The Future of Trees
I’m writing to you since there is no one else that will listen to me.
Life has passed and left me on the sidelines. The year is 2024 and I am old now. I’m walking through my city where I have lived most of my life. The quality of air has greatly improved and there’s very little pollution. Partly due to the improved technologies which have just about put an end to the former smoke-spitting combustion engines and factories, but mostly because of those rectangular boxes filled with a thick green liquid, called officially ‘Chlorophill Oxygenating Air-enrichment Generators’, but commonly simply called ‘green boxes’.
A great invention, no doubt. Some scientists in Korea had somehow cracked the mystery of photosynthesis and soon after these green boxes had begun to appear. First in the densely and overcrowded cities of far Asia, HongKong, Tokyo, Shanghai, Calcutta, Bangkok; then all over the Earth. Almost overnight trees were deemed unnecessary and subsequently felled. Soon whole forests had given way for ‘development’, places for roads, industrial projects, amusement parks, and housing.
At the same time the food revolution began, as with the secrets of photosynthesis unraveled, food production moved from fields and agricultural methods to food factories, giant complexes that can produce food in unanticipated quantities.
They are everywhere now, these green boxes, and as I move along the street every hundreds meters or so I see another one. Outside the cities there are great reservoirs, like ponds, doing the same thing on a grander scale. Great progress! I can smell the freshness emanating from the tanks through hundreds of small vents on the sides of them.
There is a class of 5th-graders with their teacher gathered around one of those boxes. They must be on a field trip as it used to be called, I don’t know what they call it now. The teacher, a lady in her middle twenties, is answering the students questions.
“So how much oxygen can this box produce?” asks one, a short chubby girl with pigtails.
“Well, I’m not exactly sure, but in this brochure it says that one box this size can produce the amount of oxygen as 100 medium-sized trees used to do,” their teacher explains.
A tall boy pipes up. “But it must have been fun climbing around in a tree!”
“Climbing in trees is considered very dangerous. From history we know that there were plenty of accidents, resulting in broken limbs, concussions, and even death. That is exactly why there aren’t any more trees in the cities, and country-wide trees are restricted to special reserves which can only be visited with a special permission,” the teacher explains dutifully.
“Can we get a permission,” a little girl with blond curly tresses asks. “I want to see a real tree.”
“Well,” the teacher hesitates, “maybe in high school. Personally I don’t feel I could take on the responsibility to bring you to such a dangerous place. But when we get back to school we can watch a 3D virtual reality panorama film. It’s as good as the real thing.”
Another boy, looking intellectual, skinny with red-rimmed glasses says, “My father says, trees were very beautiful. He calls the green stuff ‘green slime’.”
Everybody laughs, except the teacher lady.
She recovers after a moment of clearing her throat.,
“Silence. Silence, please. Well, I think we should be very thankful for the green ‘slime’, as you say. Before we had the slime the air was so bad that many people, especially children like you, came down with respiratory sicknesses all the time. Of course, older people often have a difficult time to accept changes.”
Another girl, brunette, with long slim hair, as well as body. “Before many drivers crashed into trees and got killed.”
“That’s a very good point, Angela,” the teacher comments the girl. “Drivers would fall asleep and crash into one of the trees lining the roads. Or they lost control and drove into them. Another reason why it is good not to have any more trees.”
“Yeah, now they can crash into those slime boxes,” the tall boy says, obviously having a rebellious streak. Some of the students dare to laugh, but the stern look of their teacher at the tall boy sobers them quickly.
“That was a very unnecessary comment, Jo,” the teacher reprimands. “People hardly ever drive into boxes these days due to the improved safety features like anti-sleep control, auto-robot-drive, and alcohol detectors in cars. One more word like that and I have to consider taking away some of your credits.”
The tall boy shrugs his shoulders, while most of the girl students glance at him with a look of “How dare you challenge the teacher”, while most of the boys look rather like “Good for you to challenge the teacher”.
Very wise all that the teacher is saying. She might be right about some things.
But I long to rest my eyes on trunk and branches, and see glorious crowns of green reach for the sky. I long to smell pine and birch, elm, cedar, and acacia. I miss birds flitting in and out and miss sharing the excitement of a pair building their nest, their toil to feed their young, and the triumph of it all when the young ones take to wings. I wish to see squirrels playing, jumping from one tree to the next, gathering their sustenance in all their arduous travailing, their cheery playfulness, and their heedless chattering.
I want to feel under my fingers the texture of bark and wood, smell the promise of the blossoms, and taste the succulent rich flavors of the fruits. I want to see the burgeoning seedlings sprout and grow, and the weathered, wizened, old trees struggle to survive the storms and blasts of winter.
I miss reading my book in the peaceful shade under whispering leaves, or finding respite beneath the canopy of wide branches in a driving rain.
I dream of forests, full of secrets and mysteries, of creatures heard, but hardly seen, of excitement and foreboding, and the exhilaration of myths yet to be unveiled.
It’s all gone, at least for now.
But I have a secret. It’s dangerous to talk about it, but I’m assured that no one will read my diary until I’m gone. Maybe then some grandson or niece, or some distant cousin’s child will pick it up like an ancient artifact, some curious object of days long gone.
So, I will tell it here freely: I have joined the underground.
The other day lifting some slabs of stone while cleaning up the tiny garden behind my house I found a seed. A tree seed. I put it into soil, and I’m keeping it hidden from the view of neighbors or even visitors to my house, of which there are few in any case.
I even keep it hidden from surveillance satellites.
I’m growing a tree!
It’s not much, one tree. But those of us who know what trees are like, know the potential that lies in them. From one tree a whole forest can go forth. Maybe not me, nor my children will see it; it might take many generations, but my hope is that one day the Earth will be covered with an abundance of trees and great forests once again.
(My Sequel to C. S. Lewis’ Poem “The Future of Forestry”)