Chop! Chop! (An Ode to a Leopard Tree)

We chopped down a tree on the weekend. A really big tree. One of the biggest trees in our street as a matter of fact. It was in our front yard and had been in our front yard for at least as long as we’ve been in our house (17 years and counting). Perhaps it was even an ‘original in the area before all the houses were built’ tree, I’m not sure. All I know is that it was big. And it was BEAUTIFUL. It sheltered us from wind and storms and it shaded and protected us from the searingly hot summer sun.

We would lie in bed on a Sunday morning in our bedroom on the second storey of our house and look out into its lush, green canopy. I remember lying on the trampoline underneath it with all three of our kids when they were babies (they’re now 10, 8 and nearly 4) and watching as the native birds sat on the long branches, rested their tiny wings and sang their sweetly melodic birdy songs to each other. There was something magical about lying there in the blessedly cool, dappled shade, looking up and seeing all of the individual little leaves swaying and dancing in the breeze. It was almost like the leaves were having their own secret conversations metres above our heads, whispering wisely and nodding sagely to each other.

Our tree was home to birds, spiders, ants and no doubt all manner of other creatures and insects. The possums used it as a public thoroughfare to get from the powerlines at the front of our house onto our roof and I’m sure a snake or two had slithered its way up into it and along its branches at some time. Once upon a time it had been a whole tree with a majestic canopy, but over time as it grew (and grew and grew and grew), the canopy on the street side would be periodically lopped off by the electricity company so the branches wouldn’t interfere with the power lines and cut the power to our street.

At certain times of the year our tree would drop all of its leaves – and there were lots and lots of those tiny, whispering leaves. They would gradually turn brown and then all of a sudden, one day without warning, would fall absolutely everywhere. They would fall into our car engines, they would fall en masse into our gutters and into our neighbours’ gutters. They would even make their way inside our home, borne on warm spring and summer breezes through our open windows to settle on the floors inside. We didn’t really like the leaf dropping, or the brown, nut-hard seeds it would also drop from time to time, or the starkness of its empty branches until the leaves regrew, but the beauty and grandeur of it for the rest of the year always seemed to outweigh those relatively rare occurrences.

Fast forward to the end of last year when we finally decided (with some gentle encouragement) that our tree needed to go. Not only was our beauty starting to drop its leaves more often (which is apparently a sign of ill health), our gutters were shot because of all those tiny fallen leaves, and we were also having problems with its roots in the old clay pipes and drains of our house. So we made the decision. It took a long time to make the decision. It took an even longer time to decide who should be the one to chop it down. We got one quote and nearly choked. It costs a LOT of money to chop down a big tree. So we stalled for a while. We didn’t have that kind of money, and even if we did, we’d be damned if we were going to use it to chop down that tree.

The solution to our problem came in the form of our neighbours. Our neighbours, with whom we have spent many an evening with around fires on our street, celebrating countless food occasions, birthdays and sometimes just gathering for drinks for no particular reason, suggested they could help us out. We had a tree that needed to be removed, the street menfolk had chainsaws and loved to use them. It seemed an obvious answer to our dilemma. So I reluctantly agreed. But I only agreed because I know these men and I trust them. I’d trust them with my life, with my children’s lives, and so I trusted them to give our tree the farewell it deserved.

Tree Chopping Day dawned bright and beautiful. It was a picture perfect late winter’s morning – clear and cool with not even a hint of breeze. There was a sense of quiet anticipation in the air. Over creamy coffee and a hot breakfast, a plan of action was discussed, debated, agreed and settled. Chainsaws were sharpened, oiled, put aside in preparation. Ladders were raised, tested, dropped, put aside in preparation. There was no silliness, there was no bravado or braggadocio. These were men who were here to do a job. They weren’t cowboys trying to impress each other with whose chainsaw was the biggest or the loudest (though over the course of the day, we did learn about how chainsaws are rated – and no, the biggest chainsaw is not always the best). They didn’t need rules, they didn’t need policies and regulations and toolbox talks and hi-vis safety gear and bright orange witches hats and a foreman telling them what to do. They knew what needed to be done, so they got on and did it.

The time came to start. The ladder was climbed for the first time that day. Everyone stood, breathless, waiting for the first branch to come down. It finally did. And I cried. I shed a tear for our beautiful tree and all the things it had given us. I apologised to it and to nature for destroying such a magnificent thing. I hoped that somewhere on the great scorecard of life, the all-knowing and all-seeing scorekeeper was looking away or else otherwise occupied for the remainder of the day.

Throughout the course of the morning though, something began to emerge that replaced my sadness. I became witness to an altogether different phenomenon: I became a witness to man. To what it means to be a man, in its most basic form. I witnessed a group of men working together, testing their bodies physically and using their minds carefully to assess danger, keep safe and to achieve an ultimate purpose. I was a witness to a real life male bonding experience and it was really quite extraordinary. Difficult to define, yet so powerful and raw in its simplicity. Maybe it’s a carryover from the caveman days, but as a woman I instinctively recognised it for what it was and, subsequently, realised there was no place for me in it. (Which is odd, because I am a big believer in women’s rights, equality between the sexes and all that stuff.) It made me realise that there are some times in life when a man needs space to just be a man, with other men, in order to get something done. It’s not gay. It’s not weird. It doesn’t diminish me or my worth as a female. In fact, it has nothing to do with me at all. It’s a fundamentally human thing. Evolution, biology, whatever its actual name is I don’t know. All I know is that I saw it, I sensed it and it was a pretty profound thing.

The last branch to fall was of course the biggest. It was massive – a decent sized tree in itself. That too began with everyone holding their collective breath. The chainsawing seemed to go on forever – grind and grind and grind – it was almost as though our tree was taking one last, defiant stand against us – before the ground crew gave it one tug, two tugs, and before we knew it, the last branch hit the ground with a tremendous thud. Once it had fallen, there was a moment’s silence at the enormity of what had just happened, then a huge cheer erupted from all of us (most loudly probably from my neighbour, as it was his yard that the last lot of branches (and all the biggest ones) had fallen into. It was his house that those massive, tree-sized branches had brushed on their way down).

The day turned out to be largely incident-free, thank goodness. There was a handful of minor property casualties (a gutter or two, a couple of ladders, plants and sheets of iron), but everyone managed to keep all of their fingers and toes. Once the last branch had been cut up and placed on the pile, Tree Chopping Day was deemed complete, and a resounding success. Everyone made themselves comfortable in our driveway and we proceeded to turn the day into night with beers and pizza and music around a firepit. It was, for me, a perfect end to an unusually perfect day – and it seemed a strangely apt way for the street to farewell our beautiful tree.

Getting used to the empty space in our front yard will take some time. Getting used to driving up to our house and not being welcomed by that lush green canopy will take even more time. Though the physical body of our tree is gone, I am comforted by the knowledge that she and her memories will remain in our street, though in a different form, for a very, very long time.

We loved you, Tree. Thank you for the memories.

Kara xxoo




Please if you haven’t watched Seasons 1-4 of Vikings yet, I implore you, DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER. Don’t be tempted to read on, not even just a little bit. Don’t do it. Finish watching Seasons 1-4 and then come back over here and read on.

Disclaimer: If you haven’t watched all episodes and you do choose to read on, I take no responsibility whatsoever for anything you may find out that you wish you hadn’t.

Okay, confession time: I am a massive Game of Thrones fan. I think GoT is the best thing on TV ever. I totally love it and am obsessed with it. I’ve spent hours (and hours and hours – always late, mostly after midnight after the kids have gone to bed) devouring it, and can’t get enough of it. Having to wait for this next season has been a bit like stabbing a hot poker in my eye daily for the last 11 months.

However – and yes, what follows has certainly raised some interesting questions about my own moral fibre – in the lull between GoT seasons (see above comment re the relationship between hot pokers and my eyes) I let my guard down and thought I’d give History’s Vikings a go. Sure, I thought to myself, it’s had lots of positive reviews. Most people I’ve spoken to have loved it. But how good can it really be? On a scale of 1 to ‘Battle of the Bastards’, how good could it really be?

So, against every Stark/Snow/Targaryen-loving, Lannister/Bolton-hating (actually that’s not true, I adore Tyrion and Jaime, so probably just Cersei-hating) fibre of my being, I watched the first episode of Vikings. Pfft, I thought afterwards. It’s a bit boring, isn’t it? A bit soft? It’s certainly no GoT. Where’s the action? Where’s the drama? Where’s the killing and nudity and violence I’ve so come to enjoy and expect in a TV show? Oh well, I thought, settling back on the couch, There’s nothing else to watch till July anyway, so I might as well watch another couple of episodes.

So I watched episodes 2 and 3. Then I watched episodes 4, 5, 6 and 7. Then the rest of Season 1 … and then Seasons 2 and 3 and 4. And somewhere along the way, I fell in love with Ragnar. I fell in love with Lagertha. I fell in love with Ragnar AND Lagertha … and Rollo and Bjorn and Athelstan and Kattegat and Floki and Helga and King Ecbert (though not necessarily in that order). I fell in love with the Viking beliefs and their way of life. I wanted to know more about the Gods and Valhalla. I went internet searching for any information I could find about the Norse Gods – Odin and Loki and Thor and Freya and the rest of them. I was totally hooked – and unbelievably, the show challenged me and my beliefs. It brought history to life and showed me things I’d never seen before. It opened my eyes to the way I looked at and thought about religion. It made me think about all of these things even when I wasn’t watching it. It made me laugh and cry (for days and weeks and months) and hate with a passion I’d never before encountered (King Aelle, I’m looking at you).

So in a moment of Vikings fan passion, I’ve written a list of 25 things that watching Vikings has taught me about life. See you for the Season 5 premiere later this year!

25 things I’ve learned about life from watching Vikings

  1. Blood and fire are perfect multitasking tools. You can’t go past either of them for making things and fixing things. They really are the WD40 and duct tape of the 9th and 10th centuries.
  2. Sons are more valuable than daughters. But if you’re a king and can marry your daughter off to the neighbouring king’s son and overthrow that king, then a daughter will suffice.
  3. Any religion that is not your own is weird and wrong and ought to be avoided at all costs. If possible, you should kill all of its followers too, because they’re likely to think you’re weird and will probably try to kill you first.
  4. Fur is equally beautiful for soft furnishings as well as for items of clothing. Another multipurpose item. Take note Kmart.
  5. There is not a man in the universe who doesn’t look incredible wearing a leather skirt, beard, shaved head and ponytail. #truth
  6. Women and men can both be lethal in battle. Another #truth. Pretty sure some of Gal Godot’s prep for Wonder Woman would have involved watching Lagertha in her battle scenes.
  7. Try to avoid your husband going on month-long raiding parties, especially if he’s likely to meet a witch. Any union between husband and said witch is likely to destroy everything good you’ve ever known.
  8. When someone in the know (with the know?) foretells your life or a significant event in it, you must lick their hand and be thankful for their wisdom. (*shudder*) Even if you’ve just been given crap news about the rest of your life.
  9. Once you become King or Queen, you are likely to lose your hunger, passion and go crazy. You’re also likely to develop a nasty habit of some sort, or get killed.
  10. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that number 9 won’t happen to you.
  11. Learning a new language and assimilating with a new culture can really, spectacularly change the course of your life. Just ask Rollo, the king of self-reinvention.
  12. Drugs are bad and will completely and utterly ruin your life.
  13. Beware of beautiful and intriguing people bearing ‘medicine’ that magically makes the world a wondrous place and makes you feel instantly better about everything. Because number 12.
  14. If you live alone in a cabin for a while in the middle of winter you will eventually ‘find yourself’. Or go crazy. You could also end up battling a bear and a berserker with your bare hands and some fish hooks. Whew.
  15. Beware the handsome, smooth-talking, story-telling stranger who strolls into town. He wants to share more with you than just his stories.
  16. Beating drums mean good and/or bad things are about to happen. Usually bad.
  17. If you’re invited to a ‘ceremony’ with your new friends and hear drums beating, see number 16 and silently slip away. Do not tell your new friends of this plan.
  18. You must show hospitality to all guests who come into your home. Even if you are to face them on the battlefield the next day and expect to kill them.
  19. Never name your kid Aelle. Revenge and hatred are likely to follow that name for ever.
  20. Be careful what you say to someone or about someone at their funeral. Make sure they’re actually dead before baring your soul to them and sharing your true feelings.
  21. Travelling by boat can open your eyes to a whole new world. Especially when you get to hoist your boat up and over cliffs and roll it through forests. Contiki trip anyone?
  22. Family is important. But not so important that you can’t kill a sibling who is really overstepping their boundaries and annoying the s^%@ out of you.
  23. God and/or the Gods are vital for life.
  24. A blood eagle is most definitely NOT a type of bird. No sir, it is not.
  25. Your family is the most important thing in life. And after life.

Thanks very much for reading through to the end.

Wishing you a very happy day.

Yours in Vikingness,



PS I will definitely be watching the new series of GoT on 16 July.

PPS Skol!