The Sabina of El Hierro – and Another World – In danger


[See article sent BY Sergio in LETTERS]

This picture, and the article accompanying it, made me feel very sad. I shuddered, because it is something I have long dreaded.

Sabina tree
Sabina tree

To me, it symbolises a central sickness which pervades the Human Race … as it says in the article … lack of respect.

This beautiful tree, as you know, is very special to me. I journeyed to see it when I was looking for an image to make a statement for the cover of my solo album – Another World. The tree to me symbolises a way of thinking. It is one of a small group of sabinas (a rare kind of cone-bearing evergreen only found in the Canaries) which stand on an exposed headland, where they are constantly subjected to stiff winds off the Sea. In order to survive, they bend and sculpt themselves into strange gnarly shapes, in a way which allows them to ‘go with the flow’, rather than directly opposing the forces of Nature. They are something like natural Bonsai trees, really, and the Japanese are very much in tune with this kind of appreciation of survival by harmonising with the flow lines of Nature. While I was making the Another World album, I was in great personal crisis, and searching for a way to do something similar – find strength in bending rather than staying rigid in the face of insurmountable forces of change.

I had spotted a picture of this marvellous Arbol in a magazine … so, knowing next to nothing about it, I went on a kind of pilgrimage to make its acquaintance. It lives on a beautiful little island in the Canaries called ‘El Hierro’ – the smallest of the inhabited Canaries. For me it was a totally magical trip; the little island was scarcely visited by tourists in those days, and then almost exclusively by local people who understood how precious the island’s status was, as an almost entirely unspoilt work of Nature.

The first moment when finally I set eyes on the Sabina was electrifying. In real life it looked even more like I had imagined – an elegant and tragically long-suffering lady, with her head thrown back, her hair and clothes raked by the wind, in an act of submission to the elements. The magic is that in Submission – ‘Do your worst !’ … is Defiance, leading to her ultimate victory. There is another analogy here … with the magical apparatus of the 12 Steps programme: “We Admitted Powerlessness”, it says, and in that admission came empowerment, to conquer the terrifying clutches of addiction. Admitting powerlessness in the face of depression is a powerful technique, which I was learn later in Cottonwood, Arizona.

Well, maybe I digress, but when we were out there capturing my meeting with the tree on camera, felt a profound respect for it, and never touched one twig of it. But I remember feeling a worry, all through the adventure, that I might, by spreading knowledge of the tree, make it more vulnerable to mistreatment. Part of me wanted to go away and keep quiet, keeping the secret of the tree within a small community. I even published a plea at the time that anyone who followed my footsteps would show the same respect as I had, and treasure this unique living thing.

Well, I don’t know if it was because of me or not, but I feel a huge sadness looking at this picture of the Sabina’s desecration by tourists. I will be getting in touch with El Hierros’ authorities to see if there anything I can do to help protect this fabulous tree which has triumphed over the Elements, but could be killed by the ignorance and carelessness of people. But in the meantime, if anyone reads this who has any influence, let’s try to spread the word that respect for life of all kinds is the key to a better way of living. Maybe someone would be kind enough to translate this message into Spanish. But I have an uneasy feeling from looking at these tourists’ attire that make me suspect they were not Spanish, but from somewhere closer to my own islands.

To my Sabina … my abject apologies … I hope I have not made life worse for you by making you a ‘celebrity’.