On Wednesday 21 September, I did a special A-B-Tree event. Here's my log of it.
At 5.10pm it’s raining, but I’m going for it anyway. The plan’s too good to miss. The rowan tree is my totem tree and today is International Peace Day and also International Day of Struggle against Plantations, a day of protest set up by Ricardo Carrere of the World Rainforest Movement, who died just a month ago. Today, all over the world, people are gathering to remember Ricardo, an inspiring Uruguayan leader of a global movement of people given by him the courage to challenge the huge industrial super-powers who take vast tracts of land to use for monoculture tree crops without regard to the people affected by them.
I met Ricardo 14 years at a United Nations meeting on forests in New York. I was a newly fledged activist campaigning for the rights of forest peoples, and he was a veteran of political negotiations and a man of resolute principle, untemptable by compromise and immune to flattery or coercion. With Bill my partner, I’ve spent many hours with Ricardo, plotting tactics on back steps or courtyards or wherever the smokers had to go. I learned so much from his discourses on the failures to respect the basic human rights of poor people, indigenous tribes, forest-dwellers, peasants and anyone else who stood in the way of corporate resource exploitation.
Ricardo was a key intellectual force behind a United Nations process to reveal the Underlying Causes of Deforestation and Forest Degradation. The Underlying Causes dialogue took place on every continent and resulted in a trenchant analysis of the economic instruments, financial institutions, corporate culture and social trends that underpin the global catastrophe of forest destruction. For those of us who were disillusioned by the futility of trying to stop deforestation by lying down in front of bulldozers on forest roads and forwarders on logging sites, Ricardo offered a clear big picture of who the real targets of our campaigns should be. It’s not loggers who destroy forests, they are just the tools of the World Bank, pulp corporation executives, DIY store managers and paper buyers in catalogue companies.
I’m particularly grateful for the help Ricardo gave me in understanding the pulp and paper industry and its impacts on land and people. When I was writing Paper Trails, Ricardo’s comments on the plantation chapter of the book made it a much stronger text, while also giving me huge encouragement to carry on trying to spell out the whole story of the true costs of paper.
When I was co-ordinating a campaign to reduce paper use in Europe (called Shrink: Addressing the Madness of Over-Consumption of Paper) I was bolstered by Ricardo’s support, knowing that the campaign was right to address one of the most powerful underlying causes of forest loss – excessive consumption by people in rich powerful societies, mostly in northern countries, of resources appropriated from poor and powerless communities, mostly in southern countries.
So, never mind the rain, I go to talk to a rowan tree about Ricardo. It’s an ancient giant, its trunk almost completely rotten, but where it has tumbled its branches have taken root, and new shoots are sprouting from its boll. It is a tree that refuses to die, or having died, will live on anyway - a fitting tribute to Ricardo.
And then, as the rain eases, a family come along to join me. We talk about red deer’s predilection for rowan, its amazing link to juniper through a rust fungus, and the fondness of redwings and fieldfares for its berries, which brings them here all the way from Scandinavia. They will be disappointed this year, as it’s been a poor year for fruit.
No tree is richer in magical powers than rowan, if the old stories are to be believed. It grows outside most old houses in these parts, and is still planted close to new ones, because of the belief that it keeps away evil spirits. Every self-respecting white witch has a rowan wand, and although cutting or burning the wood is bad luck unless it is done with due ceremony, it has a host of uses, all supposed to result in protection, whether of cradles or carts, houses or barns, cows, sheep or people.
I am glad to have had some people to share some of the stories with, like the boy on Arran who untied the rowan twig from the cow’s tail and the origin myth that has rowan made of eagle feathers and drops of blood. And I was delighted when the boys went off and adopted some trees and wrote about their magical powers. One, if you kiss it, will bring you good luck. Another, when it grows a bit bigger, will become a witch's broom.One is going to produce a special tea that, when drunk by military leaders, will bring about world peace.
I’m sure Ricardo would be pleased. Home, and dry, I raise a glass of rowan wine to his memory.