The Kapok Tree / by Kevin Huang

| The Kapok Tree |

Fairy Tales from the Jungle

the kapok tree bird

Once upon a time, among one of the many stops in the course of my travels, I came to live in the jungle. 

Life was leisurely and slow, as my only methods of transportation were my own two legs, and the pace of life in those days matched the slow speed of my walk.  Some days, my legs would take me down to the beach to surf, and on other days, in the evenings, I would go for a walk in the opposite direction, into the jungle, with my dog Nalu.  On one such stroll, I came across and was intrigued by a strange, haunting tree. 

On this particular occasion, in the warm rays of the evening sun, Nalu and I walked for a time, following a road we had never walked before.  The road twisted and turned, past farm houses, abandoned wood cabins, and large empty ranches.  The further we walked the more overgrown the vegetation became and the larger the trees grew - the uppermost branches of which towered high above our heads, far beyond the reach of any man. The path led us down a hill and then up another, twisting and turning until it led us to a spot where the sun did not shine, as the trees were so tall that they blocked the light of the sun from shining through.  It was in this spot, along this stuffy, desolate road that I came across the tree.     

It was dry season, and the jungle was in desperate need of water.  Many of the trees lacked leaves, and this particular tree was no different.  The tree was barren, and in the shade of its many branches, its trunk was dark – almost black.  But what struck me the most about this tree, was that from top to bottom, every inch of this tree was covered in thorns.  

the kapok tree

From the base of its roots, through its trunk, up through the very top branches, thorns the size of nails and just as sharp, protruded outwards in all directions.  No man, or monkey, or any other animal could climb such a tree without finishing the endeavor bloody and full of holes.  It was the sort of thing that one could only imagine existed in a fairytale, guarding some sort of precious treasure for eons in plain sight, as no sane person could ever hope to climb such a devilish, and evil looking tree.    

Yet, I was drawn to the thing in such a way, as one is drawn to the site of a car accident, or some other scene of tragedy.  The rational brain tells the mind that you approach in order to understand what caused the event, yet the heart knows that this is just a ruse.  The energy of such a thing draws you to it, and the trap is set.       

What confused me so much about this tree was that it challenged my concept of what I thought a tree was supposed to be.  All of the trees that I had ever encountered in my life had always given me very pleasant feelings.  A sense of unity with nature, a source of sustenance and fruit.  Man plants the tree and gives it soil, water, and space on his land - and in return, the tree provides the man with shade from the hot sun, the occasional fruit, and a place for his animal friends to nest on.  But this tree was different.  This tree did not bear fruit – it was barren – there was barely a leaf on any of its branches.  Instead of a sense of peace, I felt darkness.  The tree was like a parasite of the earth, taking everything and providing nothing.  Worse than nothing, it gave off an energy of repulsion, I sensed that it wanted to be left alone.  I did not like the feeling it gave me, but I could not look away. 

As a man brought up in the disciplines of science, deduction, and critical thinking, I reasoned that the tree must have evolved over the millennia to be covered in thorns as a method of defense so as not to be disturbed by any animals eating or messing with its seed or its bark.   The thorns were meant to protect itself, and to discourage visitors.  Certainly, it discouraged me.  As much as I stared at the tree, I certainly had no desire to touch it.  Yet, strangely, as if in a trance, I continued to stare, and dare I say I approached just a tad bit closer. 

And then, as I stood there, looking high at its uppermost branches, I noticed a flicker of movement.    A tiny bird, I saw, was prancing on the upper branches, hopping this way and that, its little feet the perfect size to fit in between the thorns of the tree.  And then suddenly, my eyes picked up more movement.  I realized then, that there was a family of birds up there, flitting around between the various little branches, chirping away, seemingly happy and filled with life.  It was by looking at these upper branches where the birds stood and which, in contrast to the lower ones, were bathed in plenty of sunlight, that the tree was in fact a light grey color, almost white - not the black that I had originally noticed in the shade.    

As if that very sunlight had illuminated my own brain, it occurred to me then, that the tree had chosen this for itself.  It – or should I say its ancestors before it - must have suffered for so long that they evolved over millennia to grow their protective thorns.  This history of pain then, must have been passed down to the already ancient tree which stood before me, through no fault of its own.  I thought to myself then, that in a way, maybe trees and people are not so different.  No matter how different we may seem now, as we are all beings bred of this Earth, did we not have a common ancestor at some point, countless eons ago?  Imagine, how painful it must be, to be forced to grow thorns in order to protect oneself. 

At this realization, my heart melted a little.  As I stared at the tree now, in this new light, I was filled with a sense of loneliness.  And then sheepishly, my attention turned inward and I thought of all of the thorns that I had sprouted deep within me, and I wondered if I was not out in the jungle - in solitude - for a rather similar reason? 

It was then, with the coming of twilight, that the last rays of sun angled their way past the thick array of trees that surrounded me and illuminated the pathway home and thus the trance was broken.  I turned and looked at Nalu - his tail was wagging excitedly, and his head was looking back at me eagerly over his shoulder, questioning me as to when we would be hitting the road towards home again.  I started towards Nalu and the road home, hurrying as the light was fading.  Just as the tree was about to disappear from view however, I shot one final glance back at it.  The birds were chirping now, and the tree looked less alone with its family of birds nesting in its branches.  Although they may have arrived unwanted, that did not stop the birds from settling down and making a home out of a perfectly good tree - as friends sometimes do.  And, as I looked now I thought, “oh how those little birds gave life to such a depressive tree!”

And with that, Nalu and I took off hurriedly for home, our minds quickly devoid of any thoughts of strange trees, concerned only with what we were going to be having that evening for supper.    

 

** FIN **

 

 

Interestingly enough, it is said that when the kapok tree matures, it sheds its thorns.