Death of a tree

The 40-year-old candlelight chestnut was the only natural thing which could compare in bulk to HKU’s tall grey buildings. It stood in Sun Yatsen Square, between Starbucks, the library, the Knowles building, and an epic view down to Sai Wan’s flats and the sea beyond. Its limbs were tall and hefty like the arms of a triumphant young man held up to the sky, and the green leaves provided something tranquil to stare at from a 4th floor library window, or to shelter from the sun and the rain. But the green leaves turned to grey. Then the tree doctors came and stuck funny white plugs all around the trunk. They poked it and sliced it and took stuff away in little glass bottles. Then they came back and fenced off the square with orange and white tape. 

The sign said the tree was sick and it had to be euthanised. It didn’t look that sick to me, the grey could almost have been sticky pollution like along dusty roads in the mainland. But it was a danger they said. It had been eaten on the inside by fungi, and could collapse at any minute. So today, on a howlingly wet day spliced with bursts of clear, the racuous, excited men and women with hard hats arrived and cut it to pieces in the rain. They hung ropes from the 16th floor of the building next door, scaled up and down with chainsaws and long sheathed knives, and all morning the square shook with the crack as each piece of wood shattered to the ground. For hours the crowd shifted and drifted, and as I went for coffee I wish I’d brought a camera. Luckily, someone else had. 

Tree death

That’s the tree before and during. After – well, perhaps I’ll find out tomorrow. When I left there was still a leafless stump. A shame. A great shame. But just as my HKU student card expires on Tuesday, there will be new students into this fine university come September. And I hear they will be a planting a new tree, too.

The tree will grow quickly. As the expression goes: “it takes ten years to grow a tree, and 100 to educate a person.”


p.s. I may have got the name of the tree wrong. i never was much of a botanist, but I remember it made me think of candles.


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