my professor (lovely man, married to our TA, 5'2", about as intimidating as a muffin) is a dendrologist by trade, so he studies trees. it was about three hours into our social sciences course, last lecture before exams, everyone was frazzled and exhausted, so he told us about his most exciting/in-depth research to date to cheer us up.
(the few of us who actually showed up were like “ok sir im sure its fascinating” but in our minds we were totally like its trees what. is. exciting. about trees. You might be wondering the same thing - the acorns? the leaves? the roots? BUT NO. IMMA FUCKIN TELL YA.)
ANYWAY we settle in, he had a few pictures loaded up from his field work (we were chuckling at this point…. ‘hehehe field work’ i giggled to my frend. its trees.) and began to tell his tale. it’s long, imma warn you, but……. god. just read it.
theres an species of tree called the cucumber tree (Magnolia acuminata, if ya wanna get all Latin-y). its super endangered, in our region there’s only ~280 that are registered by the government, yadda yadda yadda. my prof thought that was tragic (i know) but also strange, because when he was writing his thesis about local trees years ago, he kept coming across cucumber trees in really random places. we’re talking like backyards, independently-owned nurseries, etc. WHICH IS IMPOSSIBLE because, according to tree law (i know) it is very strictly protected by the government, and thus super “illegal to possess, transport, collect, buy or sell any part of a living or dead member of a listed species if it originates from wild sources.” essentially, the govt takes control over growing the trees and anyone who independently raises them is breaking the law (i know)
so he’d ask people “do you have a permit for these trees?” and they were like “uh no, it’s just a tree someone sold me, i think it looks nice, are you gonna arrest me?” so he’d be like “nah nah nah just tell me who sold it to you”
eventually, months/years later, someone did, and turns out it was like this underground sort-of illegal tree dealing club (i know). so my prof went, got a bit of funding from the government, who were getting pissed at independent cucumber tree numbers, and THIS IS WHERE IT GETS INTO THE GOOD SHIT I STG.
he infiltrates the tree trafficking organization. he buys a cucumber tree from an independent nursery, raises it for months, ensures he gets noticed by the traffickers, and then INFILTRATES it and convinces its leader to LET HIM JOIN. he has to pay like a steep entrance fee, which he does (and it blows my mind that the government of my country paid money to illegal tree dealers), but then he is given full access to records and maps because they think he’s one of them, not a SECRET AGENT.
now this part blows my mind because the tree lords don’t even have to try very hard to find cucumber trees because government agents MARK THE TREES AND DISTINCTLY TAG THEM SAYING THIS IS ENDANGERED DO NOT TOUCH. so, ya know…………. it’s a bit obvious. my prof hangs out with the members so much that he figures out their “hit spots”. these are where the trees are relatively secluded and unguarded. (he writes all this shit and numbers down for his research.)
BUT THATS NOT ENOUGH BECAUSE THE GOVT SAYS HES WASTING THEIR FUNDING IF HE DOESNT HAVE PROOF and they are willing to take LEGAL ACTION for misuse of funding (my prof doesn’t have the money nore time nor power to take them to court, which would also blow his cover). so my prof literally STAKES OUT a copse of cucumber trees at a recognized wildlife reserve for. DAYS. he camps there, and watches the trees, is about to give up, he’s going off an unreliable rumor from the traffickers that a harvester would be going there within the next week. finally, this guy comes and takes the cucumber tree seeds from the CLEARLY MARKED trees by the government, and my prof takes pictures (we are shown these pictures, most of us are speechless at this point). dozens of candid shots of a man my grandpa’s age with a grocery store bag, garden shears, and a ladder, clipping away the illegal seeds and then going on his merry fucking way.
so my prof has the proof, he’s been undercover for months now at this point, he writes up his report, gives it to the government who is like…….. “oh shit”, helps them draft up a new LESS COMPLETELY FUCKING OBVIOUS way of marking endangered trees (so that way non-tree-lovers wouldn’t damage them further, etc.), and then never returns to the tree traffickers. he’d given them a fake name, address, everything….. he disappears.
…there was a full minute of stunned silence from us students at this point, during which he grew more and more nervous (again, he’s a muffin) and all of us students are just like……. “whoa.” we asked him what happened to the remaining illegal cucumber trees & if he turned the tree dealers in to the government, and that is when he smiles a little bit and shows us the last few pictures. because here’s the kicker… he never turned the smugglers in. he burned all the data he collected, defied the government pressuring him to turn them in, and the only reason he’s not incarcerated is because his work is so prominent in certain circles now & universities love him, that there would be an uproar if he got arrested. he’s like a fucking anti-hero and then he tells us (i’ll never forget, it’s the most inspirational green-thumb thing in the world) “it may be 'illegal’, but those who risk their liberty to ~save the world~ should never be reprimanded, no matter what those in power say.”
we are all stunned. some of us are considering dendrology as a field we’d now be interested in pursuing. he clicks his slide one final time, before we leave our last lecture and, since he had an asthma attack (lil muffin) he didn’t attend our exam, so i never see him again…………
and there, on the slides, the last picture? THERE HE IS. in his own backyard. with his equally lovely TA wife. both grinning innocently, standing underneath a……. FUCKING. FULL GROWN. ILLEGAL. CUCUMBER TREE.
“I miss him as a human being and I miss working with him. What an unfortunate thing it is that we won’t be able to see the beauty of his expression. He was incredibly special and that doesn’t even come close to encapsulating who he is, who he was” -