Deja vu... sort of.

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

African kids try the same trick as my forestry mates.

Deja Vu… Sort Of.

Old Keith our District Ranger wanted me to lay out an area to establish a tree species trial, so I chose a grassy ridge and marked out twenty 400 square meter plots ready for the winter’s planting. Any forester is keen to see how various species will perform on any given site, and I suspected Old Keith was getting me to play out his hobby, which I saw only as a good thing. I also guessed that the trees were grown in the Milton Forest Service tree nursery on his orders, and this was his way of getting them planted out in the field.

Come winter and as usual, I was busy with the planting season, so I wasn’t around when Old Keith’s trial seedlings arrived, but when I took a couple of men with me to plant them out, there were a few short, which didn’t worry me because those sorts of things happen from time to time. It was usual that in February, I carried out a survival survey of the previous winter’s plantings (June, July, and August), which would give me an idea if there needed to be a blanking operation, to fill in any blank spaces. We never did because the strike was always adequate and anyway, the blanked trees never became crop trees. At the same time as my survey, I counted Old Keith’s trees and I sent him a report. He wrote back to me reckoning I had made an error because the numbers didn’t tally with his, so I did it again… because there was only a small number in forestry terms, I was doing a 100% survey, and my numbers were bang on! He disagreed and phoned with an angry tone in his voice, saying he’d be coming up to check for himself the next day! I wasn’t concerned because my count was correct.

I didn’t know, but the night-time gnomes paid a visit to the trial area! Old Keith could be a fiery old bugger, but he was moodily silent on our way up the trial plots. He was too stout to mount the steep bank so I had the less-than-pleasant task of pushing him up from behind, so he was first to see the ‘pig rooting’, and he cursed. I couldn’t smell pigs and there was no shit anywhere to be seen so I knew pretty smartly, it wasn’t pigs, more like a couple of blokes with mattocks! Keith commented that at least no trees had been rooted up, and I noticed there were ‘dead’ trees where none had been the day before. I confirmed my suspicion by pulling out a few of the ‘dead’ trees and found they were just small branches shoved into the ground. I tried not to let on to Old Keith, but he hadn’t come down in the last shower either! We both knew that Albert the clerk and Jack, the boss, must have pinched the missing trees and planted at least some of them around the headquarters site, and a few would have found their way to their own gardens! Knowing Old Keith was on the warpath, they thought they’d better cover their tracks by grubbing up the earth and pushing a few dead branches into the ground! Amused, Old Keith busily took photos, likely for some talk or other, but finally I had to inform him about the lens cover still being on, which amused me, but him… not so much.

I convinced him not to say anything about the missing trees, and assured him I’d find them and treat them as part of the trial. He… acquiesced, and with a wink, he suggested that I might tell Albert and Jack that I’d received a right dressing down about the missing trees! He had to keep his reputation! Well, if you could’ve see the faces on those two when we arrived back at the office! Old Keith was careful to avoid chatting about the trial plots, and once he had gone, the pair fished for information about what he’d said but I didn’t bite, only telling them about the lens cover, which gave them a laugh. They thought they’d managed to get away with it, but a year later they realised that looking after their own skin at the expense of mine, wasn’t all that wise…

Roll on three decades when I found myself in Africa teaching school kids about the environment. Those kids could identify and name more trees in their environment than Kiwi kids could in theirs, and I know that because I’d done similar work in Kiwi schools. The other thing African kids learn is the national, made up language of Swahili, as well as their own local language and very often that of their neighbouring tribe. They’re also taught English but their fluency varies because of a teacher shortage. As part of teaching the kids about the environment, there was always the exciting part where they got to plant a tree or two around their school. The idea was to create green spots around school grounds, but we knew that by simply giving each kid two or three trees to plant, they wouldn’t recognise ownership of them – free things aren’t often appreciated. I wish politicians would figure that out! Anyway, the first task the kids had was to dig the planting hole so a 20 litre bucket would fit into it. They had to gather dry cow manure, mix it with the soil they had dug out, replace it in the hole, water it and put a stick in the soft soil with their name, so they knew where they were going to plant their tree. Once the tree was planted, they had to make a shelter for it to keep livestock from gobbling it, also to keep hens from scratching for grubs (attracted to the moist, fertile conditions) and to protect against the harsh sunlight. To show the importance of tending their trees, we awarded prizes for the best ten! But I couldn’t judge because 90% were always above expectations, so we had to be creative and provide extra prizes… like a trip to visit our tree nursery, or we gave them an avocado.

Like my survival survey on the forest, I carried survival surveys one year after planting. During the dry seasons they had to water the trees and I helped them by scrounging pottles and tins for an irrigation system to help the water to percolate to the root system rather than evaporate on top of the soil. Of course it was a highlight for the the day we came to award the prizes. They were competitive! Not everyone is aware, but trees are no different to human beings in respect of survival – there is always attrition, some don’t make it. For some the novelty of caring for the tree had worn off, but others, well they just were unlucky and their tree didn’t thrive. On judging day, kids who had lost trees, did the old Albert and Jack trick! They cut live branches and stuck them in the ground to fool me into thinking they were live trees! It didn’t work, butI told them the story about Albert and Jack, with the odd embellishment, and it helped them understand that when dealing with nature, losses are a constant factor.

So I recognised the déjà vu, with a smile, but it just goes to show, people are people wherever you go, and basically our quirks are similar.  




Submitted: November 24, 2021

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Add Your Comments:


dewey green

Onya Moa!
I enjoy reading your tales of forestry endeavours, Thank you for nurturing the earth, and planting life giving, oxygen creating sentinels,
that continue to give back to our future generations!

Wed, November 24th, 2021 6:10pm


Thank you Dewey, and yeah, trees bring us many benefits and I'm pleased to have played a part.

Wed, November 24th, 2021 12:16pm

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