Friday 23 August 2019

Country Matters: Hush! That's another fallen leaf

TREEMENDOUS: The bike tree on Vashon Island, Washington
TREEMENDOUS: The bike tree on Vashon Island, Washington

Joe Kennedy

Children and young people have become more aware of the necessity of care for the environment, the unique roles of living creatures - especially bees in recent times - and the protection of trees which breathe life into our surroundings.

Youngsters are upset to witness and read of incidents of tree-felling in public places (to provide traffic corridors, or to alleviate perceived dangers to pedestrians) and to discover in parks, tree 'surgery' and the elimination of bird-cover shrubbery to provide "easier access and clearer vistas".

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Council-speak is sometimes truly Orwellian and one might be forgiven for thinking that unidentifiable persons at road engineering desks all have copies of 1984 in their drawers. Not a week passes, it seems, but that a new chapter of environmental sleight-of-hand comes to public notice.

People are no longer bearing silent witness to the disappearance of street trees, the flailing of hedgerows, greenery drained, bird life shattered and chemicals to kill all insect life applied without as much as a by-your-leave. The apparent ignoring of public care is what causes alarm, about unknown persons making decisions about people's lives and environment, ensuring nobody knows about it until it is in train, much like the disappearance of listed buildings into rubble under the cover of darkness. Such people care not for grace and beauty or the joys of living, it might be assumed.

A curious tale now about a tree that embraced a bicycle and enveloped it in its bark, a story that for many years developed as a personal tragedy but was dismissed as a casual act by a boy hiding a bike in a wood. The bike-in-the-tree tale began as a rumour that, as the bark took hold, it had been left there by a young man as he went to enlist at the outbreak of some war or other. He never came back and his broken-hearted parents did not disturb the bike, left, in memoriam, for their lost son.

The story gained international attention and the tree-bike became a tourist attraction until, in recent years, a retired policeman on Vashon Island in Washington state claimed he had abandoned the bike as a youth.

The myth of the war casualty boy and his bike became equated with Eugene Field's sentimental 19th Century poem Little Boy Blue, which told of a boy instructing his toy dog and soldier to wait for him on a bedside chair: "don't you go, don't you make any noise," he said. The child did not awaken and the toys remained, covered in dust, "wondering what had become of our Little Boy Blue/ Since he kissed them and put them there". The poem captured widespread public imagination and was recorded by John McCormack and others.

In Skerries, there is no bicycle embedded in a tree (which therefore would have to be cut down by the council), but there is a fine tree outside a shop on the main street which specialises in children's toys and books and which once featured a large Pinocchio happily dangling, if not a Little Boy Blue.

The shop owner tells me his tree appears to be safe and the chain-saw felling which made national news last week has halted for talks between residents and officialdom.

Sunday Independent

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