The big day is nearly here. After over three months of site surveys, fundraising meetings, and marching my boots through fertilizer, we finally secured the initial 500 seedlings for the ELI Forest and brought them to Plaine des Roches. If all goes as planned, planting the forest will start next week.
Yesterday, Cedric and I were picked up by Mr. Dinoo and his son in a lorry (British English has begun infiltrating my vocabulary) that looked like it had put in enough kilometers to have picked up any golf clubs left on the moon and brought them back. Despite my almost complete deficit of Creole, Mr. Dinoo insisted I sit up front in the cab with him as his son and Cedric clambered onto the flatbed for the ride. I’ve gotta say, I would have much preferred standing with the wind rushing past me than enduring the awkward moments as Mr. Dinoo asked me for directions and all I could do was point, shrug, or repeated “je ne parles pas Creole” (I don’t speak Creole). Eventually, I managed to get Cedric’s attention after halfway clambering out of my window, and soon everything was sorted out.
We arrived at the Forestry Service’s Seed Center in Saint Croix, outside the capital Port Louis, just after eleven in the morning. As Mr. Dinoo reversed his lorry down the road towards the nursery, Cedric and I walked into the main office and introduced ourselves to Mr. Vengatareddy, the manager of the Seed Center who had been graciously assisting us to prep for this day. I would have been gracious too if I was on the verge of receiving a stack of 50,000 rupees (about $1650) out of someone else’s wallet- but he was truly a pleasant and helpful guy.
Mr. Vengatareddy directing traffic
After giving me a tour of the fourteen species of trees and shrubs set aside for us, Mr. Vengatareddy gave the all-clear sign to load up the truck. It was a solid 35-40 minute workout, all the while making sure that I bent from the knees, not the back (although this wasn’t quiiite hang-clean lift level of intensity).
A truck full of trees
After gently securing the 500th tree in our rented motor transportation vehicle, we thanked Mr. Vengatareddy and his team, inviting them to visit the forest in a couple months, and took off (minus Cedric, who had to stay and wait for their payment office to come back from lunch). We briefly stopped back over at the office to pick up the five big trash bins which will be installed along the forest path to promote waste and recycling awareness. I then hopped on the Hog (my 125 CC scooter) to get to Plaine des Roches in advance of the truck to make sure everything was ready for unloading. Upon arrival, I took Vedant’s dogs Mama Luce and Baloo for a quick run through the sugarcane field, and after about 25 minutes, the tree truck had arrived. To use a quote from the Yale Athletics: teamwork makes the dream work. The three of us unloaded 500 seedlings in a neat 15 minutes tops, and now these seedlings sit, ready to root themselves and grow from the rocky yet rich soil of Plaine des Roches.
Before signing off, I have to share two moments that I can only interpret as good omens for the future of the ELI Forest. The first came when I called the Tree Center last Friday, January 25th, to officially confirm we would be picking up the seedlings on Wednesday the 30th. As I hung up the phone, I smiled and was able to appreciate that our dream of the ELI Forest was finally becoming a reality. And why did I take this as a sign, you may ask? Without knowing it at the time, I made that phone call on the eve of Tu B’Shvat, the one day each year Judaism sets aside specifically for our natural world. It is known as informally as New Year’s for the Trees, a holiday that has been celebrated since the days of the ancient Israelites, and is the equivalent of Earth Day for Jews around the world, many of whom plant trees on this day. What better day to confirm we were actually obtaining the seedlings? The second moment came yesterday, right at the end of the day. Our team of three had just removed the last seedling out of the lorry and placed it next to the others. As I went to shake hands with Mr Dinoo and his son, I slowly began to feel drops of rain hitting my head. For the entire day, thick grey clouds had loomed overhead, but it was not until literal seconds after we finished work that the sky opened up. And what better way to welcome our pioneering plants to Plaine des Roches then with nourishing water from the heavens?