The story of the Forest of Immortal Stories begins not long ago, in 2019, when Elena-Mirela Cojocaru, beloved wife of Ion Cojocaru, mayor of the village of Nucsoara, died after a fight against cancer. Mr. Cojocaru himself soon fell ill with heart disease; As a remedy, his doctor told him to walk in the countryside, 6,000 or more steps a day.
Nucsoara and its 1,222 inhabitants reside on the forested slopes of the Carpathian Mountains in Romania. The Carpathians are a land of fog, fictional vampires and real wolves, as well as several thousand brown bears and about two-thirds of Europe's remaining virgin forests.
Mr. Cojocaru had grown up in Nucsoara, but only as he walked through the hills and ancient pastures did he notice the trees: beech trees, ghostly twisted giants, some up to 500 years old.
“The power of these trees is mind-blowing,” said Christoph Promberger, executive director of Foundation Conservation Carpathia, a nonprofit working to create a national park in the region. Five thousand solitary ancient beech trees still grow around Nucsoara, the largest concentration in Europe. But logging and land use change pose a threat. The bark beetles are coming too.
Cojocaru and the nonprofit group began discussing a plan to protect the beech trees and perhaps attract ecotourism to Nucsoara. Two thousand five hundred and forty-four trees were identified; Cojocaru chose 2,544 because it is the height in meters of Moldoveanu Peak, the highest mountain in Romania and a day's walk from Nucsoara. Each was given a license plate, photographed throughout the stations and marked on a map with their GPS coordinates. Trees are offered for adoption on a website, although, as Cojocaru insists, the tree adopts the person, not the other way around.
At one point, a team from Forest Design, a forestry company in Brasov, arrived with portable scanners using lidar, a laser technology, and generated three-dimensional images of many of the ancient trees, inside and out. Captured digitally, each tree appears as individual as a fingerprint, and scientists can precisely track its growth and changes.
The number 22 is a gift from one friend to another, a fragment of a poem by Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz: “Give some tree the gift of green again. Let a bird sing.”
Number 2544 has adopted Ion Cojocaru.
“I have a feeling of reciprocity,” Cojocaru said of the trees. “I learn from them. I have the feeling that they are very wise old people who want me to do good.”
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