On a morning so cold the air felt as if it should contain flecks of glitter as it crackled against our skin, we stood in the bleak beauty at the bottom of Mount Kenya and looked at tiny saplings, bowed against the wind in their field of tough grass turned yellow-brown by the cold. We trudged uphill, tripping on the uneven ground and breathing in the dizzyingly clean air as the clouds skated across the mountain’s summit in glaring white. Bending over holes chipped and crunched out of the dry earth, we put thin new trees reverently in their place, and stood back to water them as everyone sang.
We walked on until we found a water tower and green as far as we could see, shivering as we took it in and smiled. We returned through fields of potatoes that huddled at the base of shrubs, where cattle were allowed to graze overlooked by the trees as they grew nearby, protected by the need to reforest this place. As we left, we ate small fruits picked up from the ground, struggling with waxy skins and covering our hands in juice as we bounced along the track.
The day got hotter and we tumbled out of the car on a track lined with trees older than any of us could comprehend. We drank strong, sugary coffee with Lydia and her daughter, our shyness wearing off as they told us why we were there, and why they were there too. They led us to their house, up a steep path where the loose stones hiding in the terracotta earth made us slip and grab each other, laughing as we tried to keep up. Walking turned to dancing as singing floated over on the still air and we shook off our reserve in a circle of joyful, uncoordinated stamping. After lunch, we followed Lydia and her friends through a warren of plots; avocados, yams, bee hives and flowers flourishing as they reclaimed every bit of soil fortified by the trees that spread a pattern of green across the sky.
The day ended at a long-established project, reached by mountain roads where the sheer drop to our right made our stomachs drop even as we laughed with glee. The fading sun brought mist down with it, and the top of the forest wore a shroud of white which matched the river far below. Half-running, half-falling down an almost vertical slope, we spotted a waterfall and stopped to listen to its roar, punctuated by the high pitched birds still busy with their day. Ants found their way into our shoes and clothes, but we knew there were leopards and monkeys nearby and, enthralled, we didn’t mind their bites. We were surrounded by green as we said our goodbyes, and knew how different the day would have been if the green was grey instead. Lydia’s words made sense: trees are not enemies, trees are friends.
The people and projects described above are all members of The Green Belt Movement, which supports human and environmental health through initiatives based on tree-planting.