Saturday 22 Oct 2016

Last Stand
M Adam Roberts

I may have killed someone a few days ago. I was hired to do a job, and I did it. I really didn't give much thought to it, at the time. I needed the money. I just did what I was told to do, no questions asked. I felt bad about it, afterward, but it was too late. I was the one who was brought in to finish her off. I was instructed to dispose of her remains.

If I hadn't excepted the job, someone else would've been hired to do it. There was nothing I could do to save her. By one means, or another, she was going to die that day. Her time had come. It was decided, by the powers that be, that her time on earth was over. It was not my decision that she go out this way.

Some say I've done nothing wrong, and that I shouldn't feel bad about it. Others believe that I have. They shake their heads at me, as they pass by, and give me that look, like, "How could you do that? That's a shame!"

I am an Arborist qua Tree Surgeon. I work with trees and plants. I plant them, prune them, fertilize them, trim them up, and even take them out, when necessary.

Do you believe trees have souls? Do you believe they are living beings that have feelings? Do you believe they feel joy, and pain, just as you and I do? Do you believe they have a passion to live, and a need to survive, just like humans? Some people do.

When I was a young boy, my father took me on a weekend trip, into the mountains of West Virginia. We visited with a religious community, that resided there, in the valley of seven mountains. They taught, and believed, in the reincarnation of the soul. They believed that the soul is eternal, and that it passes on from one state of existence to another, until it finally reaches a state of perfection. They believed that a human soul may progress, or regress, after leaving the realm of humanity, depending on what lessons it learned, or failed to learn, while living here, as a human.

I was very young, when I visited with this group, so I don't want to try to quote, too closely, the precise beliefs of these people. What I do remember about them, is this. They did not believe in killing trees, or any other living creatures. They told us that trees feel pain when we cut into them, and that they have a right, and a passion, to live, just as you and I do. They even went as far as saying that a tree might be a passed loved one, of ours, that has been reincarnated, as a tree.

I don't personally believe in reincarnation, but as for the rest of what this group taught, maybe there is something to it. Maybe trees do have feelings. Maybe they do have souls.

I remember, many years ago, when my grandmother was still alive, she pointed out a tree, to me, that was being blown by the wind. She asked me, "Do you know what that tree is doing right now, Mark?" I told her I didn't.

"It's praising it's creator," she said. "See! It's waving it's arms back and forth, praising the Lord!"

Grandma believed that tree was alive, and that it was aware of it's life, and that it knew what it was doing. There are others that believe that way, also.

It was mid-day when we received the call. A business owner needed a giant tree stump removed from the parking lot of his building. We headed that way, immediately, because it sounded like it could be a very profitable job, for us.

Upon arriving, at the job site, we found an enormous tree trunk, standing right in front of the customers business entrance. It was the remains of what used to be a beautiful, majestic, Camphor tree. I could only imagine how great a tree this must have been, in its day. It was probably over 100 years old, and probably stood well over a hundred feet tall, in its prime. It's trunk, alone, had a diameter of almost 12 feet wide! It was the largest tree trunk I had ever seen. The tree had already been cut back several times before. It continued to grow. It refused to be contained, as an ornamental bush, that others wished it to be. It wanted to be the great Campor tree it was created to be. It could be nothing else. It continued growing new limbs, trying to recover from it's human, inflicted injuries. It was still, very much, alive, covered in green leaves. It was ugly, now, from all the torture it had been through, but it was doing its best to be great, and beautiful, again.

It wanted to live. I could sense that. I could almost hear it begging us to let it be. The decision was not ours to make. It's owner wanted it taken out. It was our job to do it.

While evaluating our task, at hand, we all stood in awe of this magnificent creation. I felt a deep sadness, in my heart, that it was time for it to go. It just didn't seem right, somehow.

It was going to be a greater task, removing it, than we had planned for. Special tools and equipment would have to be brought in. A crane would be needed to lift it. A special trailer would be needed to haul it away.

We had to schedule the removal for the following day.

Early, the next morning we all showed up with all the artillery needed to slay the giant. We were all, well rested, and full of renewed, morning, energy. We were determined to take her out quickly. The job paid well enough to where we could afford to go home once it was completed. We figured we would be done, by noon. We figured wrong. This tree didn't want to die. It wasn't going to go out without a fight.

The first thing we did was start cutting off all its limbs, so that we could drop it to the ground without damaging the building that it was standing next to. As we cut each off her arms, they fell to the ground with a mighty thud, each one weighing several hundred pounds. Piece by piece, we stripped her of all her majesty, and beauty, until their was nothing left of her life, but a giant, limbless, torso.

Supposedly, the hard part of the job was over. Now all we had to do was drop her to the ground, cut her into pieces, and then have the crane load her into the trailer. We planned to be home within a couple hours.

The boss told me to bring him the sixty-six, meaning, the sixty-six inch chain saw. It's the largest saw we carry. A powerful, machine. We bring it out for the big jobs, where no ordinary saw will do.

The sixty-six looked like a little, kids toy, up against this mammoth tree! It laughed at our sixty-six, and refused to budge. For several hours, four men took turns, cutting circles around the giant trunk. It was too big to just drop over. It was too short and fat. It wouldn't drop! It required that we cut all the way through it, and lift it straight up in the air. Remember, this tree was 12 feet wide, and 25 feet tall. weighing thousands of pounds. Our sixty-six inch saw could not reach the center of the trunk, even after cutting circles all around it's base.

Hours pasted by. We were all exhausted. The tree would not let go.. It's center core was still strongly attached. We had huge chains wrapped all around the tree, connected to a crane, which pulled upwards on the trunk, as we sawed away at it. The operator informed us that he was applying eighteen thousand pounds of upward thrust, against the tree, and all it was doing was bogging down his crane. It had no effect on the tree, at all. We couldn't figure out why it wouldn't break lose. We had been cutting on it for hours, in every direction possible. We pulled against it and pried against it, cursing it in every way imaginable, but to no avail.

I could sense the tree mocking our mere, mortal strength, compared to it's own. In its day of glory, we would've looked like little, toy soldiers standing beneath its great canopy. Now, we had cut it down to its very last strand of life, and it was holding on with all it's might, still not wanting to die.

Somehow, I believe, if we would've walked away from the tree, even at that point of it's destruction, it would've still found some way to survive. All that held it together, now, was a few inches of core. Still, somehow, I bet that tree would've lived, if we would've allowed it to.

A crowd gathered around us, everyone anticipating the final moment of this great trees life. The crane was pulling against it, with all of its power. The chain saws were grinding away at the last remaining fragments of its soul. Everyone appeared to be holding their breath. We all knew it was about to happen. Our victory was at hand!

The tree had held on for as long as it could. It had nothing left to fight us with. We had finally broken its spirit. With a loud, and sudden, POP, it jolted into the air, pulled up from the ground, from which it was rooted, by the powerful crane.

The crowd cheered! I wanted to cheer, but couldn't. Instead, a tear rolled from my eye. It wasn't a tear of joy. It wasn't a tear of victory, either. It was a tear of sadness. I felt sorry for the tree, that it had to die. I felt sorry that it had to go out this way, instead of being allowed to die, naturally. It was as if we had killed it, unnecessarily.

I saw an old lady shake her head with disgust, as we watched the massive tree trunk dangle from its noose, held high in the air, by the crane. She looked me right in the eye, and said, "That's a shame!" Her eyes were filled with tears, as she walked away.

I think she somehow related her own life, and feelings, to that of the tree. She, like the tree, had been around for a long time. She probably knew of the tree long before the building was built there. She may have climbed on it, as a child. Over the years, she had probably seen how the tree was cut down to nothing, because it had become an inconvenience, to its keepers. Perhaps she felt the same way, somehow.

It took us a few more hours to load up her remains. Her trunk alone, filled an entire dump truck. The crane operator told us that the trunk, by itself, after we had cut it down to nothing, weighed 13, 880 pounds! Today, it lies in a landfill. It's been laying in the same place, for about a month now. I see it every time we go to the dump, with the remains of other tree souls, we have taken. I remember the day we took her out. I remember the tear that rolled down my cheek when she when she finally gave up the ghost.

Did I really take a life that day? Do I take them every day, for that matter? Do trees, and other living plants, have souls? Do they have feelings? Do they hurt when we cut into them? Do they have a passion to live, just as you and I do? I don't know.

They probably do.

M Adam Roberts lives and writes from Clearwater, Florida.

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