Spending a day with a sycamore

Yesterday I spent the day with our sycamore. This is the longest amount of time I have ever spent with a sycamore, or indeed any tree. I am quite sad that I only spent the day with the sycamore because I was cutting off its glorious crown in a pollard. I had a good lament as I was going along, on the theme of ‘why do we only ever give this amount of time to trees when we need to do something to them, or occassionaly for them.’ Could we not spend a day simply looking, touching, climbing, watching, enjoying, basking in, reverentially meditating on, the tree. Maybe you already are.

Eight years have passed since our sycamore was last pollarded, and in that time the sycamore has grown into a dominant force overshadowing the lawn, overhanging the neighbours sheds and garages, and creeping ever outwards towards the fabric of our polytunnel. In only eight years it has transformed itself, and along with it the feel of the garden. Now removed, the garden feels very different. Traditionally a tree is pollarded for animal fodder or for wood. In suburbuan gardens like ours it also achieves the effect of allowing more light into the garden and preventing wind damage.

At lunch, in between reading Jan Morris’ Wales – Epic views of a small country and drinking hot tea, I took some time being with the tree. Doing all those things we never do.
This act of destruction has brought us closer. It feels right to read Wales whilst meditating on one of its tree’s. We are how we relate to the land around us.

As I looked at the tree I tried to see the pollard I had just comitted upon it as nothing worse than an overdue haircut. Even so I can’t help thinking I have committed a brutalist assault. I have removed the tree’s winter structure. And its glory. And when summer rolls around, the sycamore will not quite be the home it has been, to all the things that rely on it: moths, ladybirds, bees, hoverflies, birds. There is loss.

Never-the-less this is the cycle of life and something else will bloom with it diminished. And the sycamore wood itself should have another life, carved into ‘love spoons’ as is the Welsh tradition, or made into furniture. At the very least warming the four souls that inhabit our house.

I console myself that there is nothing in this day’s work that humans haven’t been doing since Roman times

Some practical thoughts
A pollard should not be attempted with any weather present. Such days in Wales are rare, and should be grabbed with both glove protected hands. Yesterday was such a day. No wind, no rain, no fog, no snow, no ice pellets. Just one long blue sky and fire ball tracking through it. Ahhh, even the memory of it is worth savouring. You’ll see from the photographs that I haven’t finished. That’s because I was doing the job on my own with an electric chain saw with grab jaws. The jaws grab each piece of wood safely but can’t reasonably tackle thick branches. These need to be roped and sawed with a hand saw and friends present to help. Even so I wore steal toe caps, appropriate grippy gloves and a helmet, mask, ear muff combo.

Caution is a watch word for tackling a job like this, especially on your own
without ropes to guide the branch fall. Tackle only branches you are confident will not damage you or anything around you (if you’ve never done any tree work before don’t tackle a job like this). Take your time. If you need to, have regular breaks to clear away what you’ve done and take a look at what you need to do. Do the job one branch at a time. Lean as little as possible.

I loved this part of the job, even though I had a couple of moments when I didn’t feel that confident about my own skills and safety. Thinking things through carefully you can problem solve your way through the job, and before you know it you have a large pile of branches on the floor, and a sense of pride.

Once all the wood is down on the ground cut lengths for fire wood and branches for kindling. Make sure you know what length of wood will fit in your log burner. The kindling you see here are the side shoots taken from the logs I cut. The tops of the branches have yet to be processed.

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