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Notes From the Aerophant How to Build a Forest

By Tai Moses

THIRTY years ago Abdul Kareem bought a cheap 5-acre piece of land in Kasaragod, in the Indian state of Kerala. People thought he was crazy; it was an arid, rocky wasteland, devoid of vegetation or water. But Abdul Kareem had an idea.

He planted saplings of wild trees between the rocks and began to cart in water on his bicycle. The saplings died; he planted more. He bought 27 more acres and continued to cart in water for the next three years. He filled small pots with water and placed them around the land to attract passing birds. He dug rainwater pits and planted more trees. Eventually, he said, "Nature took over. Birds came, carrying seeds with them. Weeds, rare herbs and medicinal plants sprouted. I just stood aside and watched."

Today the former wasteland is lush and green; alive with birds, small mammals, trees and flowering plants. Kareem does not allow wood to be cut, animals to be harmed or even a single leaf to be removed. The water table has risen and four wells supply abundant natural water, which he shares with a nearby village. One of the villagers said, "This forest is our greatest blessing. It was only after Kareem grew the forest that water appeared here."

That's how you make a forest. That's how you make a world. It may take a little time, but really, anyone can do it. All you need is an idea.

The Rights of Trees

In Athens, Ga., there's an oak tree that belongs to itself. The man who owned the tree, and the land on which it grew, deeded ownership of the tree to itself in the early 19th century. People find this whimsical, but what's so whimsical about a living being having a say in its own destiny? Is it whimsical to recognize that nature has rights? The people of Ecuador don't think so: In 2008 Ecuador became the first country in the world to adopt a constitution that grants rights to nature. Ecuadorian law recognizes the inalienable right of ecosystems and species to flourish. This is the way things should be. The Athens oak may be the first tree in America to be endowed with self-determination, but hopefully it won't be the last.

Tai Moses is a writer and former editor of Metro Santa Cruz. She blogs at

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