carpet. From this carpet rise the straight trunks- also red and with markings resembling those on a giraffe. The tree then forms a neat head of long deep green needles that glow silver in the sun. 'There are few things more beautiful.' I enthused. I was censoriously harumphed at by my colleague. 'There is nothing more terrible' he corrected me.

And that largely sums it up. All the villagers and development workers I have spoken to have informed me that Pine is a ruthless invader, first brought by the Britishers and then propagated by the Forest department. It ignites and burns their land, takes over productive oak forests, covers the soil with an impenetrable cloak of needles, and adds nothing to the local economy whatsoever. The only use they admit to is for firewood, and needles for bedding cattle. It would be hard for them to deny the lopping for firewood, because it is difficult to find a pine tree that has not been pruned till it resembles a mangy paintbrush but they will not admit to any other use. Pine forests are now the battlefield between the Govt and the villages. Google 'chir pine' though, and the first sentence informs you that chir pine (pinus roxburghii) is 'one of the most useful trees in the region'.

I dont know which story is true. Perhaps they both are. One thing though is that pine trees are exploited to within an inch of their lives. In addition to the  lopping I mentioned earlier, they are also tapped for resin. Each tree is scarified and  fixed with a little pot to collect the aromatic sap. 

Over time and with repeated harvestings, the tree becomes a mass of scars
I understand that forests need to be used, and that this can be done sustainably. I also understand that communities depend on natural resources for their survival and that this harvesting of resin generates revenue which enables the protection of forests. I do believe that fortress conservation is a Bad Thing.  But there is also something called carrying capacity. And I fear that we have long ago exceeded that.

And leaving conservation-speak aside, the child in me still believes in dryads and living trees. Those wounds must be painful.


Unmana said...

"And leaving conservation-speak aside, the child in me still believes in dryads and living trees. Those scars must be painful." Yes! Poor trees.

The first time I saw a grove of pine trees was in Shillong, a few years ago. They are indeed beautiful.

chicu said...

poor trees. yes, I agree.

nadi said...

am too moved to comment.

however, i must make a selfish request-

"the dryad lived in a special tree
when the tree died , so did she"

someone said that. and one of the characters in my book says it.
if i am allowed to, may i use these two photographs?
with acknowledgement. but without money ?

the scars on your second picture form the portrait of the dryad

Saroj said...

all trees are same in some or other way. But I feel Pine tree in particular is more useful in all aspects.

Grumpy Granny said...

I, too, am quite the tree lover. When we moved into our current house, there were 4 old (at least 70 years), tall locust trees that offered wonderful shade to the hot, south side of the yard. I was in tree heaven. In February only 4 months after moving into the house, the power company came to our door and informed us that our trees were "too tall" and were interfering with the wires above and would have to be either lopped off at the top or taken out completely.

I could not bear the thought of amputated trees so we allowed them to be removed. Since then we have replaced 4 trees with 7 smaller trees around the yard, but I sill mourn those sturdy souls.

I am sorry that the pine became an invader. Here they are used for lumber mostly. Maple trees here (in the northeast) are grown for their sap which is made into maple syrup. To harvest the sap, maple growers put a kind of "faucet" into the tree to gather the sap. It seems less invasive than the scarring you show on the pines. I wonder if something like that could be used?

I love the idea of forests and dryads. Since my ancestors were probably Druids and lived in ancient forests, I find the idea completely reasonable! ;-)