Life begins anew
At last the corner has been turned; the pendulum, after hovering briefly at the extremity of its outward swing, now begins to fall back. Already there is a new warmth to the sun and the days are inching forward toward the first of February and the official beginning of spring. Yet even now things are beginning to stir.
A walk around the garden shows new growth in numerous diverse places. On the blackcurrant bushes the branches are bulging with green nodules. The honeysuckle is more advanced; here the first buds broke before the holiday and now they hold out dusky green rosettes of leaves to catch the winter sun. In another sheltered corner forsythia wields new-grown twiglets, with last year’s wood a promising crowd of brown-scaled flower buds. And underfoot, the leaves of daffodil and crocus are already well-developed. Each day brings discovery and rediscovery; each day could last a year and I would not tire of it.
Stirred into action at the sight of so much newness, I turned my attention to the sycamore tree at the back of the garden, and on seeing its own extremities responding to an early rise of sap I resolved to cut it down at the earliest opportunity. It was, after all, growing in quite the wrong place. Had it chosen a situation on the northern hedgerow it would have been a welcome addition to the native population of hawthorn, holly and ash that surrounds the house. But there, on the south east corner, it closed out the light until noon and cast a dense, dark shade throughout the day.. It had to go.
The sun shone between one storm and another, and the songbirds came out to do their thing. I watched and listened for a minute or two, noting the cock blackbird on his singing perch at the utmost tip of an ash tree, and the great tit flitting back and forth past the nesting box in the fork of an old willow. ‘Chee-wit’ he sang, turning his head to one side as if to size up the box for this season’s use, then ‘Chee-wit’ again as I pulled out the remnants of last year’s nest. I had seen it new, crafted from dried grasses and moss and beautifully lined with soft under-feathers. There had been half a dozen tiny ginger-mottled eggs then, and later a delightfully ugly family of pop-eyed hatchlings. Now it was an unidentifiable mess of decomposing materials run through with woodlice and millipedes.
After carefully sizing the sycamore, noting the direction and strength of the wind, the unbalanced angle of the tree’s growth and the one-sided weight of its boughs, I got to work. The saw roared, tugging at my hands like a living thing. The toothed chain bit deep, spouting sweet-scented shavings in an arcing shower. One cut; two; then a third and careful one to shape the giant’s fall.
The tree creaked, as if in alarm, and gave a woeful groan as it leaned, gently earthbound. Then it cracked off at the butt and fell directly on top of the fence.
That wasn’t supposed to happen. Sycamore is brittle at the best of times. It lacks the fibrous grain typical of most other woods and should always be treated with caution and viewed as unpredictable. It was down, at any rate. As I cut at the branches I was surprised at just how easily they snapped, and when I took another look at the stump a brown stain showed the work of fungal threads where these had eaten into the wood. Another year or two of this disease and a strong easterly wind would have brought my sycamore to a much less tidy end. At least today there was just a fence beneath.
There it lay, with blood-red rose hips splashed across the bole. I felt like an executioner when I counted the rings and found the fallen tree to be the same age as myself. Strange, to think that even as I was drawing my first lungful of air a new pair of leaves was peeking shyly skyward through a tangle of bramble and wild grasses.
The tree might have been the taller, but I was the stouter of the two by a disconcerting measure. It would grow again, sending up a thicket of sticks in the place of the one trunk. Left to themselves they would soon fill the gap that had appeared in the hedgerow. For the moment the sun streamed through, bright, warming and new.