19 Nov 2015

7. Don Zósimo

For four hundred years the island’s forests were harvested irresponsibly. Where once there had been pines and laurels there were finally barren slopes, scrub and gullies. A few majestic pines proudly stood, and still stand, here and there to remind people of what the island had once been. Then soon after the Spanish Civil War, a young forestry engineer from the island of La Palma was sent to El Hierro by the government. The post was only temporary but he fell in love with a girl from here and spent the next fifty years or so replanting the forest.

Not long ago, I was driving a Canadian and a friend to El Pinar (which means “The Pine Forest”) when the Canadian suddenly said, “Aren’t these pines tall? They’re much bigger that those at home!” I was naturally surprised but my friend exclaimed, “Of course, Don Zósimo lived HERE, not in Canada!” There was more truth in that than my friend realized. In Canada the forests are big business but not where Zósimo was. Zósimo loved his trees almost as much as he loved his family. No-one dared cut one down, or even uproot a little Christmas tree, without his permission. And gradually he and his team clothed a huge swathe of the southern slopes of the island in forest, just a few thousand pines a year.

He had a sense of humour, too. The story goes that that some-one in the Ministry sent him an order to plant trees in a certain hollow on the edge of the forest. When the civil servant came to inspect whether his order had been carried out, he found the hollow planted with row upon row of fig and almond trees. “What´s this?” he exclaimed, “I meant pine trees.”

“As you just said ‘trees’ and this is common land, I planted trees that would be most beneficial to the local people, almonds and figs. There are plenty of pines all around!”

Hoya del Gallego (The Galician's Hollow) planted with fig and almond trees