Photo Essay: Destroyed Vanuatu Rainforests Show Signs of Life
The forest is mute. Tree fallen on tree fallen on tree. Limb over limb. I climbed for hours before realizing, there is no smell. None of the sweetness of dark mulch. No fruit left to rot. The birds flit between empty spaces, only searching.
Foreigners like to say people here are “resilient.” But in the woods of Vanuatu, in a jungle laid flat, resilience feels like surrender. Each step I take, my feet sink deeper into vines, twigs. Everything trying desperately to live.
On Tongoa, I think a lot about Gauguin. People focus on the dark-skinned girls. But what I remember now is the fruit. The girls held mangoes and mandarins. They had flowers in their hair. Leaves cast shadows on their faces. He painted their wealth.
I wonder what Gauguin would paint here? Would he pack up his brushes and go home? It is a massacre. A battlefield. Trees ache and silently groan in the sun. It is Dali now. Or Wyeth.
On a far cliff, 8,252 miles from my home, I wondered, Why do they live here? Why bring water? Why save them? Or any of this? It’s too far, and too expensive. Maybe, I thought, it is the destiny of little places to someday die.
Then I sat with a family. I watched the kids play. An old lady offered me her last bananas. They may be the last bananas she ever grows. The banana trees are gone. It will be years, I thought, before she has enough to give away.
What does she know that I don’t?