Water in a basket
The genocide of green areas
By Dalia Céspedes
A rose is a rose is a rose. - Gertrude Stein
HAVANA – The most curious thing about original ideas is that they’re not original. They flow from a fountain visited for millions of years and individuals drink from it, but it’s not an individual fountain, which is how we conceive what’s original – as unique.
When Shakespeare said that the question is to be or not to be, he came to a conclusion that has been seized upon and scrutinized by millions of beings. Maybe the Bard was the first one to express it in our modern language; however, to be or not to be is a question that must have interested many creatures of all kinds before the Elizabethan Age.
Do trees think? There’s a multitude of opinions in this regard. Because thought is our most sacred possession, we are not very willing to share it with other living beings. However, if Descartes (another man who found a pearl on the road) is right when he says “I think, therefore I am,” then to exist is to think and everything that lives does so in the proximity of a basic or sublime thought that is the very intelligence of being alive.
As in an eternal swing, we all move away from that idea and come back to it, like the branch blown by the wind moves close to and away from the tree trunk.
However, nobody, obtuse though he may be, can refuse to accept that a tree is a living being. When this living being becomes annoying – for example, when it cracks the sidewalks – its elimination is required. Let me be fair, the concept used by that ambiguous sector than in cities is known as “green areas management” is not “elimination.”
On a recent TV program, the director of the Green Areas Directorate in this city (which some like to call San Cristóbal de la Habana) spoke about “substituting” trees that – like the carob, the ficus, the pine or the jagüey – have the bad habit (inadmissible in an urban community) of growing excessively, cracking the sidewalks and extending its branches toward cables and buildings.
Vandals! Irresponsible trees! Just for that, they deserve to die – rather, to be substituted, the functionary vowed.
They will be replaced with smaller species, such as the majagua, with beautiful flowers and roots that are – dare I say? – more convenient. And can anyone doubt that acting in line with social convenience is a display of intelligence? Sorry, I was kidding. The majagua is not more intelligent than the pine tree; it’s only less troublesome.
To human beings, thinking is a matter of words. And concepts. Genocide is one such concept; if the word applies, it is the murder of a form of life. Are lettuces a people? How about the siguas, the polimitas, the cagüairans, dagames, cedars, dogs, cats, goats?
When a people are about to disappear, crushed by the requirements of what the ancient Japanese poets called “the floating world,” we worry. For example, we worry about the decimated Amazonian tribes.
Or when a people – say, the Tibetans or the Syrians – suffer under a brutal government, we also worry. That means we cry in front of the television set. The way we cry while watching a soap opera.
How many trees will have to be “substituted” in our cities before we realize that that mechanism of substitution is the same that’s applied, day after day for thousands of years, against all of us by people whose levels of trustworthiness, accountability and viability are neither trustworthy nor accountable nor viable?
There are innumerable individual lives; there is also a single life that is the same for everyone. Between those two concepts, there much to think about and little to choose.
Post scriptum: On the road to my grandson’s school, a ceiba was down. Cut down, perhaps, because it rose on the site of a future street stall, a vendor’s hutch. My friend Elisa, who lives next to the bridge of Bacunayagua, told me about someone – I won’t call him a farmer – who, after buying some land, felt he owned the law and cut down 60 palm trees so he could plant banana trees.
Yes, I know that palm trees are not edible. Perhaps that’s why we love them so, enough to consider them a symbol of freedom. As for the ceiba, I’ll paraphrase Gertrude Stein: A ceiba is a ceiba is a ceiba.
And, for that reason, it shouldn’t be cut down.
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