Liao Fan and her parents live deep in a forest near Chengdu, capital of southwestern China's Sichuan Province. The forest is also a sanctuary for tens of thousands of herons. Liao Quanfu, Liao Fan's father, has protected the herons for more than 10 years.
Liao Fan and her parents live in a house in a 30-mu (2-hectare) forest. The dense forest was flat farmland 20 years ago. Liao Quanfu in 1998 planned to make money by selling timber. He rented the farmland so he could plant trees on the land. The seedlings grew into big trees and the farmland was transformed into a dense forest within five years. He had intended to harvest the trees; however, to his surprise, the forest attracted herons. The herons built nests in the trees, and they bred in those nests. The forest became a sanctuary for those herons. Liao Quanfu abandoned his plan to harvest the trees. He did not want to destroy the birds' homes. He did not even prune the trees.
The dense forest has gradually attracted more herons. The herons arrive in the spring. They breed and care for their young during summer, and they generally leave in autumn. The weak, elderly birds stay for the winter. "The birds are clever. They know the forest is safe, and they can settle down in the region," says Liao Quanfu.
At that time, Liao Quanfu needed to run some small businesses to support his family. His family did not live in the forest. Some people learned herons were inhabiting the forest, and that no one guarded the forest at night. Some people poached herons late at night. Liao Quanfu grieved over the dead birds. After he learned about the poaching, he often drove half an hour to the forest late at night, and he patrolled the area until dawn. He also employed some rangers to take care of the forest. He devoted all of his energy and love to both the forest and the birds.
"I grew up with the trees in the forest. I was familiar with plants and animals. I treated them as my friends, and I often talked to them. I felt the trees were strong when I held them in my arms. I wanted to do more for my parents when I was young. I could help them spray the trees, with pesticides, and control the pests. However, I thought protecting the birds was a thankless task. I did not understand my father's dream, or his emotion for the trees. I even had a bad relationship with him when I was working in Beijing," recalls Liao Fan.
"My father has spared no effort in taking care of the trees and birds since I was young. He spends a lot of time and energy on it, but he does not make any money from it. He has such a large forest, but he still wears a cheap T-shirt, covered in mud. He has to run some small businesses to support our family and feed the birds. Farmers spray their crops with pesticides during farming season. It is harmful for the birds to eat crops sprayed with pesticides. During (growing season), he feeds the birds with fresh fish and loaches every day. A river flows through the forest. He often picks up the garbage that is floating in the river. He seldom has a rest," continues Liao Fan.
Liao Quanfu in 2015 decided to build a courtyard in the forest. He wanted to move to the forest, to look after the trees and birds. He designed and built the courtyard by himself. It took him two years to construct the 400-square-meter courtyard. He built two houses — one brick house and one wooden house, according to the architectural styles of buildings in ancient China. The brick house was built with black bricks, and it was used as the kitchen. The wooden house was used as the living quarters.
Liao Quanfu is like a magician, who can turn discarded things into useful materials. He used discarded materials to construct and decorate a beautiful garden. The black bricks that were used to build the brick house and the wooden window frames that were installed in the wooden house were from Pengzhou, a city in Sichuan. At that time, an old dwelling, which was nearly 100 years old, was being razed. The black bricks and the carved, wooden window frames were discarded. Liao Quanfu recycled those items. He also collected some discarded wooden materials from other demolished buildings. He used the wooden materials to build the wooden house.
The ancient wall around Luocheng, a town in Guanghan, a city in Sichuan, collapsed several years ago. The restorers discarded the damaged black bricks as they renovated the wall. Liao Quanfu used those bricks to build the wall around his garden. He also transformed an old truck into a bridge; he used the chassis to make the load-bearing beam of the bridge, and he used the bottom plate to make the bridge plate.
There are hundreds of bonsai in Liao Quanfu's garden. Most of the bonsai trees are hundreds of years old. Nearly all of the bonsai were discarded, because they were either dying or not good looking. Liao Quanfu collected and transported the bonsai trees to the forest. He got thick mud from the bottom of the river, and he put the mud in the pots. The thick mud helped reinvigorate the bonsai trees. He has not pruned the bonsai, and the trees have grown freely in the pots. Laogedou means old tree root in the Sichuan dialect, so he named the garden Laogedou Garden.
The Liaos moved to the forest in 2017, so they could do a better job protecting the birds. "I fell in love with the quiet forest, and I gradually understood my father's devotion to the birds and trees, after I lived in the forest with my parents. Every day, my mother and I spend more than two hours sweeping the ground. However, I never feel tired. I enjoy the quiet life in the forest, and I now understand why my parents devote heart and soul to the forest. My father still collects garbage in the river nearly once a week. I am not ashamed of him any longer. I think the cheap T-shirt is his armor as he protects the environment. My mother has created a vegetable garden … She plants some vegetables and fruits … Every day, we eat vegetables and fruits that we plant. My family lives a simple life in the forest," says Liao Fan.
Liao Quanfu's love for the forest has lasted for 20 years. Protecting the trees and birds has become his lifelong career. Liao Quanfu is now a well-known bird guardian. For the Liaos, however, their greatest joy is derived from living — happily — together in the forest.
(Source: Women of China English Monthly September 2018 issue)