Well folks, it is all in the title, you know already I am an artist and a tree climber but this article will take you a little farther...
BOIS CHANTEURS OU LES PETITS CHANTEURS PERCHES...(translation: "Singing woods" or "The little perched singers"...)
Bois chanteurs? Does it translate as "singing woods?" Yes, indeed, a rather poetic expression but what is it about? Lyrical trees, vocalizing groves, enchanted forests? None of those, but in order to grasp the idea you have to join me on a small island lost in the southwestern Indian Ocean, namely Reunion Island.
If I say Ruizia cordata you will have a first clue. This plant belongs to the Sterculiaceae family and is endemic to Reunion. Let me point out for the keen enthusiast that I am talking of the 'bois de senteur blanc' as there is also a 'bois de senteur bleu' (Dombeya populnea, another member of the Sterculiaceae family) and also a 'ti bois de senteur' which belongs to the Euphorbiaceae family and goes by the binomial name of Croton mauritianus.
Well, I can see a look of confusion painted on the reader's face, 'bois de senteur' or 'bois chanteur'? Please, we are at loss! No worry, this misunderstanding is a classical one when we use vernacular names, this is one the same tree but the different pronunciations from one end of the island to the other have induced this troubling fact. The name 'bois chanteur' which does translate as 'singing wood' (please note that 'bois' often means 'tree' in local Creole...) comes supposedly from the fact that the tree is magical and sings at noon and midnight. Another source says it comes from the enchanting or bewitching powers of the plant. As a matter of fact, this species is still regarded as a lucky charm and carrying one of its leaves has similar effects as carrying a four-leaf clover for Europeans.
Well then, this is all fine but where do our little perched singers fit in? It is coming, let's follow the local rhythm and relax! Let us take a shortcut to go from endemic plants to the Botanical Garden of Mascarin in Saint-Leu, which has--among many other duties--the very important duty of protecting and propagating threatened species. So here we are in this wonderful BG which offers many plants collections to the visitor, including beautiful bois de senteurs. Now, the BG does not satisfy with plant protection but has an important job in bringing science and nature awareness to the children of Reunion. Another little effort and we go from the children to the schools in Saint-Leu and Saint-Louis where extracurricular activities such as choral singing has been led for a few years. I can see the readers foreheads relaxing and wrinkles vanishing, you now can follow the thread! The name of 'bois chanteur' came naturally to the mind of the people who started the project, thus making a link between local folk culture (songs and music would be a tribute to Alan Peters, deceased poet-musician) and the specific flora of the island.
Very well again, but between having a choir singing correctly, getting together musicians, an audio engineer for a concert and having the whole gang propped up trees, there is obviously a missing ingredient. Indeed, I was keeping it up my sleeve but since you asked for it, let me unveil it: it is the CAOI (Comité d'Arboriculture de l'Océan Indien) which stands for Indian Ocean Arboriculture Committee. This committee was the organizer of two arborist meetings on the island, related in former articles here and here.
This committee also managed to have a few of us graduating as tree climbing facilitators (yes sir, this is a job and you need a diploma to run it!). So the usual dalons (buddies in Creole), got together, chose trees, climbed up, thought, climbed down, thought again and suggested safe technical techniques allowing us to lift a dozen little singers up through the leaves. The selected trees (jacarandas and beef wood or Australian pines) were soon inspected form bottom to top, fully made secure by adequate pruning and equipped with custom-made roosts. It was not possible to have the singers simply suspended in harnesses or lying in hammocks or nets, certainly more comfy but not suited for correct breathing and singing. So planks were screwed on boards, hauled up and carefully fastened after truck inner tubes were added to protect the bark. Pulleys and ropes were used to get the gizmos as well as the children up in no time.
We then had to go through the Cornelian choice of who or would not go up...this was followed by trials, rehearsing, tuning, adjustments and fiddling to get the mikes at the exact height and distance from the singers' mouths. We had to put at ease the uneasy ones, restrain the Tarzan fans until D-day. And D-day was on May the 12, 2015, as the opening of the 'off' Leu Tempo Festival. Though not as famous as the Cannes Festival, the Saint-Leu one is still quite popular here as it offers over a week a large choice of spectacles. From music bands to street artists, theater, happenings, public shows, puppet shows, fire spitters and so on, it has gained in quality and diversity since its beginning in the nineteen eighties. The little perched singers have performed in front of a rather flabbergasted audience included a few worried parents...But all went perfectly well, no one fell and from my watchpost all the way at the top of the highest beef wood, I could not hear one single wrong note.
It would not be easy to thank all the actors of such an event but we sure can congratulate the kids, the BG officials and of course our friends and hosts the trees. And if you feel like having a stroll around trees, just call me!