There was once a tree that stood in the Amazon Rainforest. This was a tree I knew and loved. One that stood over one hundred forty feet tall. Its buttressed base was probably bigger than your living room, and its branches towered proudly over the jungle. I would often walk beneath this tree and wonder.
At well over seven hundred years old, this giant was a sapling when Pizarro reached Peru in 1526. It spent decades reaching upward while North America was still made up of Native American nations; it was fighting for sunlight while the Industrial Revolution played out— when the lightbulb, the automobile, and the airplane were invented. This tree was already a giant when World War I and World War II came and went. When the towers fell in New York on September 11th, this tree was standing in tranquil grandeur, watching over the jungle.
When I met this massive old ironwood it took my breath away and lifted my eyes skyward. From down in the dark interior of the jungle, I could barely make out its sunlit branches that extended far above the rainforest canopy. Up there at the dizzy heights grew orchids and cacti, with various other mosses, lichens, bromeliads and epiphytes. A family of macaws had made a home in an old hole near the crown. Three feet long, scarlet and brilliant, their calls ushered in the morning. Their neighbours, the toucans and flycatchers, flew by to visit. Howler monkeys spent long, pensive days masticating leaves, before singing their booming chorus scored to the thundering afternoon rains. Vines latticed and laced up the trunk of this tree where birds, snakes, lizards, frogs, and spiders made their home. Leaf-cutter ants ferried their cargo in neat lines of bobbing leaves. If you tallied up the sum of the species, the number would be in the thousands. To stand beneath this tree was to marvel at a living skyscraper of life.
Then one day in 2016, this tree that had stood in titanic, unerring silence for so many centuries—was cut down. Soon after another seventy-nine like it were felled. Skyscrapers of life, worlds unto themselves, sliced up by chainsaws and shipped out to be the hardwood floors that people far away would walk on. The families of macaws came crashing to the ground. The howler monkeys gathered their young and fled. With each tree that fell the cacophony of life grew slightly more silent.
How many trees can the Amazon lose before the moisture cycle breaks? How many rivets can you take off the wing of a plane before the whole thing falls from the sky? How much of our living world can we watch be destroyed before it causes the kind of pain we can’t heal? It was these questions that inspired us to begin Junglekeepers — to stop the destruction of the Amazon, the ironwood trees, and all the heartbeats they are home to.
This year, the support of Age of Union made it possible for indigenous ranger teams to protect over 20,000 acres of pristine rainforest. That means that tens of thousands of ironwoods and other trees, and the dizzying diversity of life they are home to, are safe. In the coming months, we’ll be sharing more about the expansion of this Sanctuary that is keeping entire watersheds in the Amazon protected. For me now, as I walk beneath these tremendous trees, the proud giants of the jungle, I can only marvel. I look up and see families of macaws bickering, howler monkey mothers cradling their young and calmly chewing leaves. I see toucans and flycatchers flitting around on moss-bearded branches. For the first time in a long time, I see hope.
Photos 1 "An ironwood tree towering above the jungle" by Paul Rosolie
Photo 2 "Portrait of Paul Rosolie"
Photo 3 "A red howler monkey in the morning" by Paul Rosolie
Photo 4 "Exploring the roots of an ancient tree in the rain" by Stephane Thomas
Paul Rosolie is an American conservationist and author. His 2014 memoir, Mother of God, detailed his work in the Amazon rainforest in southeastern Peru.