The tree stands tall—head and shoulders above the rest. Its long round bole reaches straight to the sky. Its branches hold out firmly, even as the leaves toss around and whisper with the wind. With its first branch at over a hundred feet and the uppermost leaves nearly half as much higher, the tree is one to reckon with—even a monkey would need to work hard to climb it.

High above, the tall tree’s branches hold clusters of red-brown, two-winged fruit. A gust of wind tosses the high branches and a couple of winged fruits with their package of seed take to the air and go whirring in the wind. In evening light, they are like fiery butterflies pirouetting in an aerial ballet.

The tree is a landmark, for those who choose to see it as one. In the distance, the weaving tributary of the mighty Brahmaputra courses through a winding dip in the land. The forest around is dwarfed by the tall tree. Across farms and scrubby undergrowth tangled with vines, only a smattering of trees meets the eye, and there are none so large. The tall tree is special. What does it stand for, even if it stands alone?

… This post first appeared in the Rainforest Revival blog on 20 December 2010. Read more in The Wild Heart of India: Nature and Conservation in the City, the Country, and the Wild.