Friday, August 15, 2014

The trees

On Friday morning, as I prepared our weekly fruit and vegetables for the fridge, I looked out of the kitchen window and contemplated an empty patch of sky I am not used to seeing. The thing is, our trees are gone and worse than that - we had them cut down. To me, cutting down trees is like burning books and so to say that it hurt to watch the trees fall, would be an understatement. But, the hard facts were that the trees were too tall and they couldn't just be topped without killing the trees anyway. A similar tree had fallen on a house in recent years and some were worried that that might happen again or that someone might be injured. People who know about trees said they needed to come down and so come down they have.

When our organisation moved to Ukarumpa 55 or so years ago, we planted trees in the valley that was just covered in kunai grass. Now, the centre is covered with trees and I am so glad, but they do get too tall...So we employed a team from our 'Construction and Maintenance' department to do the work and last Monday they arrived.

It is hard to find a picture that really communicates the height of these trees...
I watched in awe and quite a lot of fear, as Tama, the Papua New Guinean tree man, scaled the first tree (the one on the right) and began cutting off branches with an axe. Another man stayed on the ground and collected the branches after they fell.

As you can see from the pictures above, it is pretty precarious work, but amazingly skilled too. It was interesting to watch Tama prepare to go up the tree each time he had to re-ascend. He would approach almost reverently, stare up at the tree, take a few minutes and then finally begin the climb. Later, he told me that in the stillness before the ascent, he always prayed. Tama carefully created 'steps' for himself as he cut, and all his movements were very slow and considered. I hope he didn't mind me watching. 

Very soon, there was a very big pile of branches.

At the end of day one.
On day 2, work began on the middle tree. Half way up this tree, the trunk split into three separate trunks, so it presented some new challenges. At one point the man on the ground was holding a rope attached to the middle trunk and Tama was working on cutting it through. Unfortunately the wind blew in the wrong direction at the just the wrong moment and it fell towards the house, instead of away, as was intended. The man holding the rope fell on his face, but his actions saved the roof of our house. I happened to be outside videoing at the time. I dropped the camera in my surprise (fortunately, I was wearing the strap), but everyone was okay, if a little shocked.

The end of day 2.
After the excitements of day 2, it was decided that they would just cut the trees down without removing any further branches. So on day 3, 12 men arrived with chainsaws and more ropes and Reuben and I were asked to come out of the house so that we could watch from a safe distance. Tama climbed up each tree in turn to attach ropes and then all the guys held onto the rope to direct the fall of the trunk down the the road. Then he came down and whilst another man used his chainsaw, Tama used his axe to help as well. The three trees were safely felled and the trunks cut into 5 metre lengths and removed by a large digger, and all by lunch time! The ground shook as each tree fell, and friends all over Ukarumpa said they heard the noise as they hit the ground. It was sad, horrible and impressive all at the same time. When the first tree was about to fall, Reuben reached out his hand from the stroller to take mine. I don't know who was comforting who.

Tama and his axe.

Some of the team.


And so they are gone. I think there is a little more light in the kitchen. We might, perhaps, get more hot water because our solar panel won't be shaded at certain times of the day and we can plant something else. Suffice to say, we will miss the trees. Maybe I have read too many books about trees that talked and even walked. Maybe I have been too emotional about this, but I'll always wonder what they could have told me if they could talk...but now we can plant new trees and give them new stories to tell...

As I typed the paragraph above, Reuben took three steps towards me. HE TOOK THREE STEPS TOWARDS ME. I have my perspective back.

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