Making Friends with Trees

February 16, 2017 / Charumathi Supraja

The Neralu Tree-Walk at Spastics Society of Karnataka was a day of happy hugs and handshakes. The trees had waited all these years to be introduced properly to the beautiful people – little and not so little, whose lives they filled with fresh air every moment of every day.

Neem, Pongam, Arjuna, Jamun, Rain, Senna, Fig, Amla, Ramphal, Mango, Jackfruit, Indian Badam, Arecanut, Mahua, Indian Cork, Coconut and other trees met the teachers and students inhabiting the sprawling campus. They didn’t seem to mind that the day of friendships was opening well past so many seasons of their existence. They also didn’t seem to mind that before making the acquaintance of all trees, many children openly favoured Mango, Jamun and Amla. Few favoured the jackfruit trees. Others loved the coconut trees. All the other trees, including the Arjuna tree with its peeling bark and the Senna tree that hosted happy yellow butterflies, were not remotely sulking about this. They were too busy preening in green, buzzing with insects, basking in the sun, cooking up a storm of life.

Ajith and Poornima from Team Neralu invited the children to experience trees through touch, smell and hugs – though they did point out that some, like the Fig Tree, sported Fire Ants on their bark and were clearly shy of cuddling. Each and every tree was revealed to be ‘cool’ in its own special way. The Mahua Tree with its droopy flowers wears muted colours like most other bat-pollinated flowers but they smell like Basmati Rice and are sought after for their food value, by people in Central India. So it’s really not all about looks said the hanging upside down, daringly dull Mahua flowers.

Mahua flowers

There were many such “I am like this only” statements made by each and every tree that had, till that morning, seemed to just silently stand and grow. Trees apparently don’t trumpet out loud about the medicinal magic flowing through their sap. It is up to those who can tune into trees to know that their leaves, bark, was flowers and breath can cure anything from constipation to skin disease to liver trouble to heartache (well, who hasn’t felt recovered from the heaviness of daily life, just by standing under a tree?!).

The tree narratives kept adults and children filled with childlike awe and curiosity.Copious notes were taken. Questions were asked and games were discovered (like who knew that the flowers of the African Tulip could be used to squirt water on unsuspecting friends?). The children often supplied local names, stories and interesting tidbits about trees that helped the facilitators know more about the trees.Every leaf and bark were looked at with eyes and hands in such detail that when someone pointed out a red and silver butterfly in the grass, all stopped and turned.There was much giggling because it turned out to be a chocolate wrapper.

The teachers, who seemed more like parents to the children, were constantly checking on their comfort during the Walk and wanted that their thirst and hunger be taken care of within the usual timelines. As the group rested and sipped juice a girl was overheard saying, “I wish we could do tree-walks every day!” Sure enough, a Nature Club is in the offing and a herbal garden already underway. Talks are on to have monthly Tree-Walks!

The newly deepened friendship between trees and people powered by trees brought smiles to many faces. Even the trees were heard rustling in joy and anticipation.