Trees

January 18, 2010 at 9:25 am | Posted in Writing and Life | 6 Comments
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I love trees. In particular, I love Australian trees.

I love the bold, majestic river red gums of the Murray. The eerie white ghost gums, the desert oaks and the stunted mulga of central Australia delight me. The cypress pine forests of Central West NSW and the sighing river oaks of the east coast are bewitching. I love to look out over miles and miles of blue-green eucalypt forest, or follow a winding watercourse across a wide plain, dark with trees against the yellow of cropped or grazed paddocks. I haven’t seen the towering jarrah or karri of Western Australia, or the mighty swamp gums of Tasmania, one of which has been declared the tallest hardwood in the world – but I have plenty of trees around me to look at.

Trees needn’t be enormous to possess character and distinction. The straight smooth grey trunks of the spotted gums in my yard are beautiful, as is the coarse, dark brown stringy-bark at my back door. If not for the bottlebrush and banksias and all our other trees, we wouldn’t have the number of birds we have in our garden. However, there are some individuals that really catch the eye.

Along the Awaba road, there is a distinctive eucalypt that has a spiral trunk, rough dark brown and smooth light grey bark alternating like a candy stick. There are trees along busy city and suburban roads, where branches on the roadside form a cut-away square, their growth constantly trimmed to shape by passing trucks and buses. And who can ignore the aerial roots of the thick-trunked figs of central Newcastle and Brisbane?

There is a great Moreton Bay fig on the south side of Wollongong city – there used to be two. The little settlement nearby took its name from those trees. I rode my motor scooter through Figtree on my way to Teachers College in the 1960s, and was always intrigued that a village could be named thus. The remaining tree now stands in the middle of the industrial sites, retail businesses and relentless traffic that have grown up around it. I hope it can withstand the growing urban pressure.

Illawarra Flame trees were abundant where I grew up. Their brilliant red flowers provided a splash of colour among the eucalypts along the escarpment. Then there are jacarandas. I know jacarandas aren’t Australian, but they might as well be. They have been widely adopted here, and in spring, their purple canopies grace many a garden and suburban street. Mum planted a jacaranda in our front yard when I was young. As the tree grew, its display of purple blossoms brought the promise of summer to our home. Then, when the carpet of fallen blossoms was gone, we welcomed its leafy shade. In our sixtieth year, my husband and I planted a young jacaranda in our yard. I look forward to the time when we can enjoy its show and its shade. But I must return to our natives.

Recently, we drove along the Old Putty Road. It isn’t as narrow and winding as it used to be, but you can still see and feel and hear the natural bush as you pass through. We stopped here and there to look at sandstone formations, flowers and trees. There had been a fire through a large area of bush, probably last summer. The trees were blackened, many of the saplings had died and the grasses were only just emerging from the charcoal-littered sandy soil. But the majority of the trees, having lost their foliage in the conflagration, were well on their way back to life. Green leafy twigs sprouted from trunks and branches everywhere, fed by winter rains and the spring surge of life-giving sap.

One tree stood out among all the others. It caught and held my attention. We didn’t stop, but even now, I can see that stark, blackened shape, clear among the smaller trees. A huge eucalypt, it had been shorn of foliage. Not a single secondary branch was left. They had been burned off, not just this time, but in many other fires over perhaps two hundred years. Only the trunk and thickest branches remained. If you wanted to draw the bare outline of a tree, it would be your perfect model. And yet, it was not dead, for from each black branch sprouted a veritable forest of small leafy twigs, giving it a lacy, shimmering green coat.

I will probably never see that tree again. I didn’t get a photo of it either. But in a way, I’m glad. To have it on camera would not have captured its magnificence. Instead, it would have been taken from its proper context, reduced to an isolated image, a trite phoenix-from-the-ashes cliché. And that’s not what it was – at least not entirely. In those brief moments, that blackened tree, bursting with new life, gave me a vision of nature’s spirit, a sense of life’s tenacity, and a glow of wonder and inspiration that remains with me.

(c) Linda Visman 2010

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