25 July 2009

Death of a Tree

Rose apple treeI regret to report the sad news of the death of an old and stately tree. It's called a rose apple, though I don't recall ever seeing any fruit. It's a gorgeous creature, a muscular tangle of fibrous trunks and branches overhanging an abandoned house and, incidentally, is located directly across the footpath from the entrance to my house.

I'm always suspicious when a government department announces that a tree must be removed. This is a government which views trees as nothing more than nuisances which get in the way of roads and buildings. Ever since a tree in Stanley collapsed after a rainstorm, tragically killing a teenage girl, all trees are viewed with suspicion: potential killers unless proven innocent.

Local people in Mui Wo aren't much better. Trees are simply overgrown weeds. Trees cause mosquitos. Yes, cause. Not "harbor", not "attract"; mosquitoes are spontaneously generated from trees, according to Hong Kong Chinese belief. In some of the other villages they're regularly chopped down or, if they're in a particularly conspicuous spot, poisoned by drilling holes at the base and injecting drain cleaner, to artificially widen footpaths so that people can illegally drive cars there. Sympathy for trees is not in wide supply.

So when we saw the notice pinned to the village notice board regarding the rose apple tree, Cathy and I phoned the number to ask questions. We were given another number to call, then another and another. I wrote a letter of objection. Finally Cathy spoke to the tree inspector himself. He explained that this tree was severely damaged by termites and, being on the side of a steep slope, was in danger of collapse in the event of a typhoon or heavy rainstorm.

But can't they just treat it? Maybe trim the higher limbs to make it less top-heavy, and use some sort of medicine to kill the termites?

Not advisable in this case, he said. The main trunk was so rotten inside that it was beyond saving. He assured my skeptical wife that killing a tree was a last resort measure, not first. But he promised to come take another look and see whether there were any remedial measures. Which he did a couple weeks later. I met him and he showed me in detail why the tree had to go. Even if they treated it, he said, the termites would simply move to the next tree up the hill. Best to remove it entirely. It broke my heart to admit he was right. It overhung our entrance and a public pathway. It posed a genuine danger.

Okay, so we accepted that it's a danger. Go ahead and remove it. Months went by and no one came even to look. Again Cathy phoned number after number in this department or that. "Next Wednesday," they said. Wednesday came and went. Actually, many Wednesdays came and went. It started to get infuriating.

From wanting desperately to preserve this magnificent tree, we were now anxious for them to do their terrible deed.

Here they are today, cutting it down a branch at a time. Euthenasia is never pretty.

Rest in peace, beautiful tree.

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