Not only is it rare . . . but it is wary and elusive to a magical degree, and so well camouflaged in the places it chooses to lie that one can stare straight at it from yards away and fail to see it.
— Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard
We are walking the length of the Wakhan Corridor in northern Afghanistan. We see villagers planting trees.
Why are they planting trees?
Because a tree offers shade, fodder, cooking fuel, building materials, and, perhaps, fruit. Because a tree always pleases the eye. Because trees are life. There have been few trees for a very long time in the Wakhan Corridor, a remote strip of Afghanistan that stretches for some 170 miles through the Karakoram to the wild frontier of western China. Why? First, the landscape here is extremely high, rocky, and mostly dry: a cold alpine desert. Second, the main valley of the Wakhan Corridor has been inhabited for thousands of years—it was an artery of the Silk Road—and its sparse tree cover was cut long ago. But today: Entire forests of saplings are sprouting up.