February 2014

Thursday found me cutting down the stump of an old ash tree in the cold wind.  It was an eight foot tall remnant of the old tree that has had all its branches and grandeur pared away.  It disturbed me that it was in the garden in my childhood.  It’s not that it was being cut down, in fact it was a joy to collect a heavy trailer full of firewood.  It disturbed me that I could not remember that tree.  This was the garden of my earliest memories.  I remember  a brief hazy memory of leaving our old house and arriving at the new house; our house.  The memory of moving in and clearing the garden merge together as one day in my mind, even though it was practically impossible.  Memories of very early childhood all seem to have happened at once. I remember my parents laboriously ripping up the hedges and hydrangeas to create our lawn.  I remember the years spent playing with lego and action figures in the flowerbeds.  One memory, that is anchored in me, is just lying on my back in the middle of the garden on a layer of deep snow.  I remember my mother periodically checking me to make sure I was alright, she made sure I was warm but was unsure if I was sane.  I lay there and watched the snow fall on me and then cover me.  I felt the weight of it as it piled up on me and it was bliss.  I can’t recall if it lasted one minute or one hour, i just remember watching the snow.

I don’t remember the tree.  I have a near vivid recollection of the garden in brilliant detail, yet I have only a memory of a tree being there and no memory of any grand sort of canopy or coverage.  As my chainsaw cut through the two foot thick trunk I assured myself that I had a recollection of it being pruned back on a few occasions; maybe it never got a chance to be grand.  Then, as if the tree whispered it to me, I myself had been absent from the garden for over a decade.  The tree and me had grown in our own ways in that time.  If we had been whispering to each other I am sure that, as I filled the trailer, the tree would have reminded me that it still has its roots here, and I would have reminded it that I do too.

The first time I heard the scream something inside me knew it wasn’t human, and that it wasn’t human was a good thing. It screamed once, off in the distance, then went silent. A farm animal, maybe a dog. I wasn’t really listening enough at the time, but as I closed the gates I did it slowly and quietly, keeping an alert ear to the night air.

It screamed again, and I listened. Down the road under the tunnel of tall trees something was crying out in pain and desperation. It screamed again. The first option was maybe a raptor of some kind from the high pitch. An owl maybe? It screamed again, and the scream was following the road and getting closer. It screamed again. It was following the road and was down low on the ground. Not a dog or badger. A fox, definitely a fox. A fox’s mating call is quite chilling, but this was on another level. It was troubled, and pain, and fear. I assume it was the victim of being hit by a car. It screamed again. It was only fifty or so feet away, loud, and unsettling. I stood there in the dark with no torch and a half moon above me somewhere, hidden by stubborn clouds. I could see nothing and as silently as I could, I turned my back to it and headed for the cottage. Silence.

With my head torch in hand I opened an attic window and listened. Fearing that it would remain silent if it heard me approach, I intended to judge its position and then venture out. I lent out of the window and pondered how horror films probably start this way, “I wonder what that blood curdling noise is? let’s go see.” Silence. Maybe it gave up and curled into a knot of fear in a hedge. Crawled inside itself and waited. I wonder how often this tragic scene plays itself out unseen and forlorn.