Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Brittany Tree Surgeon

What’s the connection between the grunting tennis star Monica Seles and English rugby team lock forward and captain (c.1978) Bill Beaumont? The answer is: Duncan Smith the tree surgeon! I’ve used a local French bûcheron to help out in our woods before. A bûcheron is a woodcutter or lumberjack but what we were after recently was rather a tree surgeon, translated literally as “un chirugien des arbres”, which is likely to get you only an uncomprehending raised eyebrow from a Frenchman, so arboriculteur will have to do but still doesn’t do justice to either what Duncan can do or the range of his expertise.

We have several large trees on the building plot for our planned straw bale house-build: two huge macrocarpa cypress trees to the north and four old oaks marking the boundary to the west. The view to the northwest is stunning but from where the house has to be, the low-hung branches of the cypress trees all but conceal it. Our first thought had been to chop the trees down, the wrong tree in the wrong place but, on reflection, we thought that the trees have an architectural grandeur that will take years to replace. So, plan B was to give them a haircut and see how that worked, aesthetically and for the view and we could always chop them down subsequently. Oak trees are frequently used to demark boundaries round here and are often very long-lived, so they seem to have a lot of history wrapped up in their gnarled trunks and are definitely worth looking after. The other side of the boundary is a farm track where the passage of farm machinery along with the farmer’s attempts to keep the branches (roughly) trimmed back to allow him by, has hacked the oaks about a bit. We were interested in pruning the trees to improve their health, cutting out dead wood, letting some light in and neatly trimming off the “farmerized” branches: branches cut off neatly close to the trunk heal up well, branches roughly cut off leaving a stob can rot back and then into the tree itself.

So we needed a tree expert with a soul and Duncan came by way of personal recommendation. Duncan is a large man: think of an English rugby union forward topped off with a surfer’s mop of blond hair. Wearing a mountain climber’s harness and with coils of rope and the chainsaw hanging from a short length of rope from his harness, he starts his climb on a pair of step ladders to reach the first branches and then he hauls himself up, branch-by-branch, occasionally grunting with the effort: think Monica Seles with a deep voice. He then ties himself off at the top and having chopped of several feet of the top of the tree (I can’t explain how he did that as I don’t understand myself) he descends by rope, cutting off what he needs to on the way. (Spot Duncan: look carefully at the top of the second photo). The macrocarpas look so much better now and the view is revealed (see photo at the top) and the oaks are looking a lot happier in themselves. He also gave a couple of old oaks next to our current house the once-over. One had a branch that overhung our roof and he removed that, a log at a time, cutting almost all the way through, then letting his chainsaw hang from a rope from his harness whiles he snapped off the log and threw it clear of the roof. A painstaking and exhausting process, no wonder he emits the occasional grunt.

If you have a home, or perhaps just a tree-house, in Brittany and need a professional, registered, expert tree surgeon, you can go to his website or telephone him on (landline) or (mobile). And as for the (perhaps a little unfair) comparison at the start of this blog, I couldn’t help pass on the news story that, back in 2005, tennis champion Maria Sharapova broke her own record with the loudest 'grunt' on court. “An unofficial 'gruntometer', belonging to a newspaper, recorded her noise at 101.2 decibels - that's almost as loud as a police siren!” And on that grunty note, I must tell you about our two piggies in my next blog.