To plant a tree is an act of selflessness.
Lowering the young saplings into the ground, I am reminded that I will not get to bask under their shade. I will not enjoy afternoons climbing their branches, nor hiding behind their trunks as my father chases me around the garden. I will not lounge under them to read my book, or do my homework, or kiss my lover, or pick their fruit.
When I plant a tree, it is not for me to do any of those things. It is perhaps for Lucy, whose house we visited, and whose tiny feet were eager to help us tread the saplings’ roots into the ground. It is for the community of Pongobamba, which we visit every weekday and whose lives depend on the lake it overlooks.
The lake is suffering because of the number of people it has to provide for – the lake provides much of the water for all the population of Cusco, and crucially, all of its 4 million tourists a year. And the introduction of Eucalyptus trees from Australia in the area is only making it worse – adapted to much drier climates, the Eucalyptus trees’ roots grow deep and are very good at absorbing all of the water in the vicinity, meaning there is not enough for the other vegetation or indeed the citizens.
Getting rid of the trees altogether is a dark solution though. In the current climate, we should be planting, not chopping down. And so it is left to us to try to complete all the reforestation necessary in the time it takes to rid Pongobamba of its parasitical Eucalyptus.
That’s why I’m here. That’s what I’m thinking about as I dig hole after hole, and try to plant as many trees as possible before the heavens open and ruin our hard work.
The work that GVI Peru does is crucial to the livelihood of this village. We are taking steps to repair the damage caused by the introduction of Eucalyptus and empowering the villagers by working with them to do so. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to sit down with a cup of coca tea at the end of a long morning and look out at a field full of saplings we have planted.
And that is why I will keep coming back, day after day and week after week, to keep planting trees.