Guest Column

The roots of all evil

2017-01-10 12:05
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Susan Erasmus

I always thought car repairs or medical costs were the worst things to sink money into, until the 15th of December last year, when I found out what a tree could cost me.

The new neighbour called me over. He looked concerned and had the kind of studied expression people have when they have to break really bad news.

He took me to see the drains of his house which he had been renovating – and the roots of my fig tree, growing enthusiastically (I am talking a diameter of 12 cm) into, through and under the water and sewerage pipes of his house. They were also growing in under the house, and emerging in his driveway, at least eight meters away from said fig tree.

Did I mention that they had actually cracked and shattered the ceramic sewerage pipes, which now all had to be replaced?

My first call was to my insurance company. I have comprehensive householder’s insurance, and I was hopeful. Uhm, no. If the fig tree had fallen on the neighbour’s house, they would have paid, but when it comes to root damage, the problem is mine, and mine alone. And yes, I was told, I am legally responsible for damage that the roots of my trees do to the neighbour’s property.

Not only did the pipes have to be replaced, but the enormous fig tree (it was already here when I moved in 26 years ago) also had to go.

The initial and optimistic estimates were R12 000. (The neighbour has contacts in the building industry). Still, I went home, ashen-faced, and spent the long weekend quietly mourning my favourite tree, and the demise of my rainy-day/holiday fund, which wasn’t enough to cover all of this.

It’s one thing going into debt for something like a trip to Italy, and quite another to go into the red to pay for the neighbour’s sewerage system.  It just does not get any more unromantic than this.

I pleaded for time: I had invited guests for Christmas lunch, and didn’t want to have a garden party in a demolition site. The neighbour, being a kind and reasonable type, relented. (There is another bathroom behind his house, beyond the reaches of the fig tree’s evil roots). The day of the massacre was set for the 3rd of January.

The bad news was, however, not yet over, as further digging in Pipeland revealed more underground damage, and the bill went up to R16 000. These were indeed the roots of all evil.

And then it was time to cut down the tree. Three guys, three chainsaws and a truck. It took 8 hours for a giant to fall. But a giant whose greedy roots had gone wandering far and wide, as fig trees are wont to do. I felt a bit better when I found out that decades ago they had to chop down two 300-year-old wild fig trees at the entrance of the Castle, as it was lifting the foundations. This is what fig trees do.

The day was a trial. The noise, the dust, the destruction. It felt a bit like I was putting down a pet. Only this took eight hours. My nerves were raw by the end of the day.

So what is the moral of the story? Always have a rainy-day fund? Home ownership costs money? Never plant a fig tree? You never know what the next year will bring?

I am not sure. I am still recovering from the shock. All I know is sometimes when you go looking for your roots, they can trip you up.

You will have to excuse me now – I have to go and give some first-aid to my buckled credit card.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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