People in suburbia see trees differently than foresters do. They cherish every one. It is useless to speak of the probability that a certain tree will die when the tree is in someone’s backyard…You are talking about a personal asset, a friend, a monument, not about board feet of lumber. So said Roger Swain, the man in the red suspenders who for years held forth on his PBS show The Victory Garden. [When looking for a clip of it to show you, I came across this 1942 short film explanation of what a Victory Garden is – it might come in useful in the future, if the world stays on its current trajectory.]
Anyway, I was struck by our relationship with trees today, as I walked down Bajza utca. Ahead of me, in the section between Délibáb and Benczúr, I noticed a couple of lads from Főkert chain-sawing their way through a tree. I was too far away (and wearing my out-of-prescription sunglasses) to see exactly what they’d cut down.
Bill Vaughan came to mind – he who is famous for his aphorisms (my favourite being In the game of life it’s a good idea to have a few early losses, which
relieves you of the pressure of trying to maintain an undefeated season). He defined suburbia as a place where developers cut down trees and then name streets after them. Yet this seemed to be going on in just one section of rather a long street. And before and after, old trees stood glorious in their greenery.
As I came closer, it seemed that a number of trees had been felled – thin ones, that looked very dead indeed. And I was surprised, that amidst such growth, this one section of Bajza could be so barren. What is it about this part of the road that kills off trees, stunts their growth, withers them on the spot? It would be interesting to find out.
The neighbourhood itself screams of affluence. Lots of embassies around – and the FAO has its offices nearby. Back in the day these stately homes were obviously single-family residences and I had a fleeting moment of envy when I thought about those who’d lived there then. And a slightly less fleeting moment of envy when I thought about those who could afford to buy the magnificent building for sale around the corner.
But back to the trees. When I was home last weekend, I went to see my uncle. My dad’s brother. He’s dying. I’ve gotten this far as a good Irish Catholic without ever clapping eyes on a dead body despite the number of wakes I’ve been to, and this was my first close encounter with death in the flesh. And it was disturbing. To see a man who was so sure he’d collect his cheque from the President when he turned 100 lying there with a foot in the next world was upsetting. I made a mental note to myself to root out that prayer for a speedy death (and while failing to find it on Google – if anyone has a copy, do send it to me – I did come across a rather interesting piece on imprecatory prayer, which I thought was an absolute no-no).
Death seems to be rampaging through my world right now, however tangentially. It seems as if everyone I’ve met lately is either coming from or going to a funeral. It’s showing no discrimination between age, gender, or nationality. A ten-year-old boy clipped by the wing mirror of a passing car as he waited to cross the road. A mother of three in her mid-30s overdosing and then sitting in her car waiting for the pills to take effect. A man in his 60s whose wife just died in February, following her sooner than planned. All of them would have left their mark on the word. Just like those trees.
But after my meeting, retracing my steps, I saw that even the stumps had been uprooted and it seemed that all was set to plant something else in their stead. Two thoughts crossed my mind. One was about how replaceable we all are and the second was a fervent hope that the soil had been checked or something had been changed so that the new trees might not go the way of their predecessors and instead have some hope of surviving.
Random thoughts indeed for a Wednesday morning in Budapest. But as my man Yeats once said: If what I say resonates with you, it is merely because we are both branches on the same tree. I just couldn’t resist.