Coming from New York City, you do not really see many trees or experience the great outdoors. The great outdoors for me is Central Park. Just strolling through the park, no matter what season, shows how beautiful manmade nature can be. However, my relationship with nature changed in December 2014 when I stayed in the Ecuadorian part of the Amazon Rainforest.
During my stay in the Amazon, I went on both day and night hikes, bird watching as the sun rose, saw spiders as big as my face, met a Shaman, became best friends with a monkey, had a boa restrictor dangle one inch above my head, saw caimans and bats at night, came very close to a baby anaconda, took showers in a lagoon and lived in a straw hut. That was quite the adventure that I had no clue I had signed up for. Yet, I seemed to enjoy what I once thought was torture. I mean finding a big hairy spider the size of your face hanging out on your bed just waiting for you is torture but becoming best friends with a monkey was not all that bad. Through this experience, I learned to appreciate nature.
In this remote lodge– a two hour boat ride and thirty minute bus ride away from a small town, where there is no electricity, cell service, or internet, really seemed to put me in touch with Mother Earth. For the first time in my life I saw stars that completely lit up the sky, to the point that a candle or light bulb was not even needed for a source of light. I used books to identify all of the animals I encountered. I felt as if I was living off the grid with no modern amenities whatsoever.
Seeing and experiencing all of that was remarkable, but my visit to the largest tree in the Ecuadorian part of the Amazon Rainforest just topped everything else. This tree was massive! When I say massive, I mean that you can only get the trunk in a picture. The trunk itself is also so big that it is hard to get in a picture. It is called the Kapok tree and it can reach up to two-hundred feet in height, sometimes growing as much as thirteen feet per year. The trunk can actually expand to nine or ten feet in diameter. The tree produces anywhere between five-hundred and four-thousand fruits at one time, with each fruit containing two-hundred seeds. Inside of these fruits are silky fibers. The kapok tree is found in South America, Central America, Mexico and even in parts of West Africa. The guide told us that it is actually believed that there are Kapok trees in West Africa because the unopened fruit floated its way from Latin America to Africa since the unopened fruit doesn’t sink in water. We all took a fruit from the tree and tried to submerge it in the water but it floated making us believe that the story was true!
The guide also told us how the Kapok tree serves many uses to us humans. Its wood is good for making canoes, the silky fibers from the fruit are good for making pillows, and some parts of the tree can be used as medicine. Thinking back to this moment and re-reading Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” made me think about how humans are continuously taking from the environment until there is nothing left to enjoy, neither beauty nor bounty. After humans exploit the tree of its resources, the tree has nothing left to give. In this story, the tree was not happy.
Silverstein, Shel. The Giving Tree. New York: Harper & Row, 1964. Print.