Under my pillow I keep an antique Burmese sword. It should be in a display cabinet or high up on the wall.
But then it is winter time in these parts, and it’s not only the cold wind that sends a shiver down your spine. And they were out again last night. Unusual since it wasn’t a full moon. But then the unseasonal rain had kept them at bay for over a week and they were hungry.
I could see their victims from afar. Engulfed in fire and shrouded in smoke, their crackling screams all too audible to local people, safely locked away in their houses. For most villagers fear the dark and will not wander out after dusk. Most. Because there are those who choose to enter the dark forest. They are faceless, with no names. Extinct in the West for hundreds of years and beyond the reach of the law, they are the forest vampires. They don’t kill their prey, but rather leave it in an “undead” state: Badly scorched with little sustenance to grow, so they may play victim again for future generations to come.
In a former life these forests would have been evergreen, brimming with biodiversity and life. Instead they have been robbed of their inheritance and are now known as Dipterocarp-Oak forest (DOF), comprised of stunted trees, little biodiversity and negligible fauna. You might think it odd to have deciduous trees in the semi-tropics. Generations of burning have destroyed nutrients and micro-organisms in the soil which in turn reduces its water retaining ability. The trees drop their leaves to compensate.
I only need to travel a few miles up the road to an altitude of over 1,000m and the forest is green, old and magnificent. Here it is too steep and cold for most people to live, and the forest has been spared. It’s rather odd that the cooler, harsher terrain of the mountains supports much healthier forest. But then it’s odd that officials turn a blind eye to this barbaric ancient practice. Most of the trees are teak, and would be worth a fortune if felled. They rarely are. Instead they’re left stunted and frizzled. Their misfortune shared by all who have to breathe the lingering smoke for days on end.
As for my sword, it remains harnessed in its sheath. But I am only too aware that there are many more full moons before this winter ends and the forest around my house has yet to fall victim just yet.
By contributor Richard Rhodes. Richard lives in Thailand with his wife and children and runs e-photoframes, an eco photo frame business. If you feel like writing for us, drop us an email!
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