Saturday the 29th of May 2021
There is no me (you) and my (your) environment, only me (you) as an integrative part of this one world: an integral part rather than separated from it. There is a close bond between ourselves and nature, the living environment making up this planet. Is this true? Since starting to live in the forest I feel closer to the elements, now more so than ever. What does this mean in practice? For one, I’ve already had to familiarise myself with the consequences of climate change several times over. And I feel that I have indeed learned something from that, even though the forest fires I’ve been exposed to have damaged me deeply.
I grew up with the forest. I had the good fortune not to have been born into a big city. And to this day I know where the water comes from; the water I drink, that comes out of the taps in my home. Water is everything – without water everything is nothing. For me, it all started when the brook on our plot of land, fed by a spring, dried up for the first time. That hit home, as it happened at home. The spring is part of where I live, it belongs with me. We have fish swimming in it, frogs and spawn live in it, a snake is raising her young in the spring water. I’d started planting trees even before the major forest fire of 2003. And after the second major forest fire of 2018 I continued this task of planting and protecting, intensifying it actually. The water nurtures the trees, while the forest and its roots keep the soil and the atmosphere in the forest moist. Trees breathe and sweat too.
However, it is essential to take care which trees are planted where and how. I started off with fruit trees that nourish all of us: medlar, apple, pear, orange, grapefruit, lemon, peach, apricot, walnut, olive, almond, carob, fig, pomegranate and many other kind of fruit. Then I started planting trees that are threatened with extinction, as humans are greedy and strive for monocultures such as pine (for construction timber) or, worse, eucalyptus, to turn it into paper. Personally I only plant trees for our own sake, and look for variety: lime trees, oaks, alders, ash trees, chestnuts, cedars, plane trees, elms, willows, beeches, ginkgo trees and birches, to mention but a few. Not every place on Earth is suitable for every kind of tree. This is something you learn over time. At the moment I’m taking the first steps studying the Moringa tree, and have managed to grow saplings from a few seeds. This is a process familiar to me from walnuts, chestnuts, mangoes, avocados, bay leaf trees, rubber plants, oaks, umbrella pines and many other little trees: it all starts with studying seeds but has now led us to boast our own little tree nursery. We also operate a sapling exchange to achieve the highest possible variety among the trees making up the new Botanic Garden of Caldas de Monchique we are setting up.
This idea, this desire, the plan to counter the monocultures with something different, to document the wealth of nature, came to me in the wake of the last major forest fire. Every forest fire destroys biodiversity, spinning the biotope of our Earth more and more out of kilter. With the botanic forest garden I am countering the monocultures of this earth and the commercialisation of the forest with the concept of sustainability. I dedicate myself to the trees, I protect them and plant them on a plot with both mountain and valley features, turning them into a new forest, as the old forest burnt down completely in 2018, only leaving behind a few mother trees. This is what I’d say to those looking to practise active climate protection: dedicate yourself to the forest, plant and look after your trees. The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research is recommending varied tree plantations to actively take CO2 out of the atmosphere. As humans, we’ll only be able to put a brake on climate change, to attenuate it, to reconcile the natural elements, by planting a great variety of trees, and by keeping a watch on them to make sure they grow. Alongside step no. 1, to stop eating animals, the second important step towards your personal climate neutrality is this: planting trees.
I like to compare this with looking after children. In the first five years of their life trees need a lot of care, as in these times of climate change drought and intense heat as well as storms can mean a recently-planted tree may die off the next day, or indeed grow and thrive. This is to say that a plot for planting trees should be located in your immediate surroundings and support a botanic garden, a regional forest project. I’m not just cultivating trees from seeds, I’m not just planting trees, I am protecting them from further forest fire damage. How does this work? With a sprinkler system.
Regenerating development and resilience
In 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic seven friends of the forest founded the Esgravatadouro – Cooperativa do Ambiente CRL environmental cooperative. Today we already have a dozen supporters. And every last Saturday of the month we meet in Caldas de Monchique, in order to water the baby trees planted over the last winters, to give a donation, in order to fund the construction of shade roofs for instance, to finance and install an emergency sprinkler system and the planting of our own little trees. Now, the brook running through the two-hectare cooperative plot is once more flowing for ten months a year. Our target is to lock in enough water over the whole year for the irrigation of the little trees throughout the summer so they are able to look after themselves from then on. The project is organised along simple lines, will integrate two trails and places for meditation and relaxation. In the end, by 2030 1,001 different kinds of trees, including many native species, will have found a new home in Caldas de Monchique. This should serve to greatly reduce the CO2 footprint of everyone who took part in our venture.
Next week we’ll look at Step Three. A Climate-neutral Life in Ten Steps. Every Saturday from eight in the morning at www.eco123.info and also available in a printed version twice a year from your newsstand. Look out for the next edition coming out on 21 June, to mark the start of summer.