squawk squawk squawk
Forget the silly slogan
A conversation with a river red gum tree on “saving the planet”
When for a few days, I heard a soft whimpering voice from the sky as I walked on a lonely track along a creek, I worried that I was suffering from psychosis.
The creek once was part of the walking track followed by the Australian
Aboriginal Boon wurrung people for many thousands of years. As I walk, I see a tattered and faded Aboriginal flag flying on a flagpole in a little park. A
yellow circle in the centre of a rectangle divided in half horizontally, the
upper half black and the lower ochre red reminding anyone who cared to find out of an ancient culture’s spiritual relation to the land and the sun — the planet and the cosmos. The ancient spirits sending me a message?
One day the voice was louder, “Hey mate, I’m talking to you.” I looked
around and saw nothing. “Look up, mate.” The only thing I could see was the
high canopy of a huge river red gum tree, a common eucalyptus species in these parts. Oh, the tree was talking to me, I realized. “What can I do for you?” I said, struggling to find the right word to address this old, majestic tree;
“mate” seemed so ordinary and disrespectful.
“Could you please remove this plastic banner some idiot has wrapped around
my trunk?” the tree asked gasping. “It’s killing me.”
I removed the banner and looked up. “From here I can’t read the writing on
the banner,” the tree said. “What does it say?”
“Save the planet.”
“Is the planet dying?” the tree asked anxiously.
“Not really. The planet has been around for 4.5 billion years and still be
here for another 4.5 billion years even if its atmosphere heats up by hundreds
or even thousands of degrees. A big, rogue asteroid may disturb its orbit a bit
if it hits it hard. That’s all.”
“Why then this silly slogan?” the tree exclaimed. “You should be shouting,
save our species. Better still, save us from our silliness. Your stupid species
is indiscriminately destroying the land and water with imperishable plastic and choking the air with noxious carbon. How could you save yourself from your excesses when you print a silly slogan on a plastic banner and leave it around to kill other species?”
My human mind had no answer. I nodded to show my concern.
The tree seemed genuinely angry. It continued, “I have been here for more
than 200 years, and I’ve noticed the air becoming warmer. Too much carbon
dioxide for us trees to breathe in and not many of us to breathe out oxygen.”
“Well, the level of carbon dioxide is going up every year. Now there are 415
molecules of carbon dioxide molecules in every million molecules in the air. It was 400 in 2013.”
“I don’t care about these numbers, but I do care about the numbers of our
species of river red gum trees decreasing dramatically. I give a damn about
your species. As you say, mate, the planet, though it’s atmosphere a little bit
warmer, will still be here for another 4.5 billion years. I’m sure once your
self-indulgent and self-destructing species have disappeared forever, the
planet will look forward to hosting a truly intelligent life that respects its
own kind and the other kinds and its environment.”
Lost for words, I took a sip of water from my reusable water bottle.
“What’s that green sticker on the bottle?” the tree asked. “It looks like a
“It says, save 2000 plastic bottles by using this reusable bottle and save
the planet.” I heard an uproarious laugh and then the tree saying, “Silly
slogans and symbols won’t save human beings; a little respect for the
environment and the other species may. Where are the blackfellas who had a
spiritual connection with the land around this creek?”
© Surendra Verma 2019
I walk, therefore I am
Stand up and wander around the room ‘lonely as a cloud’ and reap the benefits
In his early years René Descartes, the seventeenth-century French philosopher, was sceptical of almost everything, even his existence. He lost this scepticism after he concluded: Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am)—arguably the single best-known philosophical statement.
When he went to a boarding school at the age of eight, Descartes enjoyed exceptional privileges because of his poor health. ‘My philosopher’, as his father used to call him, was excused from morning school duties and was allowed to stay in bed until late in the morning. This habit of morning reflections in bed clung to him throughout his life.
Though the great philosopher loved lying in his bed, if he were living today he would have undoubtedly reasoned ‘I walk, therefore I have a fit body and a fit mind’, and every morning he would have left his bed for a long walk in the woods. He would have based his reasoning on the slew of studies that show that regular brisk walking lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, hypertension obesity, breast and colorectal and other forms of cancer, depression and many other ailments (it even helps people with Parkinson’s disease, as some studies suggest).
Regular brisk walking also keeps weight down, improves mood and memory. A study in the Journal Health Psychology shows that walking is associated with the greatest emotional benefits, over high-intensity workouts. For the elderly, it’s the best way to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. The benefits of walking accumulate once it becomes a routine habit. Unlike many other sports, walking never becomes impossible with advancing age.
Walking is an aerobic exercise. So are running, cycling, dancing and swimming. Recent research suggests that, besides its meditative side, yoga also qualifies as an aerobic workout, at least, if done rapidly. Aerobics get your blood flowing faster and your heart pumping more of it, thus increasing the body’s use of oxygen. The more oxygen your body can take, the more fit you are. This is also a boon for the brain, which is the biggest consumer of oxygen in the body. Oxygen helps food to convert into energy, and the brain consumes about 20 per cent of our daily calorie intake. Many large-scale studies now closely correlate higher oxygen uptake with a significant increase in life spans, even among the elderly or overweight.
And Descartes would have also reasoned that long walks—or any other aerobic activity for that matter—do not cancel out the negative impact of time spent being sedentary. Randomised, controlled trials provide only a partial picture of the benefits of aerobic exercise. Epidemiological evidence, however, shows a complete view: for better health, it’s not the time we spend exercising, but the time we spend not moving at all.
It’s time to stand up and wander around the room ‘lonely as a cloud’. Unlike Descartes, William Wordsworth was an avid walker.
© Surendra Verma 2019