Tree Tears

There’s talk now about the grand palm tree next door being chopped down. I’m heartsick about this. It’s not my tree, and it’s not on my property. It’s only adjacent to my terrace here in San Miguel. Nevertheless, I feel the need to step in. Call me a tree-hugger. Call me crazy. But this palm tree is speaking to me; it’s crying Help! I want to give it a voice before it’s too late.

“My” palm tree at sunrise yesterday

I learned from an African friend in Gabon when I lived in that densely forested country  in the late ‘90s that trees cry when they’re being killed, and I believed him. My photographer friend Youssef had worked for a time for a French-owned logging company there and saw first-hand what happened in those forests. I told the fuller story in my memoir of that time, HOW TO COOK A CROCODILE, but in brief:

Sometimes in the evening in my study, I wrote, Youssef would share with me in tragic, lyrical terms how the earth and trees suffered at the hands of these foreign-owned logging companies.

As Youssef explained it, even carefully selected trees, which he described as several stories tall, oil-drum thick, and centuries old, take down many, many more trees with them. To get the big Okoume trees — which were highly prized for plywood and in world demand, especially in Asia — first a path, then a clearing is cut, killing scores of trees.

Deforestation in Gabon (stock photo)

Then, when the sought-after tree is chain-sawed and falls, screaming like a human, Youssef said, to the ground, it wounds and ultimately kills all the trees it touches. The prize tree is then sliced into truck-length portions, hauled out of the forest in chains, loaded onto the waiting trucks, and whisked off to the greedy, thoughtless world.

Logging in Gabon (stock photo)

“These French businessmen don’t see the African workers who lose fingers and arms to the sawing machinery,” Youssef told me earnestly. “They don’t hear the trees weep.”

Maybe before then in my life, when I was too busy working to support myself in fast-paced NYC, before I joined the Peace Corps at fifty and served in Gabon, where I found I had time to think about broader world/earth issues, I was guilty of taking trees for granted. (For sure, I’d never given a thought to the origin of plywood.)

But since then, and thanks to all that I learned from Youssef, I’ve been particularly sensitive to the fate of trees. And because I’m especially in love with palm trees, I’m upset now about this one so close to me being torn down in the seemingly reckless, never-ending, maddening demolition/construction work going on next door.

“You know permits are required here to cut down trees, don’t you?” my friend Victoria told me when she braved the demolition noise to come to my apartment for tea on Tuesday. I didn’t know. She told me of people she knew who’d ignored this law at their peril. Their penalty was to buy and plant hundreds of new trees for the city.

My dueño (landlord/owner) is now on the case. He’s promised to have a talk with the jefe (boss) of the demolition crew next door. I’m hopeful that Mexican-man-to-Mexican-man they’ll be able to diplomatically reach some clarification and, I hope, a positive solution.

Who was it – D. H. Lawrence, perhaps? – who said that all we humans need for happiness is love and a crusade? Well, I love trees – above all, palm trees – and keeping this beloved one alive has become my new crusade.

Here are more views of “my” beautiful palm tree from my terrace:


32 thoughts on “Tree Tears”

  1. Oh Bonnie, I hope the lovely tree can be saved from the demolition/construction next door. Ojala. Is the new complex your rental apartment is in completely done or is their construction for awhile there, too?

    1. I hope so, too, Lyn. To answer your question, the construction at this site (my building) is completed. It’s the old building next door that’s being redone — and it’s taking longer than expected. (No sorpresa!)

  2. Oh BonnieDear, I am so sorry you’re having to worry about this. And that your beloved tree is in peril! Put your faith in the two Mexican men. I think your dueño understands you well enough that he will make the case for goodness, and the other man will listen if at all possible. I will say a prayer for your palm tree every day until I find out that it’s been saved. Love you, Be ~ xoxo

    1. Love you, too, BeDear! Yes, let’s all say palm-tree-prayers now. 🙂 I’m hoping that my unwillingness to be silent about this awful plan will put a stop to it. Vamos a ver…

  3. I agree, trees do scream and cry when they are taken down. I love how trees in a forest communicate through their roots, a .mycocchizal network.

  4. I am very much a plant person and was in shock when visiting my son in the northeast he was having two gigantic pine trees in his yard removed. I was the only one home when the crew came and they were very good at their task, climbing up the tree attaching ropes, etc. The trees went into a giant chopper on the truck and when they were done the tree was compost. The only consolation. I stood in the corner of the patio out side the door and chose to bare witness and thank the tree for all the critters it had housed, the air it had cleansed and the shade it had provided. It was the least I could do. My heart hurt all day.

    1. Thank you, Toni dear, for sharing your own tree story. San Miguel, especially Colonia Guadalupe, I’m told, used to be filled with orchards — fruit trees and nut trees. No more. Yes, all of these stories are sad when we turn out attention to them. 🙁

  5. We have to learn more about the emotions of plants, trees and wildlife. Why shouldn’t they feel pain as well as joy — just differently than we do? I hope the palm tree “hears”, “feels” the efforts to save it.
    Buena suerte,

    1. Yes, querida Te, it looks like it will be saved. Mi dunno talked with the jefe, who talked with the owners of the property, who told him not to cut down the palma after all! Such good news.

  6. Dear Bon,

    I am and you must be utterly delighted that your wish has been fulfilled. Raising our voices does have an effect, and luckily, it was easily accomplished. You have done a wonderful thing! Now that tree belongs to you, at least spiritually.


  7. Good news Bonnie. Yes, I think you can call yourself a tree activist. You spoke to your landlord to advocate for saving the tree. The landlord spoke to the jefe of the demolition/construction crew who spoke to the landowner your message to advocate to save the tree. You’re a tree activist. Congratulations.

  8. And of course the fine if it was cut down means you join other SMA tree activists that came before you to legislate penalties for cutting down trees.
    This tree may need more advocacy through the years. Established palms periodically need pruning of dead areas and other interventions according to this article.,healthy%20parts%20of%20the%20plant.

  9. I wanted to weep when I read about the loss of fingers and arms and the careless ambition to remove certain trees, devastating an entire area in the process. Yes, we do live in a greedy thoughtless world, but thankfully, there are the individuals amongst us that do create awareness. A rippling effect of awareness that is growing stronger.
    I’m glad your palm survived, Bonnie.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts, dear Loula. Yes, I wanted to weep, too, when Youssef initially told me that true story from his days working at the logging company. He was such a strong yet sensitive man; he could hear the trees cry out as they fell. And, yes, I’m so happy this palm tree next door won’t be cut down after all. Whew!

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