—and he cried with a loud voice:
Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees—
They are cutting down the great plane-trees at the end of the gardens.
For days there has been the grate of the saw, the swish of the branches as they fall,
The crash of the trunks, the rustle of trodden leaves,
With the ‘Whoops’ and the ‘Whoas,’ the loud common talk, the loud common laughs of the men, above it all.
It is not for a moment the Spring is unmade to-day;
These were great trees, it was in them from root to stem:
When the men with the ‘Whoops’ and the ‘Whoas’ have carted the whole of the whispering loveliness away
Half the Spring, for me, will have gone with them.
It is going now, and my heart has been struck with the hearts of the planes;
Half my life it has beat with these, in the sun, in the rains,
In the March wind, the May breeze,
In the great gales that came over to them across the roofs from the great seas.
There was only a quiet rain when they were dying;
They must have heard the sparrows flying,
And the small creeping creatures in the earth where they were lying—
But I, all day, I heard an angel crying:
‘Hurt not the trees.’
~Charlotte Mew, from “The Trees are Down” from Collected Poems and Prose
The decision to take down decades-old trees is always fraught; we’ve lived here nearly half our lives (and theirs) and these trees are part of the furniture of the farm, members of the family. They were much younger and resilient in 1990 and so were we. Yet they have been showing their age with broken branches and dying boughs, clearly threatening to become another winter storm casualty, taking wires and buildings with them as they collapse, uncontrolled, in the middle of a windy night.
When we bought this farm from Morton Lawrence, the elderly farmer who planted these trees and many others over his 80 plus years, he asked only three things:
– don’t build a dance hall here (no problem)
– continue the annual Easter Sunday Sunrise service on the hill (absolutely!)
– don’t cut down healthy trees – only the dead and dying (“hurt not the trees”)
We’ve respected Morton’s requests as best we could – the only Sunrise Service we missed hosting was during the pandemic ban on large gatherings in spring 2020.
We’ve refrained from building dance halls and other boozy joints of ill repute and will continue to do so.
We’ve revered and cared for the many trees Morton planted and loved. Quite a number have come down on their own in the winds – old apples and cherries and firs and maples and walnuts – some became cabinetry in our kitchen (black walnut trim) and some became firewood for cold winters and others have been carved into spoons that we use daily.
So yesterday, the time had come to fell the aging breaking poplars and a dying ponderosa pine across from our old hay barn. The pine had been a seedling in a paper cup, sent home with Morton’s 6th grade son after a class forestry field trip. It was a robust tree for over fifty years, raining pine cones every fall and had a beautiful symmetrical shape, but was slowly dying.
The tree felling was done with precision and expertise by a local logger who cares deeply about the work he does and the lives he is taking and what he is sparing. The crash of the trunk was both heard and most distinctly felt as we stood at a safe distance watching. Someone looking at the picture of the tree on the ground commented that the branches looked like a waterfall cascade of pine needles and rocky cones tumbling down our slope.
We are so grateful all went well with the only victims being the trees themselves. I am hoping the wood can be milled and we may someday sit in our church on new knotty-pine pews where indeed this old tree will hear angels sing. Thinking about that makes it’s loss hurt less.
More farm photography with accompanying poetry in this book from Barnstorming, available for order here: