They Tried to Burn Down My Tree

Isbel Diaz Torres

The wood of that ceiba was soft due to the spread of termites and other plagues.

It was around eight o’clock in the evening, and the park where the cadaver of my ceiba tree now lies was dark.  In the dimness, a silent fire grew.  The base of the tree was in flames.

“It seems that someone decided to put a match to the ceiba,” my father alerted me when he entered the house.

My alarm was evident.  I really didn’t know how to react.

On one hand I noted that it was no longer a living being.  The rapid devastation turned its body into a depressing spectacle.  I understood the need to remove it from there.

On the other hand, I felt this was an act of savagery, disrespect and insensitivity.  I was hurt just by the thought that during the night a fire would consume the thick trunk of the tree – and with impunity!  The image of a carbonized stick in the morning was like a ghost.

Fortunately I didn’t become paralyzed.  I immediately identified this with the sensation of impotence that overwhelmed me that morning in 2006 when they so cruelly pruned my ceiba, but I put that thought to one side.

Against my father’s objections, I brought out my camera.  I went up as close to it as prudence dictated and I took the accompanying photo.  The poor quality of my camera and the effect of the flash didn’t produce an accurate image of the spectacle.  You don’t get a sense of the cloud of smoke, the sparks floating around or the intense brightness.

I immediately ran back into the house and called the fire department.  I then went back outside, but this time with a bucket of water.  It took two more buckets and a shovel to put out the flames.  Once having succeeded at putting out the fire, I again phoned the fire department and canceled my previous call.

The wood of that ceiba was soft due to the spread of termites and other plagues.

Another neighbor returned with more water to extinguish this rotten piece of wood that refused to go out.  The tree kept smoking, sparkling and crackling for more than an hour.

Later I thought that the worst consequence of the fire was the potential danger it posed to the surrounding buildings.  Whoever perpetrated this act of vandalism didn’t foresee the possibility of the gigantic trunk, weakened by the fire, easily giving way to the winds only to ignite and destroy the nearby homes.

Almost one year ago, in my first posting in Havana Times, I warned that the danger of the tree’s falling would be ever greater with the passing of time.  And look what happened.  The wood of that ceiba was soft due to the spread of termites and other plagues.

It’s the responsibility of the Forestry Service of the city to remove dead trees that represent a danger.  As long as they don’t do their job, people will continue creating these types of problems that — in cases like this — can present real dangers.


Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

4 thoughts on “They Tried to Burn Down My Tree

  • Hi Isbel, I was hoping that you could send me your email address as the owner of my company, Janet Moore, will be in Cuba this weekend and would love to meet with you to discuss your articles. My email address is [email protected] Thank you.

  • Julio,
    Interesting simele that of yours.

    I just sowed a new young Ceiba tree this weekend, in my neighborhood.
    so, the life cycle is working.
    that is my simile.
    thanks for your comments

  • Isbel while reading your article I thought there is a similarity between your Ceiba tree and Cuban civil society.
    That pitiful picture of the limbless tree almost dead is so similar to what Cuban society is now. Where people are not allow to protest the wrongs done by the state. Every time a new little branch is trying to sprout the regime immediately prune it.

    They have taken too much away from people is time to have new branches and new roots. It does seem like each of you individually have very little power to change things but the interesting thing is that you will have more power the more of you are out there.

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