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Chronicles from Calabria: the revolt of the trees of 2014

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Chronicles from Calabria: the revolt of the trees of 2014

We were cold in March 2014 and the verdant Calabrian mountains received word that there would soon be a visit by woodcutters.

The trees were moving slowly every year, every so often losing one of their comrades with tears of resin and hot sap, towards the North, but this was not enough to reach shelter. And that had been since ancient times. Already at the time of the Bretti, with the Roman conquest, those tall trees, covered with resin like hair which changed color from dark green to silver gray in the changing light of day until they were covered with a frosting of white snow, were being cut down and taken away to Rome. It is said that over time the inhabitants of these woods had learned to recognize the sound of weeping trees that resounded in the valley.

That year, the pine trees, the white spruce, the beech trees and the undergrowth, the marmots, the badgers, the wolves, the foxes, and the squirrels, met to discuss and decide together a strategy of resistance. The meetings lasted whole nights until dawn, in a climate of great focus and collaboration. Eventually it was decided that the roots, changing position in the ground, would create a trench around which the brambles, in their turn, would grow and build a barrier. Other traps would be built here and there, filled with cow dung and covered with moss.

When the band of woodcutters arrived, they thought to find work as easy as it was every year, and descending from the big SUV they walked along the trail. On the way they found a fox with a long tail, which darted away in great leaps, with eyes full of fear as if trying to dodge the gunfire of a poacher who killed foxes and wolves to make fur for his wife. As they tried to get to the trench, the woodcutters found that the brambles held them back, and it took them two hours to fight their way through. And then, something spectacular happened: the broad-stemmed trees, the old ones, joined their crowning foliage to that of the younger ones to form a huge wedge of trees. With this convergence came a wind which swelled more and more, dropping pounds of needles on the woodcutters who were only saved because they clung to some merciful roots, allowing them to escape from the trench, get back to the SUV, and drive away.

The story of the revolt of the trees traveled throughout Calabria, carried by migratory birds from place to place, and then from south to north, to Hamburg and beyond. Meanwhile, in Calabria, inspired by the joint defense of beauty and justice saw the inhabitants of the country slowly emerged from their houses, and, like people in  the city, come out of the spell which they had been under for years,  a spell which made them see the good in place of evil and vice versa. So it was this enchantment which justified, with the complicit passivity of many people under the spell, those big and small works of contempt: the casting of concrete in the cities, of which avenue Mancini was an example; landfills of waste which increased uncontrollably, as in Celico; traffic and many other urban eyesores devised by politicians and businessmen. But the revolt of the trees had many effects, and forms of struggle came from village to village and adapted to local contexts and to the forces in the field.

Near Sila a gang of black squirrels designed a catapult which threw flowers and fragrant herbs to cover the stench of leachate from landfil

That spring, the attempts to silence the rebels with blows from truncheons failed because, after several days of fighting, Joachim of Fiore appeared on the riverbed so dear to him, and for so long polluted, uttering words unrepeatable. The next day the inhabitants of the forests and those of the valley stormed the towns, setting up new forms of participation. So no-one could any longer decide just for himself what to do or not do with the commons. The politicians who used to manage the commons as private property were dismissed and usefully employed in the cleaning of rivers and the city. Even the Region of Calabria, the same happened. There, the emptying of the building was preceded by a small tsunami in Gioia Tauro. When the waves receded, there was nothing: the port, the incinerator and all that was bad and harmful there before was gone. The work to rebuild the port was carried out by migrants who for so many years had suffered the excessive power of hungry investors, fake benefactors, accustomed to plunder and exploitation. In the course of the cleaning up, appeared the remains of Euranova and that day the emotion was great and amplified by the passage of a comet in Orion. The ruins of that settlement, brought to light by Madda, who was finally free to devote himself to the excavations and by Hussein from Togo, were in the memories of the people of the plain, the sign of the oppression of the rebellion that took shape with the exodus of women and men from the nearby St. Ferdinand, the village wanted by the Marquis Nunziante at the end of the Eighteenth century. Within a few years, they brought back the  vineyards and the olive groves; the production of manna, and many other local delicacies. And migrants, finally free from their exploiters, gave birth to a thousand different activities, traveling without limitations. Fear, resentment, envy and many other sad passions gave way to joy. Even universities were swept away by the force of the movements of protest, and many changes became inevitable. Students no longer accepted study programs imposed by the system and began to study for pleasure, challenging the teachers who, in many cases, were just windbags, and organizing themselves independently. Libraries remained open until late at night. The idea of a degree as a means of getting a job that actually was not there was replaced by the belief that studying was primarily a cure for the confusion that reigned supported by the manipulators by trade. The rector and the dean disappeared, and the budget became participatory. To inaugurate this new phase a procession of wolves, foxes and badgers descended from the mountains to join the students and they made their way to the botanical garden, which was opened and has ever since become one of the places for the general meetings.

We don’t have time for the many other stories we could tell here, but in Serra San Bruno, as in many other places, since then, each month, a concert of bagpipes opens the popular assemblies that have replaced the farcical councils of the past, while it remains to be seen whether the witches of San Fili have found then an elixir for rebellion.

 

Elisabetta Della Corte traslated by Jack Nye ;-)


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