The Enchanted Bamboo Forest

Standing still, as would a hunter viewing its prey, I let the moment absorb me. On another day, in another time, I might say “I absorb the moment.” But not this day. A sheer green canopy sways above my head. Tiny glimmers of light shining through the laciness recall cloudless nights in the Sahara Desert, my sleep illuminated only by the beams of billions of distant stars. Here, in this bamboo forest, time turns fluid, moving with the sluggishness of an icy stream. The sound of chimes rings through the air, as the wind rustles through the leafy filigree.

In today’s world, permanence eludes capture, like the sand dunes blown about in that vast star-lit desert, shifting, ever shifting with the wind. Yet, unlike you or me, bamboo trees live for over 120 years. What’s more, some bamboo varieties spring up almost overnight, in the way of the magic bean stalk of childhood fairy tales, rooting  and soaring to unimaginable heights.

A slow walk among old-growth bamboo is all it takes to pull me down to the dust and dirt beneath my feet. to the basics of life as it were. Then I find myself besieged by a cascade of memories.

I once toured the San Diego Zoo with my beloved grandmother.  The zookeepers pointed to  the tortoises lumbering around in the petting zoo, saying that they could live as many as 150 years. For me, who counted my years on fewer than ten fingers at the time, that brush with immortality verged on the stuff of fantasy, tall tales meant to regale incredulous young minds like mine.

Now I suspect that the keepers meant what they said. Some of the tortoises’ shells seemed to confirm the blunt facts of age,  gray-green shells rough and worn thin in spots, something no needle and thread could fix, no scalpel or Botox. The tortoise equivalent of gray hair and yellow teeth.

Bamboo, on the other hand, always looks fresh and juicy and eternal to me. Not only is bamboo a thing of beauty, it becomes shelter for humans and animals. And it becomes food as well. In the kitchen, cooks slice young bamboo shoots, soft and tender with the promise of life, and add the slices to various dishes. Alas, eating the shoots does not magically prolong life.

This disparity in life’s journeys – tortoises and bamboo versus humans –remains a mystery to me. And because of that unknowable, mystical essense, I will plant bamboo this spring in my garden. Not the running kind, from which a vast forest grows, but rather the clump variety, the one that still sings and shimmers when the wind blows.

There‘s something poignant in knowing that the bamboo I place in the ground will grow to a mature height in a matter of months, that this plant I see with my eyes in the here-and-now might loom for years in the same spot in my garden, providing the same sense of mystery for a person yet unborn, decades away from the moment that I take a trowel and lay the infant bamboo in its earthly cradle.

Bamboo (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)

With apologies to Mollie Katzen for the paraphrasing of her title The Enchanted Broccoli Forest (1977)

© 2017 C. Bertelsen

One thought on “The Enchanted Bamboo Forest

  1. A really nice piece! I have always been drawn to where bamboo can be found. I love the click-clack of it in a wind. One time, Indian friends from Bombay made me a bamboo confection that was surprisingly divine.

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