On Friday, the tree outside my fence was massacred. The people who did it were laughing while they lopped and chopped. I could hear the branches hitting the ground and was very distressed because it reminded me of something similar which had happened in France. The tree was across the road from my apartment. There were three of them and that part of the municipal hospital was named after them.
Something strange happened to me while the tree was being slaughtered. I couldn’t watch but, along with the dreadful noise of the machine and the voices of the men, I could “hear” the tree screaming and feel its fear. At the same time, I could feel the waves of love coming from the other two trees as they tried to comfort it. I was sobbing with them. It was an extraordinary connection with the trees but it is not one that I ever want to renew. At least, not in those circumstances.
A few months later, an Art exhibition on the theme of “Trees” called, ironically, Une envie d’arbre en vie [Wanting a tree alive], from a poem by Pierre-Hugues Robieux, was held and I decided to add a text about this dreadful experience to the others that I had prepared for the opening of the exhibition. Naturally, it was in French, so I have translated it. It is not really a poem. I am an actress and I often write texts in lines like poems because it helps me with my interpretation. I have kept the same lay-out as the original. However, bear in mind that this is only a translation. The original is better.
I started to cry before it was finished and there was deathly silence afterwards. The Mayor and several Councillors were present and nobody dared to applaud. Only one of the artists, a sculptor, had the courage to step up to me and say sympathetically, “You feel everything, don’t you?” The answer to that is unfortunately yes, I do. “And in Spring, too.” He shook his head. The Mayor swooped on me, babbling several times, “It’s not true!” just like a little boy.
The papers did not mention “the incident” but there were references to my words, including this text. The scandal was minor and I included the text in the closing reception. This time the Mayor wasn’t there and it was applauded.
Death of a Tree
They killed it.
They chopped off its branches one after the other.
The tree was screaming.
They heard nothing.
They were joking, telling each other funny stories between blows from the chainsaw.
The tree’s brothers were crying with it.
They were sending it waves of love to support it in its ordeal.
It was Spring.
The birds had barely started their nests.
The leaves were of that tender green of renewal.
The men and their noisy machines massacred the old oak.
At noon, tired, they left for lunch, leaving the trunk of bleeding stumps standing in the sun,
Its sliced branches spread out at its foot.
In the afternoon, refreshed, the executioners came back to cut down the trunk and chop it up.
They are paid to do it.
To obey, no questions asked.
Today, it’s Summer.
The birds of the two other oaks have squeezed their brethren from the dead tree in with them.
Sometimes, quarrels erupt; they have less room.
The cars, which used to park in the shade of the missing tree,
Have pulled back to the parking lot outside the kitchen at the hospital.
In full sunlight.
There are only two oaks left
At Three Oaks Domain.
But not to worry!
“They” do not intend to change its name!
Perhaps, in the future, when our grown-up grandchildren are puzzled by this name,
We shall evoke again the third oak,
Sacrificed for a roundabout.
There is an epilogue to this story. A few months after this exhibition, I was called to Australia, where my mother was dying. In 2005, having bought a house here, I popped back to France to organize the move. Upon opening my shutters, the first thing that I saw was a young oak tree, recently planted on the other side of the road near the roundabout. I know that there had been no plans to replace the murdered oak before I read my text, so I conclude that I had some influence on it.
While writing my letter of resignation from various municipal commissions, I thanked the Council for planting the oak and hoped that it would be a reminder of my dozen years in their town.
I like to think that the little oak hasn’t died and is strongly growing, despite the trucks that rumble past it to deliver supplies to the hospital.