My name is Atticus, I’m a Goldfinch and this is my story.
I’ve lived all my life in the old oak tree between Rhiwbina Station and the railway bridge on Pantbach Road. To humans, he was just another oak tree but to us birds, and the bats who lived there, he was ‘The Boss’.
He was a pedunculate, a common oak, which ‘takes 300 years to grow, 300 years to live and 300 years to die’. The Boss was about 100 years old, in the prime of his youth and truly magnificent. Even before global warming, nobody in their right mind would bring any harm to such a fine living specimen and example of everything that’s good about God’s world.
The Boss provided safety and shelter for a murder of Crows, an unkindness of Ravens, a parliament of Rooks and a conventicle of Magpies. The clattering of Jackdaws spent their days down in the village but returned home every night to roost.
Throughout the summer, the cauldron of bats that lived with us could be seen flying together from dusk onwards as they set out to catch their suppers.
The Boss knew all of us since we were eggs, and all our families for generations and, night after night, he regaled us with stories of how life had been ‘back in the good old days’.
We felt safe in his boughs. There were other trees, Ash and Sycamore, but none felt like our mighty Oak.
The Boss was everything to us and he had time for us all. We built our nests in The Boss, raised our chicks, sheltered from the worst of storms and he provided the bugs we needed to feed our young, all hidden in the ivy he allowed to grow around his magnificent form.
The Boss stood overlooking Rhiwbina village for almost 100 years. He was older than most of the human inhabitants, and he felt he knew all of them as for so long he’d watched them going about their daily lives.
He’d seen the worst of winters and the best of summers. Most years he saw snow settling on the mountain, the twinkle of the pretty Christmas lights from the village and the first Swallows arriving for summer. He’d seen the Prairie tank steam engine, the old late night railway specials from Ninian Park, today’s diesel trains and he couldn’t wait for the new electric powered trains.
Life went on day after day, as it always had until, one incredible night in mid-June.
Everyone spent that evening just like any other. The sun had set and the chicks were tucked up in their nests. Tod the Fox wandered past on his way to search for food for his cubs.
Roland the Rat made his way over the weeds that engulf the railway track and under the ancient Hedera helix covered bridge, neglected for years, but somehow made charming by the hanging ivy fronds which hit the trains as they pass under.
Then, it happened. A gang of humans arrived, loud and brightly coloured, hauling their machines. The still of the urban country night was shattered by the sound and feel of death and destruction. Sub-contractors were carrying out orders to raze to the ground anything and everything ‘within 8–10 metres of the track’.
The thunderous noise of the murderous chainsaws terrified us all. Those who could fly, us birds and the bats, took to the wing and flew for our lives, no option but to leave behind us our families and loved ones.
Humans on the bridge pleaded for the Boss’s life. The evidence of bats living in his mighty boughs was briefly discussed, and dismissed, by his assailants.
The Boss would not have wanted us to try to describe his pain and suffering as humans ripped him apart, but he would have wanted us to pose questions.
He stood for 100 years, regal and serene, and reasonably expected to do so for the next 800 years. Humans decided to upgrade the track for electric trains, and The Boss became a ‘fire hazard’, because cost-saving dictated an unsightly overhead cable system rather than a single track-level live rail. ‘Health and safety’ masks cost-saving as the real issue.
Trees are the largest plants on earth and they provide more than just oxygen to humans. They ensure the stability of the soil that other plants grow in, and provide shelter and food for animals and us birds, and help control weather patterns through natural aspiration. Therefore, trees mean life, literally, for all of us, not just humans.
When it comes to which tree absorbs the most C02, the oak genus is far ahead of the pack. Human research shows that old oaks will increase their C02 absorption by up to a third to meet the increasing C02 levels.
The Boss can’t because he’s dead; humans killed him and that’s just not right.
To quote the other Atticus Finch, in To Kill a Mockingbird, ‘the one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience’.
Humans run our planet, but we all live on it, and there’s no Planet B.