A wedge-shaped slice

Blog post
Published: 01.07.2011

The ground shook when they fell . . . the sections of trunk . . . the lopped limbs stripped bare of their fibrous, russet bark . . . pale and trembling from the fall . . . glistening in the intense sun . . . the garden suddenly, splendidly, bathed in sunlight . . . magpies dashing in . . . scratching . . . pecking at worms so abruptly exposed . . . debris and light . . .

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An expert arbourist can assess the health of a tree, give advice on the treatment of sick trees, and perform tree-surgery — anything from an amputation to an execution, including the meticulous removal of the remains. The professionalism of the team is impressive; it seems churlish to display distress in the presence of such skill and efficiency, such genuine concern and optimism for the surrounding garden, and such gratitude for steaming cups of coffee.

It was a necessary excision. The old tree had become a hazard, especially with the wind already gathering strength for August, when each year it seems it might blow our heads from our bodies. The surrounding foliage, cut to the ground to allow for the removal, will burgeon in spring with a new lease on life. My distress has already eased in this knowledge. Adaptability — a quality that has assured the survival of many species.


A few days later, as I place a new birdbath on the meticulously leveled stump of the old tree and clear away the few remaining bits and pieces, I find a wedge-shaped slice from one of the tree’s limbs. I pick it up. Smell it. Note its heft, its texture, its history of good years and drought in the pattern of annular rings. I have the tree in my hand — part of the imposing old entity we lived with for eleven years.


I am reminded how the jewel of an absent person can evoke memories of their bodily presence: their warmth . . . the softness of their skin . . . their sun-warmed cheeks and hands . . . their pale and private folds . . . their callouses and scars earned over a lifetime . . . the strength of their grasp . . . their gestures . . . the timbre of their voice . . . a waft of their favourite perfume . . . a rustle . . .

I have been handling the jewellery collection of my recently deceased mother-in-law. Some pieces had been gifts, some she inherited, and many she purchased during her travels or simply because she liked them — liked the way they accessorized particular items of clothing. Each piece was replete with memories for her, memories she was always happy to share. There must be over a hundred pieces: brooches and barrettes, ear-rings and finger-rings, necklaces and pendants, parures, clips and pins, cloak and cardigan fasteners, medals, watches and more watches. Each one, like the wedge-shaped slice from the old tree, redolent with its years of contact with her body.

This is what jewellery does. What it holds.

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PS   Matilda is delighted to bask in the extra sunlight provided by the removal of the tree.