It’s Arbor Day today – April 24th. and I’m reminded of trees and identity, and a documentary I saw about the legendary and very real Timbuktu, the ancient city nestled in the middle of windswept Saharan sand dunes.
There’s something about the Sahara that has fascinated me since childhood. Perhaps because I grew up in the tropics where vegetation is dense, green, and colorful. The rainy afternoons of my childhood were spent indoors looking through my parent’s National Geographic magazines. Their nostalgia for what lay across oceans became mine as well. While they were Europeans, my secret preference were landscapes with complete lack of vegetation. Arid landscapes fired my imagination most. Years later, on guided meditations I wandered to an imaginary oasis in the middle of a desert. That was the place that offered me the greatest sense of safety and security.
In the documentary that took me to Timbuktu, a man introduced himself to the reporter. “I am the planter of the trees in the desert,” he said, as dry winds whipped up clouds of dust over the dune landscape. There were no trees in sight. And although the cameras did not linger on him, I was quite taken by the authority of his words. Those who know their purpose in life don’t doubt or question or second-guess their direction and decisions. The demeanor of The Planter of the Trees in Mali’s desert would not allow questioning, and should not be contested. I, however, after a lifetime of searching for a clear direction in my life, wonder if it would be disrespectful to have him lead me to the trees he planted. When did he know he would have the distinction of being the planter of trees? Who had bestowed the title on him? Was his title inherited, like handed down from father to son? And I’d also like to know if he had a choice to be something else?
It’s a little ironic that I should be living in Arizona’s high desert. Which reminds me: there are sand dunes quite close, in Death Valley… I’ll take time to visit them, next time I drive to California.
But today, I’m planting a tree, and wish you all a very Happy Arbor Day