Timber

Oak Tree in the Snow – Casper David Friedrich

Oak Tree in the Snow – Casper David Friedrich

On Saturday morning, I cut down a tree. I would like to say that cutting down a tree is one of those experiences everyone should have at some point in their life at least once, but since that would mean 7 billion fewer trees in relatively short order, I’ll just remark that it was a satisfying experience.

It was an experience not unlike the experience I once had of building a small wall. I have known how to build a small wall (more specifically how to cut a brick in half), and how to cut down a tree, since I was a small boy. Both were detailed for me on the small informative films they used to show through one of either the round, square or arched window on the toddler’s programme Playschool, which, since there was never anything else on TV in the late afternoon, I watched on a loop until I went to secondary school. I had to dredge deep in my memory for details of technique, but there they were, dormant (in the case of the brick) thirty years.

In the same way, I suppose, many of my students come back to a language school not having studied English since school. School – proper school – is a notoriously bad place to study English (or in my case, French). Students are always very dismissive of the experience. And while it can leave no trace whatsoever, there is a sense for most people of recovered memory. Somewhere, down there, the tracks of a prior life remain.

The tree I cut down was not, in truth, so large as the tree in the Playschool film, which looked like something in the Yukon. It was merely a young sycamore, grown up where it shouldn’t and neglected to the point where it was waving around healthily at around 8 metres (my estimate), with a girth near the base of perhaps ten inches. I dutifully cut a wedge from the tree in the direction I wanted it to fall (it was too heavy, in my imagination if not fact, to let down by hand) and then severed the fibres of the bark on the other side. Down it came, and the shed survived.

I did, however, forgot to shout timber.

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