My Forest in Nicaragua

There is a small copse in the highlands of Nicaragua where the sparrows play. “They are still there,” I was told on my last visit, “the trees are.” Granted that was a decade ago now. “They call it Hurricane Forest” my friend said, if I recall correctly.

Hurricane Forest we had planted in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, one of the periodic storms which barrel through the Caribbean and sometimes Central America. That one was particularly bad – too many killed and the destruction still evident in deep jagged scars scratched into mountainsides denuded by cattle and goats and fields of peppers and tomatoes – mountains stripped of their ancient forests by poverty. We planted 100,000. I was a volunteer, making a few hundred dollars a month and living in a little cave under a bar for $1 a night. The saplings were also cheap, pennies or maybe a dollar each, I can’t remember. The whole effort cost probably five or perhaps ten thousand dollars; certainly less than a private jet flight to the Golden Globes. With the cost of that pathetic party I could have planted a jungle.


It should be obvious, to those who love our planet and know her. The roots of the trees hold back the topsoil during the rains – fighting soil erosion. They provide oxygen and are the famous ‘carbon sinks’ about which we no longer hear because that would require giving the United States and Canada credit for its tremendous acts of reforestation. Just as important, they give a place for the sparrows to play and raise their babies. Oh, to be sure, they probably did not all survive – my trees – but if at least 10% did, that’s 10,000 trees.

Have you planted a forest with 10,000 trees?

I read “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss occasionally to my son. It, and “Oh The Places You’ll Go” are my favorites of that great moral philosopher now departed. “I’m the Lorax and I speak for the trees” he says, but nobody is listening. Ever wonder why that is? Is it, perhaps, that the self-appointed Loraxes of our modern world are so horrible, so bitterly partisan, so hopelessly self-involved that they invite only ridicule and rage?

If there is one thing I have learned in my time in the war zones and earthquake centers and flood plains of this planet its that if you want something done you have to do it yourself. Think that war is wrong? Go out and try and stop them. Hate poverty? Make a business which hires people, giving food and health care to families, filling individual lives with joy. Care about the environment? Buy a track of land as big as you can in Arizona or Colorado or Costa Rica and set it aside, pristine and only for the butterflies. Its about initiative and personal sacrifice; working in areas where you have control on issues which you care about, leading by example and tremendous endurance. Oh, I know words like ‘sacrifice’ are not popular these days. Why should you sacrifice, if there are so many who do not? Better lets make them pay!!!! Besides, those things I suggest? They are tedious and slow and probably won’t get your face on the cover of magazines or invited to be feted at gala dinners. Nevertheless it is there where all work that means anything is carried out. For those who today claim to speak for the trees speak only for themselves. And the efforts of planting a forest, though it is so very cheap? They are above such things. 

I planted a forest in Nicaragua. What have you done?

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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