One of the reasons we fell in love with our property is that is has lots of huge and very mature trees. However, over the years, we have learned that old trees come at a price, and that price is expensive tree surgery. Many of the people around us would have simply cut them down to the ground years ago. It’s a sad fact that our village has lost many of its oldest and most beautiful trees in recent years, because, to put it bluntly, it’s cheaper to chop them right down than to maintain them. (Spoiler alert, one of my farming neighbours is systematically removing EVERY single tree or hedgerow from his land and I will be kiling a fictional version of him off in at least one of my books, because he makes me cry every time I see another hedge ripped out of another tree felled, but that’s not the point of today’s post.)
We have not only fought to maintain our trees but also planted many more. A few years ago we had to have substantial work done to a row of 200 year old beeches that border the road and were becoming dangerous. We’ve had ongoing discussions with tree surgeons over the years to ensure their safety, but a massive crack in a split trunk meant they finally needed serious attention. Even at that, we managed to save them with extensive surgery, and having been made safe they should have a few more years of life yet. It was awesome to watch the guys at work, over two days – one of them a beautiful blue skied October day, and the next day a stormy, rainy, windy day. Rather them than me. Most of the heavy branches hanging over the roadside were removed, so that as the trees continue to age and deteriorate, they won’t shed branches onto passing traffic.
A year or two before we had this work done, a couple of branches came down from those same beeches, onto the road, during Hurricane Ophelia. That storm, and those branches, gave me fodder for a short story and script I wrote as part of my Open University degree module. No cars were on the roads that day, and we enjoyed the storm raging around us. The story was decent, as was the haul of firewood we brought in once the storm had passed.
We have also planted well over 150 new native trees in the past 4 years, so as the old trees need to come down, new ones will take their place. Some of these new ones are already taller than me. I was checking them for growth and vitality just yesterday – it’s so rewarding to see new growth every year.
So, is there a point to this? You bet! As I was watching the tree surgeons yesterday, I realised they were doing exactly what I do when I am writing my stories: Editing.
Some branches are nothing but dead weight. The jeopardise the whole tree, making it dangerous and something to worry about. They interrupt its beauty and strength.
Some parts of the tree are already strong and healthy. They support the rest and give it a good foundation.
Some parts of the tree will do better now the unecessary parts have been removed.
Once the work is done, the tree is better for it.
Meanwhile, there are the offcuts – the parts that are no longer any use to that particular tree. These parts will be used for something else – our neighbour made an awesome table and bench set from a pine we had to fell into his garden after it died last year. Other parts will be added to our firewood stash and keep us warm through the winter. Other parts will lie in the field and give home to hedgehogs, or other creatures. Very little of it will go waste. Editing a story is pretty much the same. Even the parts that get cut can be recycled into a new story, or a flash fiction piece, or an idea for something new. The original story will grow stronger for the edit.
I am currently writing a story inspired by our old beech trees,. I hope it ill be my standalone release for 2023. The idea for the story grew when I cut back the ivy that was smothering the beeches’ trunks and uncovered names etched deep into the bark. Here is a very tiny hint of what it is about, from a flash piece I wrote for Twitter last week:
She peeled back the #gown of ivy, releasing the tree from its stranglehold. Deep letters gouged in the trunk bore her grandmother’s name, widened by age: Elise + John forever. The date, a decade after her mother’s birth; the name, not her grandfather’s. #vss365
The story was begun ages ago, but the offcuts or branches or tiny shoots of it are reaching into new places. This flash piece grew from a prompt word (I talked about those two weeks ago, here) but its roots went far deeper. I have plenty more editing to do before the full novel is finished, but it will be worth it.