April 23, 2024

The Guardian of Nature’s Offspring: A Tale of Trees and Generations

Stepping out of the car, I closed the door behind me, immediately feeling the chill in the air. The cold wind gently kissed my cheeks, sending shivers down my spine. Surrounding us were woods, a blend of small, young, and ancient trees.

In the tranquility of the Neelum Valley, he stood silently observing us, well acquainted with the sight of visitors who came to indulge in the resort’s breathtaking rain-soaked landscapes. As I arrived in the valley after a year, I was thrilled to savor the chilly weather that felt like January, though the lush greenery surrounding us was a stark contrast to the winter season. Sporting a sweater to shield myself from the cold, I unwittingly surprised the locals with my choice of attire.

The weather that afternoon was nothing short of delightful, with dark clouds adorning the sky, much like any other day in July. Being the holy month of Ramadan, we were only a few fasts away from its conclusion. Many believed that the weather during this time was a special blessing from Allah, providing comfort during the fast. Our group, consisting of myself and a few friends, had set out towards Kundal-Shai, but enticed by the splendid weather and the prospect of rain, we decided to visit Kutton Resort instead. With a phone call from my friend Shahid, two more companions joined us, and another acquaintance met us along the way, making us a group of six.

As we departed Kundal-Shai, rain began pouring down with vigor, and the cool breeze from the river, carrying misty water vapors, greeted us along the banks of the river Jagran. It took us half an hour to reach our destination. Being my first time there, I was brimming with excitement. Although the rain had momentarily ceased, it soon resumed, alternating between light drizzles and heavier downpours. The ever-changing weather painted a magnificent rainbow, displaying the myriad colors of nature.

Stepping out of the car, I closed the door behind me, immediately feeling the chill in the air. The cold wind gently kissed my cheeks, sending shivers down my spine. Surrounding us were woods, a blend of small, young, and ancient trees. The resort was nestled amidst a variety of Himalayan poplar, walnut, Deodar, Pine, fir, and fruit trees. Nature flirted with the environment, creating a captivating ambiance. Though the place was modest in size, its essence was indescribable. It was on that day that I understood why people of the past sought solace and harmony in the wilderness, amidst the whispers of raindrops and the melodies of chirping birds. This was the essence of nature, and I was fortunate to be so close to it, experiencing its enchantment.

Whether witnessing a thrilling thunderstorm or gazing up at a towering tree, being in nature is an awe-inspiring experience. One cannot help but marvel at the intricate design of a single leaf or the roar of a mighty waterfall. Time spent in nature is a humbling reminder of our limited knowledge and understanding. The Earth is meant to be cherished by its inhabitants, and part of that responsibility involves preserving its pristine condition. Each person has a special connection with a specific aspect of nature, be it a majestic mountain range, a cascading waterfall, a vibrant bouquet of flowers, or the serene tranquility of the woods. These are the places where one can truly discover oneself.

Suddenly, he emerged from the front stairs of the resort, a sight I had previously overlooked. The staircase led to a nursery of trees, and he approached us, silently positioning himself a few steps away. While my friends busied themselves with capturing photographs, I found myself explaining to them the significance of these trees in enhancing the beauty of the place and symbolizing nature. “These are my children,” he unexpectedly declared, drawing my astonished gaze.

At first glance, he appeared to be an ordinary elderly gentleman, resembling the locals residing in the valley. Clad in traditional attire—a “Qameez and Shalwar” with a worn-out jacket, and donning “Saddi” shoes—his weathered face reflected the trials of life, yet his eyes exuded a serene tranquility.

“Are you tourists?” he inquired as he extended his hand for a handshake. “No, not at all. We are locals, living in the neighboring town,” I replied. He seemed to disregard or not comprehend the language we were conversing in, but his eyes sparkled with the warmth of shared culture. In an instant, he transformed into a different person. “I have been working here for the past twenty years, and I plan to retire next year,” he shared, explaining his presence at the resort. “Wow! That’s a long time,” I exclaimed. “I’m only twenty-four, so you have more experience than my entire lifespan,” I added with a smile. “Oh!” he responded, returning the smile.

“These trees are my children,” he continued, leaving me mesmerized by his unexpected proclamation. “I work as a gardener here. When the ‘graze’—Western people—first arrived and built this resort, there wasn’t a single tree in sight. It was a ‘Goori’—an English lady—who brought the seeds of these trees and hired us to plant them. She worked alongside us during the long evenings, surveying the entire area. With white limestone, she marked specific spots at a particular distance, guiding us to sow the seeds. The next day, she ordered the saplings. I nurtured these plants from their infancy. I ensured no harm would befall them, protecting them from the harsh weather and even the goats, who have a fondness for devouring green trees… And now, after twenty years, do you think it’s merely a fleeting phase? I have cared for them through winters as cold as ice and snow and summers when the scorching sun turns furious and hot. The ‘Angraz’—Western people—left after five years, but I have spent my entire life with these trees. They are my children,” he concluded with a smile.

I asked if I could take a picture with him. “Of course,” he replied, pleasantly surprised. “Hundreds of people visit here every day, yet you’re the first to request a photograph with me.” We delved into conversations about his personal life and family. He had a wife and children, all of whom were young and married. He accompanied us throughout our stay, and I noticed one of his pupils tending to a small vegetable garden nearby. Another story was unfolding before me, but I knew I would have to wait thirty more years to write it.

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