For the last week, I was in the Central African Republic where I bounced and slid through an old and grand forest for several days. The trees were magnificent and large, the underbrush thick and impenetrable. It was grand in a way that is only possible in nature that is old, that combines ancient wisdom with new growth. It made me want to sit and stay for a while, to soak in the grandeur and the wisdom, and to learn from the people who have made their homes in the forest, but this was only to be a taste.
Sadly, this taste was not as perfect as it should have been. As we drove out of Bangui, everywhere I looked, there was wood – it had been cut and dried, and was waiting for, or being transported into the city. It was in piles and was being pushed for tens of kilometers by men with carts. More sad than all of that were the semi-trucks that drove by from time to time with truck beds filled with large, dead trees. My jaw dropped in awe when one truck bed was filled with only one tree – and only part of that tree. Not yet cut into planks or broken down, this was a piece of the largest tree I have seen to date. The rumor is that these trees are headed to China, a country hungry to grow and in need of wood, wood beautiful enough to transport across land and sea.
As we drove through the forest, it was dark, cool, and damp. Then we suddenly come across a small clearing where the sun beamed through: it was bright, dry, and hot. And that is how the drive went: dark and cool, then bright and hot, dark and cool, then bright and hot. Every place the large trees were gone stood naked and unprotected from the sun. I stood in awe and cried inside, I stood in awe and I cried inside. I wanted to shout to the truckers that they were destroying virgin forest – some of the last of it left on earth. That there are plants and medicines and insects to be discovered, that mankind is dependent on filtered air, and that people live in those forests. I wanted to shout that when a treasure like this is gone, it can never be rebuilt. And for the family cutting, selling, and pushing wood along the roadside, I wanted to give them an option that did not demand the destruction of their natural resource. It is not a simple story, but its complexity does not make it any less disheartening.
I hope to be back in this forest and others in the next years. I dream of being far enough in that it is all dark, cool, and humid. I want to soak in the grandness and wisdom that fills the place before it is gone forever. Maybe I will be able to hold onto a piece of it, and maybe you can hold onto that piece too.