too late

January 1996. It is my first full day at Newbury. I am running through archetypal English countryside, trying to get to a stand of oaks that has been left unguarded. I am late. Breath catching in throat. Distantly, chainsaws. Then silence.

I find the three huge oaks lying in brilliant sunlight. Centuries-old trees. They are torsos now, limbs amputated and removed.

I touch the uncountable rings in the flesh of the trees. The soft wood is powdery and still warm from the friction of the chainsaw blades.

Ivy and moss sawn through. Twigs and undergrowth sighing, cracking, settling into new, horizontal configurations. Spiders and beetles adjust their bearings and scrabble through sawdust on the ground.

Tears come. I press my cheek against the flesh of one of the trees, and stroke the bark.

I feel as though I am in the presence of a person who has just been killed. Not actually even dead yet. It happens more slowly than that. Like the life is still there, still around the tree, haemorrhaging, almost pulsing, then ebbing or fading like a mist, like an exhaled breath. Gradually.

I sit silently holding the tree in the warm sunshine for a long time. It is a blissfully beautiful morning, prematurely spring-like. Very quiet. The whole place is in shock, it seems to me.


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