After the fires crumbling lumps of carbonized peat capped the land. Only blackened arboreal skeletons and stumps broke the view. Two years elapsed, and a tangle of bracken, fishtail ferns, vines and small emergent trees softened the land yet beneath the green a barren layer invoked memories of destruction.
“Look!” she called, beckoning for our group to come closer. “See the Hiroshima below.”
“Yes, so sad.” I imagined nature groaning and crying as the fires swept through, burning a surface with foundations laid at Pleistocene’s end.
Her sensitivity acute she said, “I can smell the peatland forest suffocating with thirst. Here in this place, I see images of amputees, war veterans, like the men of empty gaze in New York subways.”
Her words still resonate, powerful empathetic observations connecting centres of suffering across species and time.
Riau’s peatlands are a natural protection nurturing a climax of diversity, hosting life driven from clearing of the great equatorial forests that stood tall on drier mineral soils. Once refuge for life fleeing the destruction now a new oil palm and pulp-wood El Dorado.
Retrieving a lump of carbon, dry unburned peat still adhering, Yi Han tested it with a cigarette lighter. Small flames flared and died to a smouldering glow.
The remainder of the story is in this illustrated podcast: