Sunday, September 8, 2013

See the tree - how big it's grown - The Peter O'Connor commentary

A silk cotton tree
We planted it late in 1975, the year the landslips above and below the house forced us to leave home for a few months. Actually the tree, a magnificent Silk Cotton, “arrived” in the landslip which had come down from above. No, my religious friends, God did not send down the landslip from “above”, it was a drainage problem in the slopes above us.

One of the workers helping us, the Strong One, brought it to me, after digging it out of the slip, telling me it was a Silk Cotton —it was about two feet tall—and I should plant it.

Well, I had just the place! We are very happy with our home. It faces west, and we have a view down through Hart’s Cut in Chagaramas, and Venezuela in the distance. The sunsets are fantastic. 

However, that same beautiful view used to turn into a solar oven through the mid to late afternoon. And if you forgot to lower the blinds you might be roasted alive! So if we planted the tree down the hill in front of the house, one day it would grow and provide the shade we so badly needed in the afternoons. But patience would be required; it would be years before it was actually providing shade.

Looking back now, the ensuing thirty eight years do not seem so long. The tree which was planted just after the birth our first son grew with
him, and indeed, beyond him! 

When it first began to show its buttress roots my brother in law named it Papa Bois, and the name remained. By the time it had grown up level with our lawn, it also became known as the “Lion Claw Tree”, for the vicious curved thorns which covered its trunk and main branches. 

By then it was also becoming a habitat, kiskidees, orioles and tanagers building their nests in its spreading branches. The squirrels moved in at about that time, the early 1990’s, and have stayed with us since, especially enjoying the large branch which swept into the mango tree! 

And as Papa Bois grew, he blocked out an increasing amount of the afternoon sun, until we were shaded from noon to sunset, but could still enjoy the view of Venezuela, looking out under the crown of the tree, and at last, the sun blinds came down, and we have the natural shade. 

At around this time, the corn-birds began to nest, and we could see them “eye-level” knitting their long, hanging nests. And of course the parrots! They never nested, but loudly proclaimed the tree as theirs each evening.

Papa Bois towers above the house now. As we look out we look straight at where the main branches of the canopy begin, so the view remains, but the shade is above us, the spreading branches high over our lawn. This gives us the opportunity to look into, rather than up at, the canopy of a large forest tree. The arrival, a few years ago, of the family of Grey Hawks which built their nest there, was another significant happening.

These beautiful birds of prey do not normally nest in the suburbs, yet “Gabilan” and family have been nesting here, in full view of us, for years, raising their young, which we observed learning to fly between the branches of Papa Bois.

But with the beautiful shade, and all the wild life which he brought into our lives, papa Bois also brought some problems. The shedding of his millions of leaves was not so bad. They poured down and covered the lawn six inches deep in dried leaves! 

But the now naked branches provide us with no respite from the afternoon sun—back to the blinds! Then the “fruit pods” formed, and these brought in masses of large nectar-drinking bats, swarming among the leafless branches in front of us, eerie images, but beautiful, in the dusk.

Then, at the end of each dry season, Papa Bois would get frisky and literally ejaculate millions of tiny cotton puffs which float in the wind, throughout neighbourhood. Each of these silky cotton puffs carries one tiny seed for a new Papa Bois. Neighbours, this season has just passed, and Papa Bois has settled himself, fully covered in leaves, and home to a beautiful array of birds and the squirrels. I hope his majestic beauty and shade has compensated for the inconvenience of the cotton!

I did not want to write of politics and crime and our appalling behaviour this week. So I brought you the story of my tree, my shade when the heat is too intense. 

Maybe you should plant a tree as well, and enjoy its growth and listen to the songs which the birds sing from within its spreading branches.

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai