The fallen tree before me seared my soul. It lay on its side, defeated and helpless. Why had it fallen? I wandered as I walked briskly towards it.
Did human hands grab hold of a power saw and cut it down? Unlikely. I thought. It seems to have fallen on its own accord. There is something gentle about its posture on the ground. It seems to have made peace with itself before it fell. When I first saw it from a few meters away, it seemed as if it was simply asleep and would be waking up in a few hours. But when I walked up to it, I saw its fresh roots jutting out of its body, severed from the soil that had been their home for years. No, this tree wasn’t asleep. It was fallen for good.
But if you look up the tree from the trunk upwards, it appears asleep, lying calmly in the comfort of the earth. Its cone-shaped leaves are still spotting a bright shade of green, full of life. The twigs that bear these leaves are still embedded in the branches that are rooted in the trunk. Firmly in place. This trunk is still fresh, bearing the color of soil. And a dark shade of green. If you run your fingers on its surface, you will feel the freshness. If you walk closer to the crown, that part of a tree comprising of branches, twigs and leaves, you will see those leaves blowing gently in the morning breeze. You will smell their freshness as they dance on agile twigs that are not intimidated by being only inches away from the ground, not meters high as had been the case before the tree fell.
These twigs are still oozing life. Swaying on them, to the tune of the morning breeze are those leaves that form a coat of green around the tree. There isn’t a single yellow or dry leaf on this coat. Just an ocean of green, cone-shaped leaves. On this day, the 23rd day of May 2020, the few other fallen trees in Karura Forest are not draped in such a green coat. Their leaves are mostly wrinkled and lifeless. One such tree was just off the Mau Mau Trail, its crown smashed into the shrubs beneath it. It was obvious that this tree, whose life had been rooted in the ground for decades, had returned to this very ground in a final awkward dance that pulled down the crown from its exalted position.
Another fallen tree, an Elgon Teak, lies desolate five hundred kilometers away in Kakamega Forest. Its fate is sealed and it knows it. Most of its twigs, where the Great Blue Turaco and Grey-throated Barbets once nested, lie scattered on the wet earth of Kenya’s last remnant of the ancient Guineo-Congolian rainforest that once sprawled across the continent. Before it fell in the middle of the night, it stood taller than a two-storey building. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. This is not just a song by the American band Alesana, but also a reality in forests across Africa.
Wherever these mighty trees have fallen, their royal grace has vanished into the wet, musky atmosphere. Broken branches, scattered twigs and dried leaves are all that remain. But not this tree at my feet in Karura Forest. Before it fell, the adjective ‘mighty’ would never have been used to describe it. Its trunk is slender just three times the size of an elephant’s trunk. Although it’s just a few feet from the trail, I doubt anyone ever walked up to it to take a selfie with it. Its leaves were just ordinary, slender leaves. Nothing to write home about. They were too high up the tree, so you couldn’t even reach out and caress them.
But in its fallen state, this tree has become mighty. You can touch those leaves, rub your thumb across their smooth texture and sniff their freshness. Its trunk is a rich fusion of an earthen color and a fresh green. This makes you want to cradle it, just so that you can tap into its vibrancy. Oh how the mighty have risen even when they are gone. Bwak, the Bantu poet wrote this line in reference to Dr Martin Luther King Jnr, the Civil Right icon. You could say the same about this fallen tree.
The tree fell a meter away from a much younger trio of trees, whose lives were just beginning. It could have crushed them, but it didn’t. However, it crushed something else and in so doing an amazing chain reaction in the forest.
Tune in on Tuesday 6th April for Episode 2