The neighbor and the trees – Part 1

Paulo Coelho

My old mill in the little Pyrenees village has a line of trees separating it from the farm next door. The other day the neighbor appeared: he must be about seventy years old. Now and again I have seen him working with his wife on the farm and thought it was high time for them to retire and have a rest.
In a very nice manner, the neighbor complained that the leaves from my trees were falling on his roof and that I had to cut them down.
I was most shocked: how could a person who has spent his entire life in contact with nature want me to destroy something that took so long to grow, just because in ten years’ time this could cause a problem to the tiles of his roof?
I invite him in for a coffee. I tell him that I will take the responsibility: if one day these dry leaves (which will be swept away by the wind and by the summer) cause any damage, I shall take it on myself to have a new roof built. The neighbor says that this is of no interest to him: he wants me to cut down the trees. I get a bit irritated and tell him that I prefer to buy his farm.
“My land is not for sale,” he answers.
“But with that money you could buy an excellent house in town and live there with your wife for the rest of your days without having to bear awful winters and lost crops.”
“The farm is not for sale. I was born here and grew up here, and I’m too old to move.”
He suggests that an expert from the town could come out to evaluate the case and decide – in that way, neither of us would have to get annoyed at the other. After all, we are neighbors.

The rest of this text will be published here tomorrow

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  1. Alexandra says:

    I just think that in our country a law forbids to cut any tree without a document from city hall ,and the tree must be old and sick.
    I dont think everybody follow it,but they risk fee or jail.
    Another new law mention the distance from a neighbor fence if we decide to plant a new tree.
    I love nature so much, I am on the trees side.Long life for the trees!

  2. Nanci says:

    I, too, will wait patiently for the next installment to this story. In all things, there are so many perspectives, yours, his, etc. Sometimes there is a compromise that can be struck that will, in effect, be beneficial to both parties. I wonder if you have found the compromise…


  3. aditya says:

    i am reminded of another story shared by paulo sometime back, in line with what savita has shared, that of a shikh who wnated to build a great palace. all but one old man ( why are only old men trouble makers in such cases ) refused to part with his small piece of land with his hut. although it was within the shiekh’s might to simply throw out the old man, the sheikh refused to follow that line, to uphold some human value.


  4. CA says:

    Querido Paulo,
    Quando li a primeira vez a historia, a primeira coisa que me veio em mente foi uma emissí£o que assisti sobre uma tribo indigena que tem como ritual quebrar e queimar troncos e troncos de arvores.
    Me faz pensar como as coisas ní£o sí£o como parecem ser.. como vocíª disse de uma pessoa que vive ha tanto tempo na natureza e quer tirar as arvores, tb me assustei vendo a tribo neste ritual que embora sendo sagrado pra eles ní£o deixa de ser destrutivo í  natureza…
    Espero que vc tenha conseguido salvar as arvores.



  5. kealan says:

    I know that the story here appeared in ‘Like a River Flowing’ a few years ago. I wonder with the downturn in the economy if the farmer would take you up on your offer today! It’s worth thinking about… everybody has a price at some time or another. Maybe he has fallen on hard time these last few months and would like to buy his wife something nice. Maybe his wife would like to sell and with another offer she could push him a little more. The land could be for sale right now and some crazy fan could be moving in next door!

  6. Wow, what a story… can’t wait to hear the rest.

    Although I think that you didn’t get to the bottom of the problem with your neighbor, there is probably another thing that is bothering him, perhaps that when the leaves fall on his roof, they fall into his back yard, and after a days of hard work, he has to clean the leaves from his neighbors trees as well.

    Perhaps this is what’s bothering him and he can’t communicate it.

    I wonder what you would propose if that was the case!?

    ?? Waiting to see!


  7. B*Sofie says:

    Irritating funny*
    I`m awaiting…

  8. Breda says:

    Interesting story, set in a great location, and real life drama.At least you are communicating about the trees .You invite him in for coffee and he accepts your invitation..? If 70 % of our communication is body language- and in this case a positive sign if he accepted coffee and sat down with you.
    We set tiny trees 15 years ago that are now tall and stooping and on the boundry of my garden on one side-languidly waves their large boughs into the neighbours field,which I think she feels is definetly crossing a boundry-a physical boundry we feel emotionally as well.The neighbours field could be sold as a site any time and could spell trouble.So far it is ‘unsaid’conflict but I can sence it.A playwrite in Ireland called J.B. Keane.wrote a play called ‘The Field’which shows with shocking results how deep rooted (excuse the pun) feeling about such matters are.(‘The Field’also a movie of the same name -with some changes to the script).
    It brings to mind the movie set in Palastine-‘The Lemon Trees (or Lemon Grove-must check this..)
    Looking forward to hearing the rest of your story Paulo.

  9. Alexandra says:

    Bad man the neighbor.But mine neighbor…I will not end the stories about him not even in ten years. He is single, never been married, no kid, no wife.At beginning he lived with mother, but once he broke her arm,so she left. When he get drunk he fights with whom face he dislikes.He also use to repair cars, I am not against work,but really noisy and polluting job.When he saw his advances had no reply, he started to hares me.He also jump on who just dare to visit me, menacing and searching trouble. The big problem is he has money and relations,friends working in police .Thats why is hard to deal with him.I will be happy if I find another home, just because of him.My house in itself is nice, with garden,summer not hot.Is a pity.

  10. Heart says:

    How funny. How dear the old man suggest solutions for his neighbor. He feels he has the right because he has lived there all his life. Perhaps he has been annoyed at those trees since they were planted, and has worked up quite some anger over the years.
    A priest friend of mine used to visit a man in prison every week, a murderer. This man was in prison because he had killed his neighbor. The neighbor constantly played music too loud, till one day the prisoner couldn’t take it anymore, and stopped the music by killing it’s listener.
    Yes, I’m curious too to hear the end!

  11. Irina Black says:

    Dogma.When idea becomes too subjective.

  12. Savita Vega says:

    I am waiting for the outcome on this one….

    However, I must say that I am not at all surprised at the man’s reaction to your offer to “buy” his farm, Paulo. This reminds me of a little story that I once heard: Some years ago, I lived in the French Quarter in New Orleans. One day I was walking along with a friend on one of the side streets that it very little used, a street on the fringes of The Quarter, which runs along the backside and lies in the shadow of several large, modern buildings. As we were walking along, I noticed this little comic book shop, but not because of the store itself or what it was selling – I had no interest in comic books whatsoever. I noticed it because it stood out immediately as one of the most peculiar architectural features I had ever seen. This tiny shop, obviously housed in a very old structure, was actually embedded in the backside of a huge modern building which housed a large and prominent hotel. I thought aloud, “What an odd thing! How on earth did they build that hotel around that shop – and why?!” My friend, who was far better versed in the history of the French Quarter than I, offered up the story:

    Apparently, when this hotel chain moved in with plans to build, they bought up all the real estate on the block, so that they could knock down everything and build their big, beautiful hotel. Everything went according to plan, until they approached the owner of this little comic book shop, with their offer to buy. He refused. So, they upped the price. He still refused. No matter how much they offered him – and they had plenty to offer – he adamantly refused to sell. The whole situation quickly escalated into something truly ridiculous, because, as everyone knows, comic books shops simply don’t make a large profit. There is just not a lot of money in the business. Even the old man who owned the shop admitted this, but he also upheld that this shop was indeed his chosen livelihood – in fact, at his age, it was truly the only thing he had to live for. So, in essence, taking this shop away from him would be like robbing him of whatever years he had left to enjoy. Thus, by his estimates, the shop he owned was literally “priceless” – no monetary value could be placed on it that would entice him to sell. The whole thing eventually went to court, and the city upheld the man’s position. Thus, the hotel chain, having already completed the first phase of their plans to build and having already bought up all the surrounding properties, had no choice but to accommodate the old man’s wishes – they couldn’t buy him out, so, they simply built the hotel around him. His little comic book shop was left standing where it was, looking very much like an old plastic bauble embedded in a shiny solid-gold ring.

    I can’t guess at the outcome of Paulo’s story, but I would almost bet that the man who refused to sell his farm had some motive for wanting those trees cut, other than simply the supposed detriment of the leaves falling upon his roof. Surely, he must have had some deeper motive, something that hasn’t yet been revealed. (Or maybe I am wrong – maybe he is just a foolish old man, trying to make life difficult for everyone around him….)

  13. Jane Gaston says:

    Would hate to be in your shoes, having to deal with an elderly, irate neighbor, especially in this particular situation. Can’t wait to read sequel, although I hope it doesn’t involve HOW you cut down those trees! Please don’t tell me that!

  14. Marielle says:

    Oh dear… oooooh dear….! Am very curious in how this will end.


  15. AK says:

    Les paysans sont souvent coupés du coeur de la nature. Ils sont coupés des elfes, des fées, et míªme des animaux qu’ils peuvent traiter durement. Les nouveaux paysans bio pensent de faí§on plus globale, green, dans le respect de l’environnement.

  16. aditya says:

    arrogance ! dear paulo is the first sign of downfall !!

    did you put your question to him “how could a person who has spent his entire life in contact with nature want me to destroy something that took so long to grow,”.

    looking forward to rest of your story !


  17. karen says:


    We can climb to the top of Everest, but REAL LIFE will always find us when we end up with a crazy problem with another human being, usually a spouse, son, daughter, mother, father, or NEIGHBOUR.

    These “Crazy” things happen it seems becuase humans suddenly become irrational.
    It happens quite alot in old age, but not exclusively.
    I usually think the irrationality is a manifestation of an earlier trauma in life. It can go back sometimes 40, 50 or 60 years.
    Suddenly one day it manifests, and a conflict of total irrationalty comes into being.
    So, I usually say to myself – there is a trauma here, a wound, pain. Let me understand this situation knowing this.
    I had a neighbour who was actually completely disordered. In need of real psychiatric help.
    In this case, nobody could help, not the council, not the police, not anybody.
    Then you have to resort to prayer, love and acceptance.
    But love anyway needs to be present always.
    Karen xxxxxxxxx