Teak is the first tree that I came to love. Since then there have been many others; Magnolia, Bois canot, Poui and tall bamboo may try to compete but teak will always have a special place in my heart. I don't exactly how or when it started but I remember always anticipating the encounter as the taxi or bus approached rolling fields with bison and the arches created by fields of teak on both sides of the road between Tableland and New Grant. I stared making drawings of teak leaves and its papery thin-skinned fruit when I was a teenager. At sixteen I dreamed of lying in a grove of towering teak and falling asleep upon a bed or curled leaves. I ruminated about teak. It became my obsession and muse.
Teak (Tectona grandis) is a fast growing hardwood tree, the trunk of which can grow to seventy feet in just ten years. A native of Burma, India and cultivated in the Caribbean, it is grown for making fine (and wasted on not-so-fine) furniture. Teak is long-lasting and thus expensive. Men have lost their lives protecting mature trees against timber robbers. It is the wood most often used to make planters, outdoor furniture, decks and boats.
In 1988 when I left Trinidad to study art in Kingston, I found myself constantly drawing leaves. I made paintings of an aging Eudora Welty staring into the distance with dried leaves suspended in the air around her. Leaves were curling and falling singly and in groups all around me. It took a while before I realized that I was homesick and missing the fields of teak that I passed to and from school and work for the previous years of my life. Leaves dominated my paintings and were carved into my pottery. They came to symbolize the passage of time, change and longing.
It is you I adore. I can count the whys:
For the way your trunk stands erect, like the queen's guards
Ushering me along the winding road to town
Verdant fields with bison behind you. Is that envy in their eyes?
It is because you are fine in grain and core
No architect could possibly love you more.
Is it because I know now, what I only guessed then
That you are treasured for strength and resilience
Growing more handsome as time goes by
Coveted and consumed almost to the point of extinction.
As a currency you are more precious than gold
Proof that money grows on trees.
For airy clusters of flora and fruit, halos above your head
Like so many bees suspended in awe.
It is for your tender leaves, with pubescent undersides,
The largest in all the land
And when they die, they die so beautifully;
Curling and twisting on the way back to earth.
I long to mimic those country roads
And create an alley of you that no axe will ever near
You stand august, while we come and go
Making fools of ourselves being humans beings.
You are all that is good and beautiful.
You are forever pure, forever royal, and forever.