Wednesday, October 20

Forced to vacate their houses by the volcano, the palm trees run for their most precious asset: a wooden box

Lorenzo is 71 years old and has been on La Palma since he was born. On the way to his home in Tijarafe, a tiny municipality of just over 2,000 inhabitants west of La Palma, about 15 kilometers from the Cumbre Vieja volcano, he remembers that as a child he lost half a nail because he was “a very sweet boy.” To explain how it happened, once in his home, he approaches an elongated wooden trunk prostrate on the ground, a meter long and a half high, more or less, and says that when he opened it and took advantage of the confusion of his parents To get some sugar, the lid slipped, landing hard on one of her fingers. Lorenzo, with his slanted eyes under his mask, shows the proof of the crime to his friends in a nearby bar. It is the first memory that has come to mind about the torch boxes, relics for the palm trees that stand out above any object. This week, when many families in the La Laguna neighborhood, in the Llanos de Aridane, have had to leave their homes with the advance of the lava, this huge coffin-shaped chest is what they were most interested in saving. Lorenzo, very clever, knows why: “They have a lot of sentimental value. If I had to run, I would take the ones I have. You sell that and you get 2,000 euros ”, he points out with a laugh.

The volcano continues to chronify insomnia and anguish on La Palma. On the afternoon of this Tuesday, the flow to the north of the main cone has advanced enough so that the Special Plan for Civil Protection and Emergency Assistance for Volcanic Risk in the Canary Islands (PEVOLCA) has ordered the evacuation of several areas of La Laguna, from the path of Cruz Chica to the crossing of San Nicolás. Experts rush to ensure that anything can happen. And that of the same that this decision has been decreed with preventive character, it can be annulled in a matter of hours. However, fear has already entered the streets of Los Llanos de Aridane. The sirens of police cars can be heard and hundreds of vans can be seen, including banana trucks, loaded to the top of furniture, of portable houses. Some 800 people left and entered their homes throwing themselves to the sword, which for them, in a choice that they would have preferred never to take, deserves to be saved from the lava.

Among these goods and belongings there is usually a box of tea, a wooden chest wrapped up like a treasure for the palm trees. It is a piece of furniture that is currently used more as decoration than anything else. It is large, brown in color, and heavy (like lead, they note). But it is of incalculable sentimental value. In the Campo de Lucha Camino León, where the last evacuees from the volcano have gone, a volunteer who has helped the affected people to evacuate their houses clarifies why, in an emergency situation, the palmeros are clear that this box , shaped like a chest, must survive fire.

“These people came from the sea [el voluntario citado no es palmero, se le nota por su acento peninsular] and they knew that the only wood that could hold was the wood of tea, which has more resin. Moisture does not rot it. It is as if it were varnished from the inside out. What is the problem? For fires, it is a powder keg. And the same for volcanoes. That is one of the reasons why they get them out quickly ”, he explains. A colleague of his, who listens to him closely, adds: “Those boxes are his life.”

In the vicinity of the fighting field is Adelto, who lives resigned to repeating his name several times. “It is of Cuban origin. Here we have [sic] many ”, he adds to console himself. He says that in the municipality of Tijarafe, without specifying very well why, anyone, in any corner, will have a box of tea to show and a reasoned explanation of why these trunks are so valuable on the island of La Palma. In the bar of a small place, while they serve him wine, Siso offers to do it. “They were the warehouses of the products that were grown here: figs, dried tunos, lentils, all the dried fruit was kept in tea boxes because there was nothing else. The people were very humble. There was no electricity or anything, so they were the old food silos, where they were kept ”.

Siso details that the people of La Palma, until relatively recently, only had stone and firewood to build. This type of wood, which is extracted from the heart of the Canary Island pine (a species that abounds on the island like no other), was clandestinely pulled from the oldest specimens to make boats, windmills, wine barrels, doors, windows and entire addresses. When they used it to build boxes, the palmeros kept grain, chickpeas or peas in them. “They dried the fruits for the winter. The population was so poor that they had no other way of doing it, ”recalls Siso.

The torch was used because there were no alternatives. And after centuries of applying it, the palm trees found its main value. “This type of wood always has resin inside. It is eternal. It does not get bugs or it gets damaged, ”says Siso. The counterpoint is that it is highly flammable (also due to the resin) and its weight. As if he were an expert in dendrology (something that the bar waitress reminds him in an implicit and humorous way), the science that studies the characteristics of wood, Iván describes that a cut tree will weigh much less after spending a few years outdoors ; with the brand, he says, the same is not the case. “It is a living wood,” he emphasizes.

Now that the Canarian pine, the plant symbol of the island of La Palma, is a highly protected species in the Archipelago, the economic attractiveness of the brand is added, with which it is hardly worked and whose value can exceed thousands of euros , with the sentimental richness, since the use that was given to this wood has passed from generation to generation among the island’s residents, as Lorenzo personifies: “I have four. I inherited them all. They were made by my great-great-grandfather ”. In one of the tea boxes that he has in his habitual residence, it seems that Lorenzo has not yet lost the tradition of the old palm trees. In it he keeps rice, garlic or sugar, the product that will always remind him of the half nail that he lost when he was “a very sweet child”.

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