The lost forests (Climate Change) -DAWN

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“Where are the forests, we thought Cyprus was covered with?”

“Good question”, we trees conceded. Life was not easy for us. Swarms of locusts had plagued the island for too long, arriving in dense, dark clouds, devouring all things green. Forests had been decimated, cleared for vineyards, cultivation and fuelwood, and at times deliberately destroyed in endless vendettas. Constant logging, multiple fires and sheer ignorance were all responsible for our disappearance, not to mention the blatant neglect of the previous administration. But so were wars…”

“Citrus orchards had been chopped down to make way for smart villas and apartments. Cyprus was known in antiquity as the ‘green island’, famous for its dense, mysterious forests. The absence of trees was a powerful rebuke to the dreadful mistakes of the past.”

This excerpt from Elif Shafak’s recent novel, The Island of Missing Trees, puts forward a pressing issue of modern times that of deforestation and climate change.

The title of the novel is apt given the ecological concern of the novel. The reader can have a strong sense of nostalgia as Shafak writes about the island once thick with forests. The forests have gradually disappeared to give way to urbanisation.

Shafak grasps the authentic reason behind the unwelcoming change with a precision and clarity that is remarkable.

Who is responsible? What is the root cause behind it?

The answer is no riddle. It is clearly human intervention in the realm of nature that has ignited this vicious fire of heedlessly cutting down trees.

The ecosystem works in a domino effect. The fig tree stands as an emblem for all of the dying nature. As the fig tree is reborn outside of its native habitat, Shafak points to an important truth — the truth of the peaceful coexistence of nature and humans.

Humans are dependent on nature. For the human race to survive the threat of extinction, nature must not be tampered with. It is the mutual harmony between the two that is absolutely necessary to be able to breathe and live.

Wars plunder and destroy nature, clearing vast tracts of land for construction of sky rise buildings and houses; greedy and corrupt leaders who act on impulse without effective planning; and the reckless human behaviour are all factors responsible for destroying the wilderness that is what will sustain the human species.

Cyprus was once a beautiful island. Luscious and delectable it was like paradise. Shafak questions the brutality of humans toward nature. But she also doesn’t deny the power of nature.

Nature may be destroyed but it will reappear over the passage of time. It will take time to heal the humanity inflicted wounds but there will be a hope and renewal.

Yet the cost of the human actions and intervention is fatal. It will restore, it will mend but at the expense of a vast span of time. It may take years and years before the harm done can be reversed and turned into a fruitful benevolence.

To conclude, The Island of Missing Trees is a treat to all nature lovers. Shafak beautifully captures the grave issue of deforestation and climate change in an endearing and charming manner. She layers the somber issue with an indulgence and frivolity that is hard to believe.

Shafak is able to send across her message to the reader in a triumphant manner. The reader emerges from his/her indifference to open their eyes to the stark reality of how to preserve ‘the island of missing trees’ — a persona for all forests that have died because of human transgressions.