online: 1 july 2003

30 june 2003 death of a tree

14:54 Looking out to see the cause of a noise I saw a man in a red helmet with ropes and slings and spiked boots and a chain saw cutting down the nearest tree to my back window. In an hour or so he had cut to pieces and removed the whole thing - a sycamore of about 30 cm diameter and about 10 metres high. I've just been out to the main road and I could see that the cut up trunk and branches and the pulverized twigs and leaves are now all inside a van. And when I returned I could see the man, the tree-cutter, spreading a white substance on the raw tree stump - I suppose to kill the roots. What a trauma for the tree - and for anyone watching...

...And suddenly the view from my window is not of leaves and branches but of the backs of houses. And there is more light here indoors.

Watching the process was very different - not so much sad as astonishing. The sight of a complex and dangerous skill, and of simple but cleverly devised implements and techniques, which enable a man (lacking claws or wings) to move about a tree in some safety while intelligently dismembering it. He was using each part to support his ropes and slings while he cut down the bit that had previously supported him. The fascination of it equals the horror. A technique of public execution enabling a tree to be destroyed and removed without damage to its executioner or to people or gardens nearby. This is life, or rather death, is it not? We depend on both and experience them both - one after the other...

But that's not the whole story. Before the tree grew it arrived as a seed - in this case the spinning seed of a sycamore - and in our case as semen into a womb. We all arrive as if from nowhere, from 'pre-life' - a less sad unknown than 'after-life', perceived as the absence of it...

Yes, I am sad to lose the tree (though its roots may have been a cause of the cracks appearing in this building). I am shocked by the experience of a perhaps necessary execution, but glad to be reminded of the nature of nature. Birth, life and death and the unknowns, before and after.

I breathe in, and then out, and then I look at and listen to the remaining world, this inexplicable existence.

When asked about the amount of suffering in the world John Cage said that there is just the right amount*. The tree is gone. There is more space for the rest of us. But I am sad, even horrified. For the moment.

*I cannot remember in which of his books this appears - or what were his actual words.

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