On The L’Arbre du Ténéré

Vehicular Arborcide

Y’ever hear about the Tree of Ténéré?  No?  Well it was the most isolated tree in the world.  Was.

Fig. 1: A tree where no tree should be.

Standing in a particularly barren part of the Sahara in northeastern Niger, this solitary specimen of the Acacia tortilis species served as a landmark for caravan routes across the desert for centuries, what with it being the only remotely remarkable object in the area.  A shrivelled atavism leftover from a long gone forest, it persisted on alone, four hundred kilometers away from the nearest other tree.

Fig. 2: Cue "Jaws" music.

Alas, not unlike good rock music, the tree died in 1973 when a Libyan drunk driver crashed into it and brought an end to, according to growth rings, 300 years of woody goodness.

Now in the fuck can that happen? I mean, come on!

The only thing for miles around — literally the only object on an otherwise vast and featureless plain —  and he somehow manages not to miss it?  It’s not like he didn’t know it was there: the L’Arbre du Ténéré was marked on maps at a scale of 1:4,000,000 (that would be the scale used for a map of Brazil or Canada or, say, the Middle East).

Fig. 3: A map at a scale of 1:4,000,000. Now imagine a tree being marked on that.

Moreover, unless there were witnesses, how on earth did anyone find out about it?  Of course, given its landmark status and the fact that there’s a well there, there’s bound to be witnesses around, but I like to imagine the guy skidding into town screaming, “Hey, you know that lone tree out there in the desert? Yeah, I totally hit that shit!”

Still, you’ve gotta think that destroying an important historical landmark and poignant symbol of nature’s hardiness in the face of sheer adversity must take its toll on a man.  Probably one of the worst hangovers in the history of humankind.

Oddly, this wasn’t the first time that the tree had had an unfortunate run in with the business end of a motorized vehicle. In the late thirties, the French were digging a well there (after all, if there’s a tree, there’s gotta be some water thereabouts), and one of the trucks spontaneously backed into the tree, severing one of the branches.

Somehow, however, that one seems, well, almost reasonable compared to some berk careening randomly through the desert and unprobably running into the tree.  After all, it made sense for there to be truck right near for the well-digging and all.

Anyway, after carting the remains of the dead tree to the National Museum in Niamey, the Nigeriens (who are difficult to orthographically distinguish from inhabitants of Nigeria) set up a metal sculpture on the site in its memory.

Fig. 4: The new and improved L'Arbre du Ténéré. Now 200% more truck resistant

Kind of sad, really.  A monument to say, “Yeah, there once was a tree here.”  A roadside attraction, the attraction being that there is no longer any roadside attraction.  And so, what was once a symbol of life’s endurance against the bitter hardship of the world is now reduced into a gaunt reminder of lost beauty and an admonishing to all that even the hardiest can be felled by the whims of cruel chance.

And, possibly, the schemes of Muammar Gaddafi.


~ by Isaac Bickerstaff on March 8, 2010.

One Response to “On The L’Arbre du Ténéré”

  1. Does anyone know the prick was who killed this tree? Please email me his name, because I’m gonna go shit and piss on his grave and then slap his grandchildren!!
    Stupid fucking Homo sapiens

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