It’s Sunday, a dull, sluggish day and I feel like being active and outside. I make a start on the weeds which are Triffid-like and so rampant they have the ability to crush your will. Soon, my focus switches to a huge beech tree dominating one area of the garden. Thick, overhanging branches swamp the cricket net, making the area below oppressive and dark. This has been bugging me for some time and I decide the branches must come down. The only problem is they are thirty feet high. We have a ladder long enough to reach but it’s too heavy for me to lift, let alone drag across the garden. My husband, who has been been enjoying the build up to a big rugby match with our boys, comes out to help. He throws the ladder over a shoulder, his evident reluctance at what he sees as my foolhardiness is etched in his face. Several times he tells me that what I’m planning is risky and that I’m not qualified to do this but I have a stubborn nature and he knows it.
With the ladder secured against the main body of the tree, he stands on the bottom rung while I test the stability. It’s a long way up and a few months ago I would have had a vertigo moment. That said, a couple of stints of tree top adventure parks with teenage boys seems to have temporarily cured me of my fear of heights. In fact, I’m reconnecting with the child in me who used to spend many happy hours hiding in trees.
I have two hand saws and a large pair of clippers which I carefully hook onto branches as I climb. I start off with branches that block my path. A neighbouring pine throws out dense, furry arms; it’s a bit like trimming a fur coat. The beech, when I get to it, is easier than I’d anticipated. The first branch is about fourteen centimetres thick but sawing downwards makes my task easy. The branch falls to the ground with a thud. Two more follow and already I can see the difference; a weak sun breaks through the gloom. After the third branch has been felled, I tell my husband that I am fine on my own. He’s not happy, but having already missed the warm up for the game, he hurries back inside. The Black Dog contemplates following him but decides to stay put.
Confidence replaces cautiousness as I warm to my task. I am determined to prove my husband’s misgivings wrong and start to tackle larger branches. The ladder is there for security but I actually feel safer standing on the stout branches, ever mindful of the tree climbing rule number one which is to make sure I always have something to hold onto. The really big branches crack and snap when I’ve only sawed half way but the weight, as they tip earthwards, does the rest of the job for me.
Finally, I reach the main culprit. It’s more like a mini tree than a branch. I look for the narrowest point within comfortable reaching distance, cut a wide V into the arm, then start sawing, stopping every now and then for a break. There’s a surprising amount of sap and the saw keeps getting stuck. My working arm starts to tire but I’m determined to keep going. When the branch finally breaks it’s like I’ve taken down Goliath. I feel victorious and vindicated. Carefully, I descend the ladder. The ground is littered with branches and there’s a lot of clearing up to do. Some branches are too heavy to lift which means sawing them down into manageable sizes. I drag what I can over to the fire, stripping off layers as I go; it is unseasonably warm for the time of year.
I work for a further hour, then think about going back inside. It’s getting dark and too late to burn anything now. Instead, I grab our rickety step ladder and carry it over to a tree with an unnecessary long reaching branch. It’s quite low and won’t take me two minutes I think, smug from my victory with the Beech tree. The step ladder is just tall enough for me to haul myself up. I straddle the branch. My plan is to shuffle forward to a point where the branch is thin enough to saw through. The only problem is that there are no other low branches to hold onto and I quickly realise that shuffling isn’t going to work. I’ll have to sit side-saddle. That presents problems of its own because I have the saw in one hand so I’m not very stable. I haven’t thought this through. Still trying to work it out, I shift my weight sideways to get more purchase and quite suddenly I’m tumbling backwards. I hit the ground with force. Pain runs through my fingers and I am dimly aware that I have caught my head on something. For a moment I am too shocked to think. I lie in a heap, crying more from frustration than pain, and because my pride has been hurt. I’d been doing so well and one moment of carelessness has undermined my good work. The black dog hears my sobs and rushes over to offer licks and a reverently wagging tail. She knows something’s up.
After a while, I get up off the damp ground. Cautiously, I touch the area by my right temple which feels horribly swollen but I can’t think about what I’ve done yet. I slink back to the house now warmly lit up like a Christmas tree and, unnoticed, take refuge in the upstairs bathroom. Bath water running, I brave a look. My right temple has taken the brunt of the fall, the skin swollen and cut and already showing signs of an impressive bruise. I must have caught it on the corner of the saw. Further investigation reveals several marks on my body but my fingers cause me the most angst. Two will blow up like uncooked sausages, giving rise – unfounded as it turns out – to a break.
I lie in the bath, listening to the male shrieks coming from the TV room below feeling quite alone. I tell myself that I am lucky, that it could have been much worse. Even so, I won’t mention what has happened – though my wounds will give me away. What I can’t avoid, though I’m not yet ready to hear it, is the inevitable ‘I told you so’.