Wednesday, August 20, 2008

An old oak tree in the USA and its relevance to Papua New Guinea


I was thumbing through an old National Geographic magazine last night and came upon an interesting story about a tree in the city of Austin, the capital of the American state, Texas, in the USA.

The tree, a 500 year old oak, is called the Treaty Oak because as local legend has it, the founder of the city of Austin, Stephen Austin, signed a treaty with local Indian tribes in the 1830's that eventually led to the creation of the city of Austin. Because of its historical significance, the area around the tree is reserved as a special site and is also protected by law such that anyone who disturbs the tree can be arrested and imprisoned.

One idiot, Paul Cullen, did disturb the tree in 1989. Over the period of a few weeks, he poured a powerful hardwood herbicide over the tree roots and bragged about his vandalizing exploits to friends.

When the tree's attendants noticed that the tree was dying they called in experts who did tests and discovered that the tree was indeed at death's door. It was amazing to read what happened next ...

The news created national headlines and caused cries of outrage from the residents of Austin. A $10,000 reward was put up by the Dupont Chemical - the manufacturers of the tree herbicide - for anyone who could identify the culprit responsible for the poisoning. Fortunately, Paul Cullen's friends told the police of his deeds and the man was arrested - his friends did not claim the reward out of embarrassment that they knew what he'd done but did not say anything to the authorities. Paul Cullen was subsequently sentenced to 9 years imprisonment for his actions.

But, what about the tree? Well, the experts, whose services were paid for by a 'blank cheque' written out by a Texas billionaire industrialist, Ross Perot, dug out and replaced the soil around the tree's roots. Then they used charcoal to try and soak up the poison from the tree's bark. They then set up a fairly sophisticated misting system around the tree to spray the tree with spring water - all in a concerted effort to revive the grand old oak tree.

The residents of Austin did their bit too. They turned out in force for their beloved tree and kept a daily vigil beside their ailing tree. Some residents placed 'Get Well' cards around the base of the tree while other's said prayers for the trees recovery and some were even thoughtful enough to bring cans of Chicken Soup for the tree!

The tree managed to survive but a substantial part of it did not. It stands rather lopsided now, not as straight and true as before. In 1997, the tree produced its first crop of acorns since the attack and this news garnered national attention as well because it was the first real
sign that the tree was healthy enough to reproduce. The residents of Austin again visited their tree and offered their congratulations by patting the tree's old gnarly bark.

Just imagine, all this fuss for a tree? A vandal desecrates a sacred tree. He is later brought to justice and the whole community rallies to restore the sacred tree. Wonderful community effort isn't it?

Wouldn't it be nice if we had the same sort of reverence and devotion for our sacred sites like the old but very much forgotten 'Old Parliament House'?

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