Friday, I was minding my own business, working away in my cell, when a terrific din arose outside.

Before I understood what was happening, which was that “the tree cutters” had come, the majestic Brazilian pepper tree outside my window had been harshly, drastically denuded.

Its graceful pink-peppercorn laden branches had formed a kind of umbrella, perhaps fifty feet wide, that had shaded, protected, made private my room; that had made my room into a sanctuary. Often I had lain in bed and cried at the way the afternoon light filtered through the leaves, such was the beauty.  Now the base of the trunk was littered with piles of cruelly sheared-off limbs, like a voluptuous woman whose long, wavy hair had been shaved in preparation for the ovens.

I would have said goodbye to my tree, I thought stubbornly as I went about my afternoon errands. I didn’t even get to say goodbye...

“It’ll grow back in a few months,” my roommate waved off my long face when I returned. “Damn thing. So messy!”

Well such is the difference between a homeowner and a renter, especially a dreamy renter whose dearest wish is a room, heat, running water, and an outlet in which to plug the coffee maker and someone else can figure out the details.

Speaking of which, the tree cutters are but the first of what promises to be a long siege of disruption. The foundation of this big hundred-year-old house is to be redone, followed by the floors, the windows, the landscaping and the re-painting of the entire interior.  So I have to find another place to live for three months. I’m ready to roll with it and am going to look upon the whole revamp as a great adventure. I’ll tell you what I will miss, though (other than even a rudimentary sense of stability, consistency, and general lack of surprises), and that is my piano.

Well, c’est la vie.

I did think of this passage from Robert Walser called “To Those Who Cut Down Beautiful Nut Trees”:

For, passing by a beautiful farmhouse with a splendid, luxuriant nut tree, I cried aloud: “This high majestical tree which protects and beautifies this house so wonderfully, spinning for it a cage and garment of such serious, joyous homeliness, intimate domesticity, such a tree, I say, is like a divinity, and a thousand lashes to the unfeeling owner of it if he dare make all this cool, green leafy splendor vanish just to gratify his thirst for money, which is the vilest thing on earth. Cretins of this sort should be kicked out of the parish. To Siberia or Tierra del Fuego with such defilers and destroyers of what is beautiful. But, thank God, there are also farmers who will certainly still have senses and hearts for what is delicate and good.

As regards the tree, the greed, the countryman, the transportation to Siberia, and the thrashing which the countryman apparently deserves because he fells the tree, I have perhaps gone too far, and I must confess that I let my indignation carry me away. Friends of beautiful trees will nevertheless understand my displeasure, and agree wit this energetically expressed regret. For all I care, the thousand lashes can be returned to me forthwith. To the coarse expression “cretin” I myself deny applause. Being compelled to dislike it, I beg the reader’s forgiveness. As I have already had to beg his forgiveness several times, I have become quite a dab hand at courtesies of this sort. “Unfeeling owner” I had no need at all to say. Such overheatings of the mind, as I see it, ought absolutely to be avoided. It is, however, obvious that I will allow my grief over the downfall of a beautiful tree to stand. I certainly make the worst of it; nobody shall hinder me from that. “Kicked out of the parish” is an improvident phrase, and as for the thirst for money, which I have called vile, I suppose that I have myself at some time or another offended, fallen short, and sinned in this respect, and that certain wretchednesses and vilenesses have certainly not remained alien to me.

–Robert Walser, The Walk, trans. by Christopher Middleton with Susan Bernofsky


  1. So-called tree trimmers come around here, too. Most of the trees, except palm trees, end up mangled and butchered. There is an art to tree trimming but you really have to look around for an experienced trimmer. All of this reminds me of the poem by Hopkins, The Binsey Poplars [].

  2. Oh, oh! how very very sad and upsetting. I wish you all the best during the coming disruptions; may you find something of worth within them.

  3. Of course you two, Michael and Altoon, would get the SORROW!!

    Here's "Binsey Poplars," by G.M Hopkins. "After-comers cannot guess the beauty been"…
    Of course he got it, too.

    felled 1879

    MY aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
    Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
    All felled, felled, are all felled;
    Of a fresh and following folded rank
    Not spared, not one 5
    That dandled a sandalled
    Shadow that swam or sank
    On meadow and river and wind-wandering weed-winding bank.

    O if we but knew what we do
    When we delve or hew— 10
    Hack and rack the growing green!
    Since country is so tender
    To touch, her being só slender,
    That, like this sleek and seeing ball
    But a prick will make no eye at all, 15
    Where we, even where we mean
    To mend her we end her,
    When we hew or delve:
    After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
    Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve 20
    Strokes of havoc únselve
    The sweet especial scene,
    Rural scene, a rural scene,
    Sweet especial rural scene.

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