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Updated: May 24, 2023

Daan Borrel

A month after the elm murder

At the end of the cycling lane, close to our home, big trees have been felt.

The elm disease, I read on a plasticised piece of paper from the Municipality of Amsterdam, as I walk along the crime scene. If ‘they’ would have done nothing, it says, the sick trees would have infected the other trees. During the planting season, new ones will be placed.

I continue walking and don’t believe a word of it. I wouldn’t be surprised if, not long from now, they will start building here.

I count seven missing trees in total. Suddenly, the sky is visible in this area along the cycling lane. Blue. Usually, when I cycle or walk here, I think of foreign countries, countries I haven’t been to myself, but which I have seen in pictures, tree-populous countries. Now, that ‘abroad experience’ is gone. There is only an open area, some bushes surrounded by several small trees that are left over.

I’m walking with an empty pram in front of me, because I have to pick up my child somewhere. I tightly hold onto the handle. This might actually be an ideal situation: I have a handhold, I am navigating somewhere but don’t have to do anything just yet, it is quiet, I have space to think, feel, look.

The fresh tracks of the hood wagon can still be seen running through the tall grass, in between the bushes. Because it is warm but it rained in the morning, a humid, earthy smell rises from the ground; the leftover tree stumps are so brightly coloured that it almost hurts my eyes, like fresh blood. It seems they first filleted the bark of the trees. Apart from that, I see big jabs in the stumps.

I don’t understand why I’m not lying down on the floor to cry, scream, if need be, because my belly is bellowing like a cow. The felling must have been recent, maybe not even an hour ago, the energy in the air is pressing, burdensome. I am walking alongside corpses. I consider all the people who got cancer lately. We don’t do away with people when they get ill, right? Wouldn’t we try to heal them?

But I just continue walking with my expensive pram, I accept ‘their’ decision.

A while back, a friend of mine who is skilled with social media posted some pictures of herself hugging trees. She had gone into the forest with a photographer to take those. When I saw the pictures, I realised that she had never told me she loved trees – I mean a conscious loving, like the realisation you come to when you’re older, that your parents have kept you alive, how vulnerable they must have been to achieve that. Her pictures angered me, but mainly made me jealous, because I never posted or even took those types of pictures myself. Maybe she had never told me about her relationship with trees, I thought, because I had never told her that I, in times of sadness, cycle to the forest to secretly clasp my arms around the broad tree trunks. It always helps.

I haven’t done that since my pregnancy, I realise while I’m walking here. Maybe because I have become a tree myself. For her.

You’re so open, you have become so soft, my family and friends say. Since I am a mother, they mean. I find this compliment difficult. I am unsure whether what they see (call it softness) is, in reality, a resignation. An acceptance of. A not getting around to. People who have given birth, I recently read, lose their cockiness. Birthing another human being is mostly a process of getting to know your place – or, in my experience at least. Try revolting after that.

I continue walking. Without screaming. I don’t even cry. And I hate myself.


Daan Borrel writes books, plays and essays. Daan’s chief interests are sexuality, intimacy, the body and how people create stories around these topics.

Translation: Ilse van Oosten. Read the original Mamoetje in Dutch here.



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