Trees I have known (and ploughed into)

Here are David Bristow’s thoughts on trees… (Bearing in mind that the first time he got his paraglider airborne, on a mountaintop in KwaZuluNatal, he flew straight into a big pine tree and it took his mate Donald the best part of an hour to help him out, he was laughing so much.)

And here’s my thought about mountains, where we like to ride: they are like Ireland, or Newlands, in that it rains a lot there; which in most cases leads to them being covered with trees. Trees are nice, they make shade, they break the wind; baboons, birds and squirrels like them and they make places look pretty.

When that famous champion of trees and writer of books about the Boer War and trees, Thomas Pakenham, heard the powers that be were hacking down some of the large old gum trees around the Tokai Arboretum (a place I like to ride), he called them “tree Nazis” and I had a lot of empathy with him in that.

The inevitable logging of plantations is still traumatic
The inevitable logging of plantations is still traumatic

I know about SANParks’ motive for chopping out non-indigenous trees, and I know that companies like Sappi, or Mondi, or Safcol or whatever they’re called now, will cut down trees where and whenever they can because that’s what they do. But sometimes I have to shake my head.

In the Cape and KZN Midlands most of the places we ride are covered with trees, and we know most of those trees will in time all be cut down. But you’d think that when it comes to areas utilised by the public for strolling, dog walking and even mountain biking, they’d consider leaving an avenue of shade trees. Even just on one side maybe?

I’ve seen Working for Water contractors indiscriminately cutting down old trees lining main roads in little towns, because they were alien species. Or along the banks of streams, even when raptors have nests with eggs those trees.

And then I wonder how long it will be until all the oaks of Stellenbosch are targeted by the tree Nazis, and all the lovely stone pines on Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head (they’ve started on those ones already). In Tokai they’ve even mowed down trees that were not on their property, but on the road reserve (sidewalk) leading up towards the manor and forest.

The denuded landscape, not ideal for mountain biking under our hot sun.
The denuded landscape,
not ideal for mountain biking under our hot sun.

Robert Mazibuko was known as the Tree Man. He taught the people around Maritzburg about the miracles of nature that are top soil, compost and trees and how to grow organic food. “After 2 000 years of civilization,” he once said, “how can you make a road without trees on either side?” I’ve got that quote on a fridge magnet in my kitchen.

I think a lot about trees while I am riding, mostly about how to avoid riding into them, but I’m not always that fortunate. In fact right now, as I write, I sport a few bloody scars from my tryst with a fallen pine log on Sunday, and the week before on a bit of long-lost single track. I think about Cathy (née Lanz) Hofmeyr’s father who cut short his useful life by riding smack into a pine tree on the tight bottom turn of My Roots track just after the old log bridge (it’s not nearly so scary now).

With a little bit of arithmetical extrapolation, I reckon Parks takes in something between R800 000 and one million Rand a year from mountain bikers in Tokai, and you have to wonder what they do with the money. So here’s an idea: how about planting some nice indigenous trees along the jeep tracks on Table Mountain.?

Oh, silly me, of course not. That would not be pure. You must be pure and make war on all impure races. You must hate trees where before there were no trees, according the custodians of our beloved mountain park. So here’s a closing thought.

 Men at work

When the first foresters started working here they spent most of their energies planting trees that would spread the best, like acacias, pines and hakea. Now we spend millions each year trying to cut them out. Ideas change. Maybe at some time in the future some bright spark in charge will say, hey, how about we plant some avenues of nice indigenous trees, because they provide shade, food and shelter for many creatures and they look so nice, especially like now, when species such as the Cape ashes are covered in magnificent sprays of flowers.

The USA parks service pays college students to plant seedlings in deforested areas. Just an idea, in case SANParks cannot figure out what to do with all the money we are giving them.

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