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AN ARBOREAL MURDER

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Edited by Geoff Cooper, Sunday, 15 Nov 2020, 10:36

There is mourning in my household. Today I had a tree cut down It was a murder. I am ashamed.

In my lifetime, I have planted trees. At my former home in England, there is a splendid mature cherry tree which I planted fifty years ago when my children were young. In spring, it blooms magnificently, lighting up the garden. In autumn, it is an incessant pain, as its leaves litter the lawn. At various times it has held a rope ladder and a tree house. At its foot was a sand box where three children played and imagined their young lives away. In the same garden, I planted a small prostrate cedar bush which remained prostrate for three years before it suddenly became an erect cedar tree. Sadly, that had to be removed. Its position was appropriate for a prostrate shrub. Its position was entirely inappropriate for an erect cedar tree — despite its noble beauty. Wrong place; it had to be removed.

Now that I live in Spain, I love the date palms. Such a startling silhouette against a setting sun. Equally, I appreciate the sense of order in orange and lemon groves. I glory in the spreading figs and fields of grapes. Some ordered groves, like the local groves of pomegranates, fit the landscape. Other groves intrude. On a train journey from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, I was looking forward to a jungle setting. I got ordered groves. Ordered groves of palm oil trees have replaced the natural jungle. Commercial interests, the economy, triumph over the preservation of genuine ecological beauty. This is why Singapore in recent years has been burdened by smoke pollution. The burning-off of forests to enable money to be generated miles away from Singapore by producing palm oil for the Western world.Absorbing CO2, trees create man’s essential oxygen. Still the greedy cut and slash and burn to mine and farm. Meanwhile, amid rising temperatures the world fries. Life-giving afforestation recedes. Water retaining roots make way for growing cattle fodder. Especially it recedes in the Amazon and tropical Asia.

My wife tells me that we assassinated our tree. I disagree. Assassinate is the wrong word, redolent of a political act. We were not engaged in politics, but in an act of unfortunate practicality. No hired assassin was employed to do the deed. Phil, the hired hand, is a gardener, well-enough equipped to do the job mercifully and efficiently. Young enough to be sufficiently fit and guiltless to eat a meal with his family afterwards and to enjoy a drink or two with friends in the bar that evening.

Thank goodness for Phil and his skill, which assuaged my guilt. It was an efficient job. There were no wounded shrieks and agonising cries. The tree died quickly and mercifully. It was as old as my house is old, at least fifteen years, possibly a two-or-three year sapling when first planted, no more than in its twentieth year. Over those years, it had become mature, cascading blue-purple flowers in season, shedding mounds of needles across my drive, the public road and in the gardens of others at autumn leaf-fall. It characterised my house. My house was the one with the jacaranda tree in the drive.

The jacaranda tree had several sins which contributed towards its demise. Although bare in winter — denuded of leaf and flower — spring, summer and autumn saw a torrent of debris, not only on my terrace, but in public places which were the responsibility of others to clean and maintain. My heart ached for Tony in his daily task of cleaning and maintaining the public road, as he faced a virtual flower and needle waterfall. We joked about his Augean task but there was a heart of steel hidden in the jocularity.

However, making a mess was not the tree’s main offence. Whoever planted it, long before I owned the property, had positioned it very close to the edge of the drive, so that a car could get in and out. Planting a sapling there made sense at the time. Little forethought was shown. Trees grow, thank goodness, even if the foolish and greedy cut and don’t replace. The jacaranda in my drive, adjacent to the garden gate, was too close to the house wall.

The first sign of a problem was when the drive gates would not close and lock. Initially a small problem, marring one aspect of my domestic security arrangements. Initial exploration of the problem indicated that a gate pillar had moved. Living as we do, in a geo-unstable area (we have fairly frequent minor earthquakes), the matter was dismissed as the result of natural earth movements. Further study of a range of cracks and crevices however, confirmed that not only was the gate-post moving but also a section of wall was leaning at a dangerous angle. Because the wall had moved imperceptibly, day after day, week after week, the threat to the structure of the house had not been noticed. Now that it had been noticed, it was obvious and alarming. Like a triffid, the tree was taking over, roots digging into our foundations. Regrettably, lamentably, it had to go, Which is where Phil the gardener became Phil the executioner. Phil is always cheerful, smiling, whistling away despite the deadly nature of his work. Normally his work is murdering a few weeds, trimming a shrub, tidying up my small patches of garden. Now the jacaranda was tackled briskly and soon succumbed to Phil’s deadly skills.

It took a surprisingly short time for Phil and his assistant to removed the leaves and the twigs and small branches supporting them. And there the tree stood, naked, as though in its winter glory. When negotiating the price for the task, Phil asked if we had a log-burner. What was now left, was a prime candidate for a log burner. We have no log-burner. Phil may know someone who knows someone who has. At this stage, heavy-hearted, my wife and I left Phil to his task as we went to attend a different function.

We were not present at the last throes. On return, the only evidence of Phil’s work was a large plant pot in the wrong place. It had been moved to allow access to the chain saw and not replaced. A slight dusting of wood shavings remained on the drive concrete. The tree had gone, leaving only a dangerous tilting wall. No sign even of a tree stump.

We are not proud of the death of our friend. There is a small comfort. The leaves and twigs have gone into a re-cycling skip. It is our understanding that everything in the skip will be turned into compost to encourage other growth elsewhere. Phil assured us that the trunk and branches will be cut into suitable size for someone to use as winter fuel. In my wilder imagination, I see an aspiring artist woodworker lay claim to the dead bones of the tree and turning them into beautiful carvings. All may not be lost to humankind.

Meanwhile was are left with a wall that is tilting and a drive gate that will not close and lock. Work to be done remains and more money to be paid out. Paying a considerable sum each year in household insurance, I had hoped that we were covered. Not so. It is now a case of taking the most acceptable quotation for wall removal and re-building. 

Send for Lolli, an Icelander, who made such a good job of rebuilding the garden arbour.

(1271 words)


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