Can there ever be compensation for the loss of the Happy Man Tree?
“Wonderful evening of leaves, love and light @thehappymantree. Genuine feeling of connection during horrible times”
(Twitter post 14th June commenting on Saturday Night Live at the HMT on Saturday 13th June.)
On Saturday 13th we held a simple 20 minute event at the tree called ‘Saturday Night live at the HMT’ We started streaming at 9.40pm as dusk fell, with gentle drumming followed by a classical recorder player and culminating with lights being switched on to light up the tree. To our surprise and joy, the event was watched by over 500 people, both at the tree and via live streaming.
As the event built, something gradually and softly seemed to emerge. Words being used by people are “lovely” “beautiful” “gentle” “connecting” “wonderful and “love”. This piece is a reflection upon that emergence.
The tree and its canopy stretches over to the other side of the road. People attending the event were within the trees orbit. I feel there is a subtle influence when we are under and around an old tree. A tree like the HMT that is mature enough and of sufficient stature to allow enough space to properly envelop those that go within and under its leaves. People for centuries across the world have gathered around such trees; to talk, converse and connect. This is what happened last night. There was a gathering around a venerable large beautiful 150 year old tree. Music, song and poetry emerged, some performed high in the tree others at the base of the trunk. The influence of being under the Happy Man Tree’s leaves and its 150 year old aura added an intensity of experience and enhanced the sharing of the performances. In short I am suggesting we became closer as a group because of the tree.
This can only happen under a truly mature tree, one that is decades and especially centuries old. The older the tree the more we seek to go near and spend time with it. It is a special experience to be with a living being that is much older than any of us. It takes decades for this kind of tree to grow, and for us to be able to come underneath it and share experiences.
All of the arguments to justify the felling of this 150 year old majestic tree are based around numerical calculations. This is the world of measuring, of ‘metrics’, trying like an environmental bookkeeper to assess the numerical ‘value’ of a mature tree and setting that against other values. The results are a series of numbers thrown out to the public, such as the number of new trees planted, or the net increase in biodiversity of the whole phase 3 scheme ( A surprisingly precise 154% if you wanted to know) This is the perspective taken by Hackney Council and Berkeley Homes (they are not alone). In their view, the only way a tree can be valued is with numbers.
However none of this can measure the meaning of what it feels like to be within and under the Happy Man Tree. Meaning and feelings are not numbers that can be put into spreadsheet. But that does not make them invalid. When people talk about the HMT they speak in real world language of meaning and feelings. This is a world away from the spreadsheet reports of developers and councils.
Speaking personally. Last night made it clear to me why it is so important that the Happy Man Tree is saved. I do believe it is time that we opened ourselves up to the feeling and meaning trees have for us. These have to be respected by powerful organisations when they plan their projects. Unfortunately this not happening here. The justifications by Hackney Council and Berkeley Homes to fell the Happy Man Tree ignore the feelings of a community and disrespect the real meaning the tree has for people. They are abusing their power and as a result causing anxiety anger upset and pain. This has to be stopped.
To destroy this tree, which is unique on the street, would be to remove all possibilities to be with a genuinely mature tree for decades to come. It will literally be 150 years before a Happy Man Tree would be there again as it is now. Only then might future generations be able to experience what we were able to feel last night. No amount of mitigation can compensate for that loss.