Canal du Midi after the Planes?
Sitting on an iron bench next to the Canal du Midi, I imagine myself talking to my great grand children about when we came to Capestang back in 2011. I’ll tell them how the Platane trees once domed tall above head as we walked down this very path. It was a natural cathedral where many birds and cicadas sang their heavenly melodies, frogs and crickets chirps and croaks took over the starry nights and tiny bats would occupy the airspace right after the swallows finished their daily acrobatic dives. Sometimes, in the late August heat, in the thick brush of the majestic trees, the noises along the midi were deafening, even eerie at times, but always a wonder to me.
The canal is a wonder, made up of many bridges and locks, lifting and lowering the canal throughout diverse countryside. The trees along the shores are a living piece of art, a magnificent accomplishment and something worth seeing.
It is important for the future generations to know the story of these trees, and not to make the same mistakes our ancestors did by not taking care. Regulations could have helped to stop the spread of the disease, no mooring on the trees, and perhaps a rotating planting system in place so that the trees do not reach maturity at once. For us to keep the vision of the UNESCO heritage site intact would mean to first recreate it and to keep it safe. After all, it is the reason our family fell in love with Capestang, and like most love stories; our lives changed forever.
It is hard to imagine that the trees in fifty years will only reach about 10 metres tall; ¼ of the size of the trees being cut down today.
All 42,000+ trees that line the shores of the canal which connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, will eventually need to be replaced, leaving the regal trees soaring above only in our memories.
Most trees along the Canal du Midi would have died of old age around 200 years old, that would have been in our lifetime. The need to manage the replacement of the trees would still have been a problem in the not so distant future, and still there was no plan in sight to change out dying trees. The fungus may have quickened the cutting, but only by a few generations.
The story told, is that the fungus that is killing the Platane trees was brought over in ammunition boxes during WWII that spread from tree to tree over years when boats would tie to the trees. The fungus slowly spread until all areas were infected.
When the first massive tree came down in our village, our family came to witness. It stirred emotions of great loss in us. For 200 years she was overlooking Capestang, watching the church, protecting the canal as if on guard. If she could talk, imagine the history she has observed; the wars, the changes in the surrounding lands, the visitors…Then I imagine the new trees reaching their maturity in another 200 years, long after we are gone, and it is sad. Or is it just the beginning.
Now the Canal that winds through our village is bare leaving stumps and exposed banks. But all is not lost.
Surprisingly, here in Capestang, I appreciate the new views from the water as I pass along in a rental boat, or when I ride my bike towards the next village of Poilhes. Now you can see the surrounding landscape, the rolling hills that somersault into our little village, the endless vines, the Black Mountains in the backdrop and the varying pastel colours between. I appreciate the differences, where before it was more of the same boundless greens, and lofty trees. I see the beauty of the next phase of our Plane trees and I it comforts me to know that they will return for the future generations to enjoy.
Baring witness to this part of the Canal’s history, watching the trees come down and the new ones being planted again; I can’t help but feel a part of something bigger than myself. This is a monumental moment in Capestang, and an event I will remember in 50 years, when I am old and sitting along the canal shores sharing our story.