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A forest fortress built over 3 generations

By Zhang Xu | China Daily | Updated: 2017-12-07 09:34
Rangers patrol the woodland. Zou Hong/China Daily

Looking back to the events of 1964, Yin recalled the attitude of her colleagues. “We wanted to make one last attempt,” she said.

“It was the campaign of my life,” she said. “Two hundred people were in the mountains for 40 days continuously, preparing the earth for the planting of the seedlings. Ice formed on our clothes. It made a clunking sound with every move we made, turning our clothes into armor under which we sweated. Many of us, me included, developed severe rheumatism as a result.”

When July arrived, the workers were overjoyed to discover a soft carpet of green shoots. That year, the seedling survival rate was more than 90 percent.

By the end of 1982, the area under cultivation was estimated to be 63,000 hectares. Today, the figure is 68,000 hectares. The conifer trees planted during that fateful spring 53 years ago are now about 20 meters high and they cover 34 hectares.

A tower in a sea of green

Liu Jun said he is lucky because he doesn’t have to live in the type of makeshift tent his father occupied during his time as a fire watcher in the forest. The second-generation Saihanba resident has decorated the interior walls of his home-cum-workplace with black-and-white photos of the old structures, including his father’s tent.

“To live in Saihanba is to live with history, there’s almost nothing that meets the eye that isn’t evocative,” he said, referring to the forest that rolls in front of him every time he peers outside.

“Understanding how this greenery was born is both elevating and humbling.”

Every spring and autumn, the seasons in which fires are most likely to occur, Liu picks up his binoculars every 15 minutes during daylight and once an hour at night to scan the forest for the slightest hint of smoke that might wreak havoc if left unattended. He has done this for the past 12 years.

His workplace, a 16-meter-high tower atop the highest peak in the forest, stands 1,940 meters above sea level. The howling wind provides a contrast to the forest below, calm as a waveless ocean.

It is easier to endure the wind than the cold, though. Throughout the year, the average temperature is about -2 C, but in the depths of winter it can plummet to -44 C.

Electricity became available in the early 2000s, but there was no hot water until three years ago. “Every October, I would haul as much firewood as I could into the tower. I had to rely on it for the following six months,” he said, recalling how he had to scrape at the frost-covered windows to glimpse the solitude outside.

However, the situation was better than during the 1960s and ’70s, when the occupants of the tower had nothing to drink during the long winter but meltwater that reeked of tree sap.

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