The Tree Hunter

— Over there, Sir, just to let you know, there’s a tree whose trunk is so wide that 12 men are not enough to hold it.
— Let’s go there!
— It is not close!
— To find such a tree no distance is too far.
To Valdir Cruz there has never been near or far, what mattered to him was obstinacy, was to get there, to find it, and go for it. They entered into Bocaina National Park and walked 8 kilometers to, first, find the bushman who knew about the tree. The bushman, just like a hillbilly, said about distance: “it is a pistol tiny shot away” and entered the jungle with the folks. According to Valdir and Sabrina, they walked for 10 or 12 kilometers, always side by side, but the bushman, puzzled, paused and scratched his head. Then he asked the group to wait, and disappeared into the wood. He returned after about one hour.
— So?
— It seems I’m not going to find it.
— When did you first saw the tree, Sir?
— More than 20 years ago.
The tree must have been there, it was the man’s memory that should had gone. There are some people, and Valdir Cruz is one of those, who fall in love with a Project and it becomes fixation, obsession, necessity, anima. Some people take a short time to fulfil their dreams, for others it will take months, years, decades or a whole lifetime. Some projects will end up as ultimate ones, essential, crystallizing a given story to the future. Thus, for many months, Valdir became a tree hunter throughout São Paulo State, from Itaberá to Cunha, from Rifaina to Ibitinga, from Estiva Gerbi to Santa Fé do Sul. What he captured, however, is not regional, it is Brazil, and it is a synthesis of brazilian nature. 
I said hunter. But do not take the word hunter here in the horrendous killer sense. This hunter is one who searches, looks for, investigates, discovers and records. Valdir felt the need, the urge or pressure to collect and preserve forever
because a picture freezes forever a person or an object — the tree images.
Behind his motivation, maybe intuitively or objectively, it was the vehemence, the urgency, the fear that these trees would disappear as well as the forests, jungles, groves, grasslands, thickets, shrubs which are disappearing in Brazil, giving space to grazing, land development, condominiums, resorts, hotels, farms, slums, human insanities, disdain, delusion. Is the world concerned about that? Some people are! It is not by chance that 2,500 scientists published several articles on global warming. What about the mankind? The failure of Copenhagen Climate Change Summit shows a facet of the indifference of humanity. It’s not only the scientists; there is emptiness in the population, a lack of consciousness about everything. Some years ago, in a neighbourhood of São Paulo city, there was an ipêamarelo tree in the middle of the block where I lived. It should be a hundred years old; this was the assumption of all of us in the surroundings, who had transformed the ipê into a symbol. At flowering time, the yellow foliage turned into golden under the sun. Then the flowers covered the sidewalk as a carpet (impossible to avoid the cliché). In a certain point, we noticed that the ipê was losing leaves; its branches were drying and breaking, until a skinny trunk remained. Intrigued, we wondered on the tree’s death. Would it beage? Would it have completed its cycle? But it seemed so vigorous! One morning, in a bakery conversation, the baker said that every morning at about 5 a.m., by the time he went to work, he used to see a lady watering the ipê. All right, we said, she was giving water to the tree. Even in rainy days? The baker emphasized. That made us suspicious and we went after an expert from the department of botany at the University of São Paulo. After doing a “biopsy” (I do not know the technical term, but it doesn’t matter), he gave us the diagnosis: the ipê had been poisoned and killed. We went to the lady’s house in a committee, she received us. She was a person around 60 years old, wealthy, upper middle class, so she should be cultured in some level, with studies and education. We explained that we had investigated and discovered that the ipê had been killed and she was seen watering it every morning. She admitted, calmly:
— Yes, It was me.
Amazed by the coolness, we asked:
— We would like to know why?
The answer shocked us all and traumatized me:
— Because that damned tree always messed my sidewalk with its miserable flowers!
That statement stuck in my mind. If a tree is cursed and the flowers are unfortunate, then there must be something very strange, wrong, distorted, if not perverse in the world. That thought haunted me as a fixation and I began to create a story that quickly became a novel, after years of research about environment, pollution, devastation, climate, hydrography, everything related to the disasters that had been happening. The final result was the novel And Still The Earth (Não Verás País Nenhum), that in Brazil has sold a million copies since its release in 1981, and it has been translated into more than ten languages, including English. It is an emblematic novel of current times. It is a story about a country without trees, without water, hot, with a killing sun. What I was trying to do was an attempt to bring some awareness to people, however small. Valdir Cruz is doing more than that: He is touching us by these images with beauty, strength, the essence of nature. How to imagine the future without one of those trees that stand like sculptures in the middle of pastures and forests and everywhere, ceasing to exist because of a crazy and inconsequent gesture? Notice how the lens of his camera licks, strokes, caresses, each trunk, branch, leaf. Notice how the lens seems to fall in love with the form, the light, the movement. In that figueira tree, whose “paws” cling to the ground, there is a little bit of delicate pleats of a high sewing dress, created by a gifted fashion designer. Isn’t there?
There is a gentle gesture of a ballet dancer, conscious of the perfection of his body and muscles, in that pau-mulato. Isn’t there?
Don’t you think that cambará tree creates with its form erotic sculptures that we see in Indian temples?
The tree hunter is a discontent photographer. Restlessly he revolves around his object, shoots from the front, bottom, side, he wants different lights, and a single tree ends up being several, it multiplies itself before our eyes in different instants of the day, every hour, at every change of light. Valdir is our eye, he leads us. But he gives us freedom to interpret.
Inside this jequitibá may live strength or eminence, pride or challenge.
The peroba-rosa tree is a giant, wearing a heavy coat, a protective symbol — or an ogre, a child would say —, challenging: you cannot pass through without deciphering me. Isn’t it?
The jack trees are Siamese twins! Dont’ you think? Or would one have taken refuge inside the other? Mother and daughter? Brothers, defending themselves? What do trees fear (besides man)? Let’s let our imagination get lost, nature is fantasy, delusion.
Does not that thin ipê-roxo take into their bulge another trunk of a little ipê? It looks like a kangaroo coming out from his the mother’s pouch.What would you say?
The farinha-seca (dry flour in Portuguese — where does such name come from? — Pleasant mysteries!) and the faveiro seem to be the samespecies. Don’t they? They are trees that, like fashion models refused to gain weight, gain body, preferring fragility.
Minimum puzzles. How did guapeva and caviúna bargain so that one could pass through the other? What kind of agreements does nature have?
The royal palm tree comes out from the earth and touches the sky, turning into a giant royal sceptre that imposes itself, majestically.
Don’t you think the gameleira tree have the form of a wine glass, the Holy Grail?
Observe the barks texture. The pau-ferro photo seems to be taken from a satellite point of view. The earth reflects itself in nature.
Look at the freak of nature in the beira-campo. Instead of staying in the wood, it settled down lonely on the top of a mountain, contemplatively.
The chico-pires tree (another mysterious name) was growing, growing and forgot to stop, becoming tall and slender like a giraffe. The top looks like a head, up there. What does it look at?
What really amazed me was the alecrim tree, whose name in Portuguese
means Rosemary. So, those tender leaves that come in fragrant tomato
sauce or in butter pasta can also come from a huge tree like that? Or they
are different things? Or is the delicacy, hidden in enormity? Would it be
the nature like that?
Look, the aroeira tree has snout, head, and tail. Is it a prehistoric
animal? Or that chameleonic tree takes the shape it wants?
Now, please, do not contradict me: the embiruçu tree got up and forgot to comb his hair, yes forgot, and appeared dishevelled like a crazy old lady. What would you say?
Do not look at those images through my eyes. I am a writer, I invent, I fantasize, I joke. I see the forms that I want to see. I just suggest ways to look.
What Valdir, tree hunter, does is to search for new forms, sculptures, small
cathedrals spread throughout our country in different places and moments.
Valdir, Sabrina and Flores Welle, on board a Kia truck, drove over 16 thousand kilometers. They were orientated and guided by Renata, Rafael and Benevenuto Tilli and counted on the expertise of Herbert Serafim, a botanist that knows the region like his own heart. An artist is made of patience and madness, indifference to time and a dose of stubbornness and, as what matters to him is the light that will come a certain hour of the day, a certain day, a certain month, for sure he will wait for it. There is more than passion in this book, there is faith, obsession. The trees are shown as they really are: connected to the earth (roots) and to the sky and light (branches and trunks). In the most primary symbolism
tree is life, as much as water. Why do so many nations see trees as sacred beings? Some have them as deities. The World Tree is the World Axis. For the Indian people, the fig tree is sacred, as well as linden to the German, cedar to Lebanese, cherry tree to the Japanese, oak to Greek and Celt, the olive tree to many people in the Middle East. In China, the kian-mu rises in the centre of the world, trees are the gods’ way to move between heaven and earth. Buddha attained enlightenment underneath a shade of a tree, and Christ sweated blood in the Olive tree Garden. There is the Kabbalah tree, in which the Zohar sees the symbol of the magic knowledge.
My grandfather, José Maria, was a carpenter in the beginning of last century in the city called Matão, a village in São Paulo state. He created furniture, cabinets, beds, tables, cupboards and chairs. I said “create” because he was an artist. He used to give soul and imagination to each different piece; he never wanted two pieces to look the same. He had passion for trees. When he went to the forest to get the wood he needed, he would take me along. I never saw José Maria taking out of nature more than it was necessary. And more important than that: it is unforgettable for me to see him stoop in respect to the ground around the tree. He would only remove the wood, after he was sure there were dozens of seedlings around that would grow and replace that tree.
He taught me this direct relation that led me, in a certain day, 40 years later, to write Não Verás País Nenhum. A task that emerged from the need, from the guilty for what humanity, that I am part of, is doing. This was the same need that made Valdir to cross tirelessly, passionately throughout the country to do — truly — a brief and fundamental breviary. I don’t know anyone like him in Brazil. I wonder what it would feel like in each finding. When he sniffed and saw the “prey”, the target, the intent. I suppose the mixture of fascination, excitement, ecstasy, reverence, jumping for joy. Maybe it would have been a calm event, because he seems to be a contained man, even when I know he is deep down an unquiet man. Something erupts inside of him.
I want to finish with something that my grandfather José Maria, a man with little education and little bookish culture, but with an instinctive, intuitive, religious aura — yes, there was religiosity before nature in that man —, once said to me: “Son, inside the roots of the trees there are dragons and serpents. In their trunks, there are deers and lions, on the top birds, wildfowl, souls and celestial bodies live”. 
He said no more, he just let me to find out on my own. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do.
That is what Valdir Cruz does here, he wants each of us to think, decipher, and get to the heart, the symbol of the trees, find their souls and ours. But let us go, touch, capture and surrender ourselves to these images, by the tenderness of these species isolated, spread, scattered, loose, and resistant.Ignácio de Loyola Brandão, 73 years old, was born in Araraquara, SP, and author of 34 books including novels, short stories, chronicles, travels, children’s books and one theatrical piece. He received recently the Prize Jabuti from Câmara Brasileira do Livro with the book O menino que vendia palavras, recognised as the Best Fiction of 2008. He writes fortnightly chronicle in Caderno 2 of O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper.
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