Weeping Whispers of the Woodlands

(2024 World Environment Day – #GenerationRestoration)

By Ejiro Gray

It would have been impossible to ignore the sounds, considering the relative quietness in  the way characteristic of nature. Amidst the familiar chirping of birds and twigs cracking  as squirrels and monkeys dart around the trees, the stealthy movement of scurrying  animals meandering through the woodland, trying to escape the prying eyes of larger  predators. The first rays of light filter through the boughs, where leaves and branches  meet, landing on the rich, earthy hues of uneven ground and sometimes the dense  underbrush littered with fallen leaves, nuts, and animal droppings. From creeping insects to butterflies and moths, birds and beasts protected by expansive trees forming an  overhead canopy of green foliage, life exists in all forms here.

You can hear water from a distance as the flow meets the sharp rocky slopes and rolls  over smooth stones. But you can also hear the drumbeats of doom. The groaning of a chainsaw driving determinedly through the woody trunks of your comrades, the chilling  crack and thud as they fall, one after the other, under the weight of gravity, pulling them to the ground. Each thump echoes through the forest, each thud sending tremors into the rest of your clan, who stoically remain rooted to the ground despite that knowing feeling that it is only a matter of time before it will be their turn. You can sense the uneasiness of the older ones, their leaves whispering feverishly of the impending doom these distressing sounds spell for the community.

You hardly partake in solemn conversations, preferring to listen quietly and observe the  body language of others around you. Their branches lean into each other conspiratorially, their leaves murmuring of the goings-on in neighbouring communities. The enemy is getting closer and closer, bringing down the shelter many have, for decades, come to know as their home.

The seasons have been unrelenting, but man, even more unremitting. You are rapidly losing members of your extended family and neighbourhood. You can no longer pretend to be unaware of what is happening around you. When new members suddenly invaded the area — different species fleeing their erstwhile communities—the rumours started to filter in. 

The word around was that they were being forced to leave their homes, their refuge decimated by the cold steel blades of the lumber harvester. “The monkeys are talking

about migrating,” you hear your neighbour say. “They’re losing their homes. Their cousins who lived nearby had to flee when the enemy came to take down their shelter; no one recognizes the place any longer”. But you are an extension of the community, a home of several years to many species. If they came for them, indeed, they would come for you!

Your leaves rustle nervously as a cool breeze sends shivers down your spine. You  remember how things used to be before the invasion forced your community members to migrate to other places, even places they had no business being in. The big five have  nowhere to hide if their covering is being stripped off daily, exposing them to the wiles of poachers. The hunter has become the hunted. Ironically, the displacement is making them an even greater danger to humans. As man invades the spaces reserved for beasts, beasts will, in turn, invade the spaces taken up by man. Dwindling biodiversity sends ripples worldwide, altering agricultural cycles and undermining food security. They forget  they have an interconnected global economy, and setbacks in one locality might disrupt  markets continents away. Man is taking food from nature, but nature will ultimately have its day.

Man, for all the knowledge he has garnered, does not appreciate how you generate energy from the sun and make food for herbivores, leaving carnivores to feed on the herbivores. But it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t appreciate the value you bring. What matters is that you have a system that works; you do not need the interference of man and his machines. You have a rich heritage, proud descendants of some of the world’s ancient and revered woodlands. Your sturdy roots have nourished the earth for decades. Two squirrels scurry past hurriedly. They seem to be running from something. The crunch of fallen leaves beneath tiny paws announces their movements. Perhaps the enemy is much closer than you think!

The worst part of the invasion is being caught unawares — no warning or plan for  regeneration. If humans go through the circle of life, shouldn’t you be allowed the same? 

When one life ends, another begins, like a symphony of souls playing in harmony. But this has not been the case. Just invasion after invasion, attack after attack, avarice ad  infinitum, leaving your roots shaky and your posterity unassured. Several attempts at  getting information have proven abortive. The old hunter’s Dane gun has been entirely  unhelpful. You tried to engage him whenever he leaned against your thick roots during  the hunter’s visits. But all he did was urge you to consider it a transition from one form to another. 

After all, someone had compelled him to go through it, and now he was standing as an appendage to the old hunter’s gun. He argues that though you may despise  him, he is not the one making the rules. “It’s the nature of the beast, and there’s nothing  you can do about it.” But you know deep down that you are far more useful. Collectively, you provide ecosystem services others depend on for survival. You don’t need to be a hunter’s appendage to prove your worth. You are content with your present form.

A newbie chirps up beside you. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing, perhaps they’ll plant new trees, and you’ll have new neighbours in the community. Your branches swing lightly in a sigh; his naivete is as refreshing as it is annoying. You have lived longer than many of them; you know how the world works; all man seems to know to do is bring destruction and disruption to nature. Above the canopy of trees, the clouds are rapidly drifting across the sky. Dead leaves swish the ground resignedly, their surviving kindred staring out of branches, heads bowed, rustling through a gust of wind. You hear the creak and groan of weathered branches and the rushing air, wailing over the landscape, sending shudders through your branches. It is unusual for this time of the year, altered seasons, and unpredictable weather patterns, another memento of man’s imprudence.

The screeching of more monkeys interrupts your musing as they scamper higher into the  canopy overhead. They’re chattering excitedly. You strain your leaves to hear what they’re saying. An entire community of their comrades has gone down. The enemy troops are getting closer. Their families are migrating quickly; a cousin told them of a new settlement. You give a loud snort, the air rushing forcefully through your leaves. It is only a matter of time before the troops get to the settlement, and the new becomes the  old. History is a patient teacher, always happy to repeat itself.

A storm is brewing, and so is the nervousness coursing through your roots. Doomsday looms, each deafening crack and reverberating crash, a stark and steady reminder of what awaits you. But you are not the only one about to lose your life. The forest is a protective mother, with each of you standing tall as a community for billions of organisms, each green canopied work of art, a haven of diversity of life in so many forms.

The place is fast emptying. But your tribe of wood and leaf must stay. The birds are screeching, calling as they fly overhead; they seem to be sounding a warning. Let those  who can flee go far away while you, one with the earth, remain to play the waiting game. 

One need not announce to those who are hard of hearing that the war has begun. So, you brace yourself for impact, like a lamb for the slaughter, awaiting the cold steel of the  lumber harvester. It’s only a matter of time before it’s your turn, unless, by a stroke of luck, a saviour doth come.

* Ms Gray is Director, Governance and Sustainability at Sahara Group

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