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Spanish Secrets: Monkey Business

The attributes of an orang-utan can sometimes be required when it comes to “trimming’’ a tree, as Craig Briggs reveals.

At the front of our home are two sycamore trees. They stand in opposite corners of the garden. Last spring we decided to begin the process of training the smallest one. Armed with a pair of loppers and a hand-held lumber-saw, I studiously selected which branches to remove.

The result of my tree surgery was quite alarming. Enthusiastic lopping had left the sycamore looking distinctly sparse and lifeless. By mid spring this desolate stump was covered with healthy shoots and new leaf buds. In the height of summer the tree became a beautiful sculpture of perfect symmetry. The dense foliage of its green leaves recalled the simplicity of a child’s crayon drawing.

Encouraged by this success we decided on a similar course of action for the other.
Unlike the first, the second sycamore was a massive 16 metres (50ft) tall. The main trunk divided into long thick branches as it climbed skyward.

Amateur tree surgeon I might be, but I’m definitely not a lumberjack! Its proximity to our new home was the deciding factor. This was a job for a professional.

With our decision made it was off to seek the advice of our friend Phillipe. Convinced a wayward felling might result in a disastrous remodelling of our house, he phoned a colleague and asked him to take a look.

Here in Galicia, it’s seldom the case that anything happens after the first time of asking. Imagine our surprise when two men turned up at the house as arranged. The first was a large, stocky gentleman; clearly more accustomed to giving orders than taking them. His associate, Jose, was a much shorter chap. He examined the tree, agreeing to return the following weekend to undertake the task.

That weekend Jose arrived. He scampered up the tree as naturally as any chimpanzee might. Perched precariously high above the ground, he chopped away with his loppers. Branch after branch tumbled to the floor. With these removed he started cutting the thicker branches with his lumber-saw. This was much harder work and he quickly fatigued.

After several lengthy rest periods he asked me to pass up his chainsaw. My attitude to these dangerous power tools is similar to that towards a loaded gun - cautious unease.

Gripping each rung with one hand whilst straining to hold the heavy chainsaw at arms length with the other, I hesitantly climbed the ladder. Once relieved of my weighty burden I scampered back down to safety.

High in the tree he wedged himself between the trunk and a branch. Stooping low to gain sufficient leverage, he tugged on the starting cord. After several attempts the beast fired into life.

Jose’s disregard for safety almost cost him dearly. As the trees height reduced, so did the number of hand-grabs. Without warning and in the blink of an eye he lost his footing. The chainsaw clattered to the ground. Only Jose’s quick wits and ape-like arms spared him the same fate. He swung from the last remaining branch like an orang-utan. Quickly I replaced the ladder and he climbed to safety. Unfazed by this near disaster he completed the job

All that remains is a giant walking stick, 3 metres (9ft) tall. I’ll leave the rest in the very capable hands of Mother Nature.

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