National Geographic : 1930 Aug
WORKING TEAK IN THE BURMA FORESTS The Sagacious Elephant Is Man's Ablest Ally in the Logging Industry of the Far East BY A. W. SMITH TWO years after the Armistice, finding peace-time conditions in the British Army dull and unprof itable, I decided to make a change. In seven years I had been on active service in France, Russia, and India. In those seven years I had cultivated a taste for the open air, a distaste for the confinement of an office, and an ability to look after myself under any conditions. As luck would have it, the opportunity of a post with one of the big firms work ing teak in the forests of Burma arrived at the psychological moment. I had heard the life was hard and lonely, but varied and interesting, and I decided to apply. I was a little surprised, when I was in terviewed in the London office of the firm, at the eagerness with which some of its members tried to dissuade me from enter ing their employment. A year later, after four months without seeing a white man or speaking my own language, I began to understand. There were to be no com plaints of having been taken on under false pretenses. I was accepted. SIX MONTHS' SUPPLIES FOR THE FOREST Two months later, in the cool of the Rangoon office, with the big matting fans swinging rhythmically overhead, I sat op posite the manager of the firm. He had been talking for half an hour of the work before me, talking casually in terms of elephants and their ways, as a farmer would talk of his horses. He tipped back in his chair and flicked the ash off his cigarette. "Well, that is all, I think. You had better order your stores here. You will need six months' supply." I tried to do mental arithmetic to arrive at how much I should need. I had been in remote places in India, but nowhere had I found myself seriously out of reach of flour, meat in some form, eggs, and milk. Six months' stores could only mean stores of those luxuries intended to perk up an appetite jaded by hot weather. I hazarded a question. The manager cocked an eye at me. "Bazaars? Oh, didn't I tell you? You will be out of reach of any kind of stores, and the only things you can bet on get ting are chickens. You will have to have everything else." He pressed his bell and handed me over to an efficient little Chinese clerk. To gether we went out into the hot sunshine. The clerk seemed to have done that kind of thing before. A quarter of an hour in the office of a big store served to provide me with everything, from cartridges for my rifle to dried hops for rising my bread for the next six months. I had little to do with it. Occasionally I was allowed to state a preference-for a certain brand of cartridges, for instance, or for the tobacco I liked. Six months' groceries and canned goods passed to me without delay or bother, and when the six months were ended all I had left was some chocolate. WHERE THE TEAK TREE GROWS Away upcountry in Burma, miles in land from Rangoon and Moulmein, are vast areas of tumbled hills covered with heavy tropical forest and slashed with deep valleys. Full-grown rivers roar in rocky ravines into black, oily whirlpools and disappear for a mile, only to reappear, boiling and frothing, at the foot of a cliff. Creeks, almost dry in the hot weather, rise twenty feet in a day three or four times in the rainy season, and come down yellow and thick, only to dwindle away again to mere threads of water in the course of a few hours. It is in country of this kind, remote and uninhabited, that the teak tree grows. Nowhere, however, is it common. It grows sparsely scattered over the hillsides, one of a dozen and more commoner species of huge forest trees, and a teak forest Io,ooo square miles in extent may be ca pable of producing only seven or eight thousand trees a year.