The Effects of Cutting Trees in Haga

Lucinda Palme

The Effects of Cutting Trees in Haga

Leon Karlsson begins his day on bicycle towards his workplace in Haga—the area where history, holiness, heritage and hype converges. He dislikes to use public transport not that his income has steadily rose since he began to work from the age of eighteen but the trams and buses are not suitably connected from his home to his workplace. He has no fixed place to report for it can be anywhere in Gothenburg. And, he has three modes of transport depending upon the workstation and the weather either by bicycle or motorbike or high-end Volvo.

Autumn has begun. The middle of October smelt of a summery day. As he cycled in the crack of dawn while the city was still asleep, Leon felt to treat himself with a coffee and bullar the bun at a Pressbyrån in Korsvägen.

Pressbyrån may not serve the best coffee in the town but it is the most reliable shop for something to eat or drink as other cafes and bistros will be shut for the most part of the day: every one’s entitlement to work less and less and to have more and more time for oneself.

With the bullar in the backpack and coffee in one hand, Leon cycles to his spot in Haga and greets his colleagues. He is a crane operator. He has been operating contraptions of different kinds to cut, to lift, to bulldoze and to move things. In two decades, he has become an ace crane operator: mastered the machines to make them work with precision to minutest detail in a millisecond and with meticulousness down to a millimetre.

The team—to cut the trees and to make the foundation to build the train station in Haga as part of Västlänken the West Sweden Train—is ready for the work: cutting, digging, drilling, levelling, lifting, lopping, sawing, snapping, throwing. The leader of the team, Mathias Holmberg interacts with all the workers, and they disperse.

Leon changes his clothes in the temporary booth box, and with the coffee in hand he walks around to scan the trees before he jumps up to sit in the cabin of the crane. Four trees were cut yesterday, and few more today. Crosses, candles, and slogans steal his sight. Mourners have left a message on behalf of the dead trees: Welcome to my funeral! Preserver the Trees, Save the environment. At another tree, a candle reluctantly continues to glow at the bark of a chestnut tree that will be cut today. He comes closer to the tree, and notices: LEAVE ME, ALONE! 

In his career, Leon has been part of bulldozing buildings and cutting trees. He is neither affiliated to a social movement nor a member of any political party, but believed trees should be cut and trees should be planted. Seeing the messages of Gothenburgers for these trees, he feels their feelings and their memories with the trees in their midst: living memories. He thinks the trees may also create soothing sights for the residents possibly like the old houses in Haga.

In a spirit of utilitarianism and brutalism, the useless and medieval houses in Haga were razed to the ground by the local government like Mao Zedong’s China (remnants of the past: obstacles to equality and modernity). But when it realized the potential for tourism like elsewhere in Europe, it let the leftover buildings to remain: heritage. What is the use for trees when a big project is built when trees can be planted here in Haga or elsewhere?

The odour of freshly-sawn wood from a bark of a tree stirs Leon’s nostrils. The tree trunk lying on the ground is pinned with a poster of faces of politicians responsible for the project. The poster is a painting of ‘the Blind Leading the Blind’ of Pieter Breugel the Elder painted in 1568. He sees the ground around his feet filled with footprints of mourners who had been here last night to share their grief and helplessness to stop to cut the trees and to stop the Sweden West Train Project.

What can Leon do? At least he can walk away for today? He finds his boss talking to structural engineers, and stands aside him until he sees him. Leon says, ‘Feeling sick.’

‘You’re never sick,’ Mathias observes. He values Leon’s workmanship and work ethics.

‘Not in body but in mind,’ Leon answers.

‘If we don’t do someone will do it, go,’ Mathias says, and adds soothingly, ‘we have to see the bigger picture.’

‘There is a point…bigger picture,’ Leon says, and packs his backpack. He starts to cycle to see his octogenarian godmother who was one of the mourners for the cut and would-be cut trees.

—Lucinda Palme