The original homestead on our farm was built in 1935. Pressed steel ceilings, Oregon pine floors and tin roof, with an afdak stoep on two sides. A clone of most farmhouses of its time. Post longdrop-era it actually has an inside loo!
Renovations over the years have included a shower, a modernised kitchen and updated electrics, as the rats in the ceilings had no doubt chewed through the original installation. The house’s saving grace is the garden. Mature to the point of being overgrown. Apart from pines and oaks of epic proportions, a lone palm towered above them all – unfortunately, right in front of the house, mere metres from the stoep.
The upper fronds were alive with pigeons cooing incessantly. The noise was one thing but the shadow the fronds cast over the house has made our living room dark and, in the winter, freezing cold. We decided the palm had to come down. But how? Standing nearly 20m high, with a trunk over a metre in diameter, it would be a job for a professional. “Is there a tree feller in our district, Jan?” I asked over morning coffee on my stoep. “To cut the palm down I hope,” said Jan. “Sitting on your stoep on a freezing winter morning isn’t very pleasant. But tree fellers are a city thing – we’ll do it ourselves, Townie.”
Arriving later on his tractor with labour gang in tow, a steel cable was attached as high up the trunk as it would go. Tied to the tractor hitch, Jan took up the slack until the long cable was taut. Then a wedge was chainsawed out of the trunk so the palm would fall away from the house, onto the open lawn. Impressed with Jan’s expertise, I stood at a safe distance watching the proceedings. With the wedge nearly sawn right through, Jan engaged the tractor’s first gear and inched forward slowly. The trunk started to bend as the cable tightened. Then it snapped with a whiplash that nearly took Jan’s head off! The sudden release of tension caused the trunk to whiplash backwards in the direction of the house – as if in slow motion, I watched in horror as our ancient palm wrought its final revenge and came crashing down on the roof. The afdak collapsed under the weight. If it wasn’t for the thick stone outer walls the trunk would have ended up on our sitting room carpet.
The clean-up job, new afdak, roof iron sheets and rafters took a fortnight. Jan and I sat sipping coffee, in the sun, on my renovated stoep. “You going to claim on insurance, Townie?” Jan asked. “It may be difficult to persuade the assessors the palm blew down by an act of God,” I replied. “We’ll go to church on Palm Sunday and give thanks you’ve still got your head!” – Derek Christopher |fw