2. Northern Tajikistan

Forest Turned Cropped
Javeed says, “There’s a place where the forest still grows wild.”
“Here, on the arid steppe of Tajikistan?” You’re trying to imagine Mongol horsemen, with banners flying, racing across the steppe. A steppe filled with trees?
“A forest, with large trees and trees that have died and have fallen to the ground and bushes and all kinds of plants?”
“Yes. Would you like to see it? We can walk there.”
“Yes, I’d like to see it.”
He leads the way through pathways you never knew existed in this mud brick village. He leads you down into the gorge on a narrow switchback path. You pick your way along the wide river bed. You’re looking where to place your next step so as not to twist your ankle on the river stones when he says, “Look! This is all that remains of our forests.”
A smile comes to your face as you look up into a true forest. It’s just as he said. It’s an old forest, growing where the seasonal river once gouged out a ten acre section of gravel before settling into another channel. Now you understand. Where vegetation can find a foothold, it’ll grow.

Excerpt from Lenin’s Arm
Walking is easier now as the gravel road begins to cut its way down toward the bottom of the gorge before rising again to the Uzbek village on the other side. Before that steep decline begins, I turn left. To the right I hear some men talking in the old sawmill yard. Mud-brick yard is a more accurate title. That sawmill rarely cuts trees anymore.
I think the wavy lines of mud bricks covering half the yard look like snakes warming themselves in the bright sun. They’ll be loading them into donkey carts in a few days. I’d never buy mud brick at this time of year. After a rare spring shower they’ll be sprouting all sorts of plants. That weakens them.