Memories of a Dam Tree

It was the tallest tree in the village. You could see it from miles away. Besides, it was the best known landmark – simply referred to as muti wa demu, or the dam tree, for it grew on one side of the Wanyororo (Catholic) dam’s banks.

  I’m referring to the eucalyptus tree, the once giant that towered to the sky.

  For those with a nostalgic memory of it, they can attest the tree’s summit literally hugged the sky.

  Its trunk was as thick as a baobab’s; though so smooth making it hard for daredevil adventurists (mostly local louts) to scale up.

  Up high the branches eagles had nests. Occasionally, they would swoop down to homesteads around and pick chicks from the free range breeding systems, and make nice meals out of them with bones to be found dropped at the base of the tree.

  The tree whistled soft tunes during windy days, or spoke the language of the rain when one was in the offing.

  How long it stood is unknown, but it could have been five decades old.  

  Then the tree died. That was in the late 1990s. Had it not been for some village louts to cut roots ringing the base, I think the tree would still be standing today.

  The tree stood on public land, but how it ended up in charcoal mounds of a farmer nearby defies logic. Who gave the said farmer permit to cut down a tree in a public land?

  It is a given that money does talking. And greasing the palms of the authorities of the day saw the farmer laying claim to the tree.

  As the power saws worked full throttle on the massive trunk, the tree danced its last shaky dance like in protestation.

  The eagles, like protecting their turfs, stayed put high up watching the humans below sawing off the fortress of strength.

  Hours and hours the lumbermen took turns working round the massive trunk. Curious villagers, anticipating free firewood, too came to witness the felling down of the giant tree.

  Some were there believing it was a mugumo tree and its drying up and eventual cutting down would signify some changes perhaps too catastrophic in nature.

  Then the tree shook, danced a violent dance as the power saws cut to the centre of its heart, and gravity, aided by a southerly wind took over.

  The eagles high up screeched as they flew away. Their awful screeches were like curses not to the lumbermen but humanity in general.

  Then an earthshaking thud whose vibrations were registered on the Richter scale shook the ground as the tree fell down. The dam turned into a mini-tsunami ripple as a giant wave swept to one of the banks such that the few ducks submerged or hiding in aquatic weeds took off at lightning speed.

  For those who had never experienced a natural earth tremor, the artificially made one was enough to shake them to the core.

  Before long, what was once a giant tree tapering to the sky was reduced to logs that were rolled over into the farmer’s farm and piled up to be turned into smouldering mounds of charcoal.

  Even the stump was gouged up in coming days, erasing any evidence that once upon a time, a tree stood there.

  The tree that was a landmark, the dam tree, was no more.

  Where many a Sunday different denominations would stand below it, do mini-sermons before the pastors would lead sections of their flock into the cold dam waters for a baptismal dip.

   I paid the visit to the dam and saw another tree. Yes, another eucalyptus tree!

  It is metres away from where the original tree stood. It is part of a private individual’s farm fence, though.

  Though the new tree will not live to the billing of the former one, at least it will act as a landmark of sorts. Provided the owner of the farm will not cut it down any time soon.

  And with the big, giant tree of the yore no more, the dam too changed. It is more a frog breeding pond than a dam! No baptismal are conducted here anymore. The churches have erected to construct their own baptismal pools or uses facilities of others like hotel swimming pools.

  There was a tree. Once upon a time.


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