It has taken a few weeks of glorious summer, but I’ve finally managed to shake the feeling of gloom that has followed me since Ophelia stormed through my little patch of paradise and left the place looking like the aftermath of a direct hit from an alien laser attack. I blame it on the hedgerows. The glorious explosion of growth after a few weeks of good weather has festooned the roads with a riot of flowers. It makes every mundane drive into town an adventure. It lifts my heart and reminds me why I love West Cork.
For almost six months we lived surrounded by destruction. Parking in the yard was precarious as one had to navigate between potential death traps. An uprooted tree had created an enormous sinkhole in the tarmac behind the house. One also had to be careful not to park near big, a partially uprooted Cedar, which was leaning precariously on three equally tall trees. It wouldn’t hit the house if it fell but would certainly crush a car. We watched it creak slowly down all winter, each storm bringing it a little closer to the ground, but still dangerously anchored to the drive. Uprooted trees are like a taut rubber band, and can snap back if not cut properly. The woods and back field were chaos. Trees were piled two metres high. There were trees hanging in the trees left standing. Giant branches covered the potato patch in the front field. In the bleak mid-winter, it was a sorry sight.
It had to be sorted, but I didn’t know where to start. Enter West Cork legend and my hero Christy Collard of Future Forests. He understood what needed to be done. Like a mix between a forestry surgeon and a shaman. He also understood that I had lost cherished family members, especially the two giant Scots Pines we called Sam and Dave. I let him get on with it. I mainly stayed in the house. In just a couple of days the trees were cut and stacked, stumps were dug out, and logjams were cleared. What was left was depressing. Where once there had been tall pines and sunny glens was a wasteland. It looked like a muddy football pitch. Bare and barren. I could hardly bear to look at it, but we soldier on.
A few days later Christy showed up with a pick and mix truck load of trees: mostly deciduous, except for a swamp Cyprus and a sequoia. There’s whitebeam and oak, some birch and beech, maple and a magnolia, a couple of horse chestnuts and a bunch of larch; about sixty trees in all. None were in leaf so we only had a very vague idea of what each tree was. It was like planting sixty surprises.
In the cold weeks of April and most of a wet May, the back field continued to look like a muddy football field dotted with spindly trunks of young trees. When people tried to cheer me up with talk of rebirth and renewal, I could only smile lamely.
Then in June all the surprises we planted opened and the landscape changed. The muddy ground is covered in a variety of grasses, flowers, and creeping plants. The spindly trunks are waving crowns of soft green leaves. Ferns have sprung up all over. The bare and barren, muddy field is spilling over with life. We bought a greenhouse and put it in the sunny spot created by clearing all the fallen trees. We also planted a platoon of sun flowers in the spot where Sam and Dave once dominated the view.
All over the property, nature has taken charge to heal the wounds and cover over the scars left behind by Opehlia. Tree stumps are sporting summer hats of flowers and ferns. Ivy is wrapping itself around fallen branches. Foxgloves, primroses, bluebells and wild garlic have popped up in new places. Even the small copse of ash trees in the front field has had a growth spurt, as if it wanted to take the place of Sam and Dave in the moonlight.
Thank you, Christy. Thank you, mid-summer. Thank you, West Cork.