By Anjum Makki
And every kind of thing is produced on the earth in due balance and measure. The mineral kingdom supports the vegetable and they in their turn support the animal, and there is a link of mutual dependence between them. Excess is eliminated. The waste of one is made the food of another, and vice versa. And this is a chain of gradation and inter-dependence. (15.19) The Holy Qur’an
It was not too long ago in the passage of time, in a city not far from here, there lived a local politician and this city was surrounded by thousands of acres of agricultural land. A huge dense forest thickly populated by tall trees covered a vast portion of this land running into a few hundred square kilometers. One day the politician decided to make a detailed survey of his constituency and during such surveys he had to make lengthy detours around this huge forest. This inconvenienced him a great deal and he decided that he should somehow put an end to this problem. That day, he decided to venture deep into the forest to find a way to solve this problem.
He had never gone inside the forest before, though it stood on the land of his constituency. Filled with resolve, he walked with determined steps into the forest. What he saw inside totally shocked him. The forest on his land grew wild. According to his thinking a forest meant that it should have plenty of huge trees and, therefore, anything that was not a tree was useless. He cleverly reasoned that the grass and the bushes that grew wild in his forest absorbed precious water from the ground that was meant for the trees. Then there was the problem of all those fallen leaves, the dry twigs and the rotting branches that fell from the trees, had scattered all over the forest and merely cluttered the ground. All the problems that plagued his constituency would vanish if the forest were cleared of its wild undergrowth and roads were built inside the forest for people to move about freely. He made this into a poll-issue and very soon the people of the city gave him the authority to carry out his plans by voting him to power.
After taking stock of the problem, he went to a nearby village and hired hundreds of laborers to clean up this forest. He promised to pay them well for all their services rendered by them in this regard and he instructed his laborers to get started on the job from the next day itself. All pleas for caution from other well-meaning people who wanted to preserve the wild nature of the forest went unheeded by the politician. The laborers came next day armed with pickaxes, shovels, sickles and brooms. First they swept the area clean and wherever they could they gathered all the dry twigs, the leaves and the rotting branches and started burning them. Having finished the task after a few weeks they attacked the bushes and the low obstructing branches of the trees with their axes and made them into huge heaps and started burning them down too.
After a few weeks time, his forest started wearing a clean and an airy look. The politician took a great interest in planting the new trees to replace those trees he had got felled for obstructing the way. The new trees were planted in neat rows and were lined up to look like chairs alongside a wall and there was not a single speck of dirt to cover up the groups. The laborers had done a thorough job to the last detail. The politician was very pleased with the orderly sight that greeted him from every corner of the forest.
Three years passed by and the people of the city began to notice strange changes in his clean forest. The crowns of the tallest trees had their crowns thinned out and they were sparsely populated with leaves. On a closer look they found that the leaves of even the largest of trees had started to loose their color and sheen. They almost wore a transparent look; the forest had become peppered with dead trees, standing tall but totally lifeless and dried-up. Then there were those huge trees, victims of many storms that had fallen across the path totally blocking the path of the traveler who passed that way. Winter was a long way off and yet the ground lay covered with yellow leaves. Only a short time had passed since the politician had cleaned up the forest and it was untidy once again, worse than before a poor shadow of it’s former self.
The politician who had also heard about the sad state of the forest was puzzled. He could simply not understand why the trees had dried up and it was certainly not from lack of care from his side. Three years had passed since he had cleared the forest of its thick undergrowth. Along with the forest, he also took great care to attend to the problems of the people of his constituency. He had inlaid the forests with roads and electricity and telecommunication cables, which brought them close to the other people of the outside world. Finally at his wits end he called for help from the experts who lived in his constituency and they were asked to form a committee to study the problems in the forest and suggest remedial measure within three months time.
The experts studied the problem and at the end of three months they submitted a report to the politician. According to the report, what had happened was that the laborers in their enthusiasm to clean up the forest had swept out just everything-all that should have been swept out and all that should have been left untouched. The dry branches of the dead trees were certainly of no use, except perhaps as firewood but the bushes had also been chopped out needlessly. The politician had briefed the laborers earlier that the only things of importance in a forest were the trees and the bushes were of no value at all! However the people of the city found out from their own sad experience that the trees could not live without the bushes for they began to dry soon after the bushes had disappeared. They cursed themselves for entrusting the care of their forest into the hands of a shortsighted politician.
The report also gave the reasons as to why the bushes were so important to a forest. The forest is not just a forest and it can be compared to a densely populated city. The houses in the forest were the nests and the burrows and its inhabitants the birds and the animals. While it is true that some birds build their nests high up in the tall trees, there are many others that build their nests in the thick undergrowth tucked away safe in the thick foliage away from prying human eyes. They would dart quickly into their nests as soon as they sensed danger from other birds or animals and the moment they sensed a stranger nearby.
When the laborers had chopped down the thick undergrowth on the advice of the politician, the birds that nested there took flight immediately and flew far away and settled themselves in other forests and that was the beginning of all the problems that were going to plague the forests in the months to come. The reasons were not far to seek. It is a well-known fact that the birds rarely sit on a branch idling or whiling away their time. They fly all around the forest hopping from branch to branch from dawn to dusk tidying up the forest in their own methodical way. As soon as they spot a beetle or a caterpillar on the trees they quickly snatch it up by their beaks and they eat to their fill. After that they start hunting for more and take it in their beaks to their baby nestlings. The baby-birds on their part eat an awful lot of bugs brought to them by their parents and grow very fast. The forest birds used to eat away thousands of bugs everyday and when the birds flew away to other forests, the beetles and the caterpillars’ had the time of their lives. They made merry, multiplied and multiplied in alarming proportions.
The trees in the forest started drying up because they were now swarming with insects. Some insects feasted on their leaves and others on the roots. The tree appeared to them like a well laid-out banquet table but with a difference. Here, the insects would make a feast of the table too! After the birds had left they had multiplied rapidly and attacked each tree in regiments. The caterpillars were the first to advance and they chewed up the leaves and the roots. The trees used to absorb light and air through its leaves and water from its roots for photosynthesis. In its absence the trees became weak with thirst and hunger. These weaknesses laid them open to attack from many more enemies. The next in line to attack were the beetles, the type that fed on the bark of the trees. These beetles started chewing through the bark and they started boring long winding tunnels under the barks, chewing up on the wood as they worked and carting away the sawdust on their backs.
If only the tree had been stronger and healthier, it would have done away with the beetles in no time, feeding on its bark by its own defense mechanism, by drowning them in the heavy sticky sap that flowed underneath the bark. But the tree was no longer its former self; as it had been before the caterpillars had overran it. It had dried up because of lack of food and water and there was not much sap left in it. There was no one to defend the tree either as the birds had already taken flight to safer areas.
The beetles feeding on the bark stayed on the job boring away at the tree from all sides and it was not long before the tunnels merged forming a bored out band under the bark. The beetles had cut between the roads inside the trees that linked the leaf with its roots and the live healing sap could no longer flow beneath the bark. The trees lost their last leaves. They still stood straight up in the forest, but hollowed and eaten down form inside, and they were dead.
Even now the enemies of the trees would not let it rest in peace. New beetles different from the bark-eating beetles arrived on the scene and they had feelers that were longer than their bodies and they made straight to the center of the tree trunk to eat it away continuously and turned the once mighty trees into mere hollow shells ruining it completely. Like this, all the trees of this forest were ruined completely.
All this happened because the people acting on the advice of a politician had chopped down the bushes and shrubs in the forest. The politician in his narrow vision had imagined a forest that was only filled with trees. He was mistaken, the experts told him so, for no forest is complete without the shrubs, the bushes, animals, birds, beetles and the caterpillars alongside the trees.
All the plants and animals in the forest lived with each other according to a master –plan, the law of nature, and they had co-existed for centuries living off each other in perfect harmony. This co-existence for centuries was destroyed in a very short duration all because of the shortsighted vision of a politician, who had imagined in his mind a forest that was only made up of trees and he had not bothered to ask the learned and the wise about the rules of this master-plan before he had ordered the forest to be cleaned up.
The people now wise from the findings of the experts woke up suddenly to the facts that now faced them. Their city would be deprived of clean healthy air from the forest, medicinal herbs, firewood, fruits and flowers that grew wild in it. They rushed to the forest armed with paste hoping that the caterpillars would stick to it and they also sprayed the leaves with a poisonous spray. It was no use. There were too many insects and nothing could stop them anymore.
Those that are wise will learn from this story and not repeat the same mistakes again. The next time we decide to change nature we should know that everything created by nature is interlinked with everything else and we should not forget this relationship. Even the woodpecker and the ants are important members of a forest for they too eat up harmful insects and help to keep the forest in order.
If you wish to help protect a forest in your area, you should remember that it should extend to all its inhabitants and don’t let anyone break off the branches of a tree, or root out bushes, destroy the nests of birds or burn away ant-hills for we have a responsibility of saving the forests for the generations that are going to come after us.
We provide sustenance of every kind, physical, mental, spiritual, etc., for you (i.e. for mankind.) But we do more. We provide for every one of Our creatures. And there are those of which mankind is not even cognizant. We provide for them also. There are those who may at first sight appear hostile to man, or whom man may consider hostile, such as wild and noxious animals. They are Our creatures, and We provide for them also, as they are Our creatures. But there is due order and balance in the economy of Our universal Plan.' (15.20) Surah Al-Hijr of the Holy Qur’an
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