December 2009

Today I connected with a new Facebook friend, Bee Bronson, who posted an item in her blog about something that she witnessed at her home near Berkeley, California. It reminded me of an incident that I witnessed three years ago here in Ghana. Here is the account that I wrote at the time:

Last Friday, I took people to Accra to catch their flight back to Canada. On the way I passed through a road construction area. There were three large trees beside the road and the bulldozers had cleared the area around them. I remembered these very old trees and that section of the highway from the time when I used to ride my motorcycle from the Western Region of Ghana to the capital city, Accra in the early ’70’s – it was always one of the high points of the trip – one could sense the power and wisdom of those old trees, visible for several miles in the distance, acting like sentinels guarding their domain of scrub and bush on the coastal plain as they had for likely the past hundred years or more.

I returned on Saturday from Accra and the traffic was stopped at the same place on the road. From my vantage point, it was quite apparent what was going on ahead. A dozer and an excavator had been assembled at the site – two of the trees were already down, and those of us in the line-up watched as the third one was pushed over. The dozer charged at the base of the tree while the excavator used its bucket to push high up on the trunk. The tree did not give up without a struggle – finally its roots could hold no longer and it tilted over and slowly came crashing down. As the main trunk hit the ground, the larger limbs snapped under their own momentum, and the tree lie there, broken, like a slaughtered animal, looking up at the sky in shock and bewilderment.

I felt a sharp pain in my chest and experienced a deep sense of loss at that moment. I wondered if anyone else on the road who witnessed the event shared my feelings.

I had recently been reading Patrice Somme Malidoma’s book “Ritual”, in which he discussed the connection that his people in Burkina Faso feel for their natural surroundings. Malidoma’s condemnation of the “Machine” culture of the Western world was ringing in my ears at that moment and I wondered if there are enough people left who can still “feel”. It was tradition, and still is for those who practice it, amongst the Plains Cree where I grew up in western Canada to make an offering to a tree that they were about to harvest, asking the Tree Spirit for forgiveness for their action, and explaining their understanding that the Creator had placed the tree there for their use, and thanking the Spirit of the tree for its life. It was a matter of respect for nature and the earth mother.  I have seen similar rituals performed here in Ghana when traditional herbalists are collecting the various ingredients for their medicines, but increasingly this does not happen as Ghanaian society follows the West in its quest for “development”.

While the human race tries to define “progress” and “development”, we often forget the trade-offs. I am quite certain that the engineers who were re-building that highway could have found some way to route it around the trees, providing an momentary blessing for travelers as they passed by. The presence of those trees would have reminded them of the bounty and the beauty that the Universe has provided. No doubt the “budget” would not allow such an expense, and so the trees had to go.

Yes, I guess I am a ‘tree hugger”. My father and my grandfather both planted trees on our farm, and I continued in that tradition, planting and tending trees on the farm on which I lived in Canada, and also on my small farm here in Ghana. Today when I read Bee’s dismay at the loss of “her” trees, I felt a connection with her, as well as gratitude to know that I am not alone. We must then be grateful to those who do still feel. It is not easy to be optimistic as we watched the environmental degradation that continues around the globe, but we have no choice. To give up is not an answer and so we all move on the best we can. 2010 – here we come…

Anansi chooses his steps very carefully

There is a cautionary tale being played out in the inner courtyard, just a few yards from where I am sitting. A very large and very colourful spider has cast a web and is busy luring in his/her prey. Two butterflies and an undetermined number of other insects have been caught and the wings dangle from the web like forlorn skeletons swinging aimlessly on a thread.

Anansi (the Twi word for spider) is known as the trickster, and he/she is very adept with his/her words. He/she is a charmer, conjuring up lovely images to draw his/her audience in, all the while plotting ways in which his/her personal situation will be advanced. He/she weaves his/her web with great dexterity, knowing which strands are safe for him/her to walk on and which to avoid. Beware Kweku Anansi, masterfully setting a trap for the naïve and innocent. He/she comes in many forms, as politician on the podium, as pastor at the pulpit, as lover in the lovenest.