Hilary Fannin: What’s one drunken cherry tree in a disappearing world?
The rapacious old tart of a tree was the thing that drew me to this house, and now the chainsaws were out for her
They cut down the cherry tree.
I had to park around the corner; our small cul-de-sac was chock-a-block with machinery. I walked up to my front door, stepping over amputated branches on the way. The council had posted a letter through the door a couple of weeks ago; a warning. Somehow I’d managed to forget.
I counted four men on my walk to the door, one with a chainsaw, all wearing boxy masks that made them look a little like beekeepers. They wore orange helmets and bright yellow earmuffs. They looked like beekeepers, but they were not beekeepers: their task was to annihilate, not preserve.
I went inside, watched the execution out of the window. The tree knelt down, sagged and crumbled, with extraordinary speed. Already the top branches – no, hold on, all the branches – had been severed, lopped off and fed into the hungry mouth of one of the machines, a voracious beast of a thing, that shook and rattled and hummed and turned the tree limbs into sawdust.
The vehicle (whose vibrations I could feel underfoot), had the words Dangerous Tree Removal painted on the side of its pulsing, droning carriage, next to the chilling little phrase Stump Grinding.
I watched the men scoop up the detritus from the sawdust manufacturing, their shovels so big and wide and unwieldy that they made the masked men look small. Made them look like those plastic construction workers – with unbendable plastic arms and miniature hard hats, and expressions of blank incomprehension – that you find at the bottom of a toy box.
They looked like playthings, but they were not playthings, they were men, not toys.
The stump grinding began, a brutal dentistry that extracted the tree root from its patch of soil, from its carefully measured quilt-square of suburban greenery.
The tree had been here for God knows how long. Snoozing and blossoming, blossoming and snoozing. Madly and improbably, it was the thing that drew me to this house when we moved in here in spring more than a decade ago.
She was a rapacious old tart of a tree. There was something blowsy and indiscreet about her. Year after year she covered her gnarled, varicosed old bark, with borrowed lace, opening her withered arms to the neighbourhood, beckoning us to come and admire her.
“Liquid” I heard one of the chainsaw gang tell a neighbour, as they both peered at the corpse.
Liquid, he said, demonstrating the mulch-like interior of her trunk, stabbing the stump with his saw, leaving it propped inside her, while he lit a cigarette.
Probably soaked in gin, I thought, or absinthe.
I am a coward
Maybe I should have rushed out there, before they sliced her down, tied myself to the trunk with an old set of fairy lights. Maybe I should have protested.You have to choose your battles, though. The tree’s diagnosis was terminal; no amount of indignation could save her.
And I am a coward. I find it so much easier to bleed over a single tree than to consider the global impact of deforestation. Easier to turn up the heating against the polar cold than to think about melting ice caps. Easier to throw a tray of cut-price piggy-wiggy chops into my supermarket trolley than question the produce of intensive farming.
I watched a short film recently that some of the students and teachers in my sons’ school made. A message to world leaders. They made it in November, prior to the 2015 Climate Conference in Paris, joining forces with Afri, a Dublin-based NGO promoting human rights and peace.
I sat down and watched it the other day, out of duty really, and utterly unexpectedly, I found it hugely moving and affecting. I was in tears.
And yes, I know it’s maudlin and sentimental of me. I know that the film was made by a bunch of advantaged, educated, confident, first-world children. I know that watching earnest videos and buying bunches of organic bananas and wearing biodegradable Y-fronts is not going to save the shagging planet.
And believe me, I know that there are no simple solutions, to anything.
The students – sweet, intelligent, passionate – were asking for our help, to experience a world that my generation probably took for granted. A disappearing world.
“We care about our planet, but we’re not so sure that you do,” they said. “We need your help,” they simply asked.
The tree is gone. She was lovely while she lasted. There are bigger mountains to climb.