The camera crew, the three of them – camera, sound and reporter – arrived at the mission late one afternoon. It had taken them three days to get into the heart of the Amazon. Jack, the reporter asked for the Monsignor who was the brother of the news editor and the reason for the visit.
“I’m sorry,” the priest said. “We heard about a twelve year old girl from one of the native tribes here, they have a small reservation and we thought she was having visions of the Virgin Mary. Quite unheard of out here so l sent one of my lay fathers and she is..” he paused,” a pagan l suppose. She does not believe in God as we know Him. Yes, she is said to be having visions about a tree talking to her. It has members of her tribe very animated, but it is not the Virgin, so l am sorry the news arrived after you left.”
“That’s a shame,” said Jack and he returned to his crew.
“Now what?” asked Billy the camera man.
“I bet the sounds from the rain forest are something,” said Mike, the soundman.
“I’ll email for instructions,” Billy decided
Two days later they were travelling further into the interior on a canoe with a translator. The editor and the Monsignor had talked and it had been decided that the three of them would check out the story anyway and to help things along the Monsignor volunteered one of his team as a translator as he spoke Portuguese, some English and the native dialect.
“The tribe,” explained Lucas, “is a small one. They have a good sized reservation but there are loggers on the edge and there have been incursions. They do not believe in God as we understand it. They live in the present. A simple life. Maybe the loggers’ activities have upset the girl. We call her Maria.”
They arrived at the village just before sunset and were cordially greeted. They were offered the main community hut to sleep in. “There are less snakes around here,” said Lucas. The crew were grateful if not a little unnerved. Lucas introduced them to the elders of the village and there was a lot of shaking of hands and nodding of heads. The crew muttered the only Portuguese they knew which was obrigado or thank you. Lucas left them for about an hour so they could settle in.
“It’s a bit like the stone age,” said Mike. “But l like the sounds, guys. The sounds of the jungle. Very David Attenborough.”
“I hope Lucas will get them to let me use the camera,” said Billy.
“I wonder where this Maria is?” Jack mused.
Lucas came back full of news. “You can film but first you offer the thumbs up or down and wait for their response. No filming, whatever the temptation, when there is a thumbs down. Maria will see us tomorrow but no filming or recording. They do not want to alarm the Tree.”
The next morning, the crew divided. The camera and sound went around the village and river bank nearby, getting background footage. Jack went with Lucas into the jungle. “The tribe has been here forever but now they are threatened,” said Lucas. “They want a stop to the cutting down of trees. Maria is the key to stop this.”
They walked alone for about twenty minutes. The jungle became denser and soon they saw a young woman sitting down on the ground. She seemed to be in a trance, quite oblivious to their arrival. Lucas greeted her in her own language and she looked up startled. She bade them to sit down on the ground by her. She began to talk and Lucas translated. “There is an old Tree here which speaks to her. It is very old but always remember they live in the present so anything their grandparents recall is to them like ancient history so this old Tree is not necessarily very old, well at least seventy five old. The Tree talks to her as the sun sets and only her, so maybe we could say she is disturbed.”
“What does the Tree say?”
“Man and tree need each other. Man exhales and the Tree inhales and the Tree exhales and man inhales. If there are no trees, man will not inhale. This is not good for the earth.” He broke off and let Maria speak further before translating, “Tomorrow, you must come with the camera and sound. Your arrival has been foretold. You will not be alone.”
The following late afternoon the four of them set off to see Maria and see what message the Tree had for all of them. As they set up, more and more people came into that part of the forest, men, women and many children. “Which is the right Tree?” asked Billy keen to point the camera in the right direction. None of them could tell him anything. Time passed and the light started to fail.
“Is it a trick so we can’t see which tree talks?” Jack asked Billy.
“Concentrate on the girl,” Lucas said. “I will do my best to translate.”
Two elders with torches came out into a makeshift assembly area and stuck them into the ground. Maria walked into the flickering light, dressed in white and there was a hush and then there was clapping. Lucas started translating.
“Before Man, there were Trees and all the animals and the humans who came had shelter, medicines and wood as building material. The Tree was happy to be harvested as long as it had a good life and could replenish itself. The Tree which has guarded this land now speaks to all men everywhere on behalf of Trees everywhere.”
Maria fell silent and suddenly the temperature dropped and the wind rushed through the trees there and around them extinguishing the torches. Jack and Billy turned on their electric torches and Mike picked up sounds which he later said sounded like voices in the distance, indistinct but clearly there. Maria raised her arms and shouted and Lucas translated. “Work with the Trees, plant us in mighty numbers and we will sustain you and the world will be richer.”
The following day Jack’s report was filed and sent to the editor for broadcast and later that day it was seen on Youtube. Social media picked up on Maria and there were pledges from young people from all around the world and government ministers started to allocate budgets for tree planting.
Jack became something of a celebrity on his return and was sought out by all the networks. An American billionaire sought him out. “I have to repay nature for what l have taken,” he said. “Bring the girl over. I will pay. Everyone must listen to her. I mean the damn Tree is so right. We have the technology to counter climate change and it is called the tree and it is cheap technology. We just have to plant trees. I’ll spend my millions to help spread the message.”
And so began a simple campaign which went viral and around the earth. Maria addressed the UN in New York, toured the main countries and even had an audience with the Pope. Kids everywhere began planting trees and implored their parents to look to the future. In some countries political parties in favour of the conservation of the planet began to form governments. There were reactionaries everywhere who thought Maria was a hoax or mentally ill but they were easily discarded. The girl comported herself with simple grace. She wanted nothing the developed world could give her. The young held her in high esteem and she was even offered the Nobel Peace Prize which she rejected. She wanted to grow up in a world which had a future and that was the only foreign language sentence she ever learnt.
Mike became obsessed with his sound recording and no matter how much work he and others did on it they could not work out what the noise was. Maria said it was the sound of Trees speaking that taught her ancestors to talk and that is what she heard that night. Trees telling her what was needed and Billy had turned on his camera right on cue. It was the only time he recorded her in the jungle. Her tree had convinced the others that this time they would be listened to. Other scientists were sure it was just the way the wind blew about the trees that night. In his old age, Mike would be asked to play the recording whenever there was a major tree planting and when new forests were opened up. That recording became the soundtrack of a changing world which would become more peaceful and sustaining.
© George Zacal
29 The Old Wharf