To dwellers in a wood, almost every species of tree has its voice as well as its feature.
I am not a “dweller in a wood”, but I am a walker in the bush, and to me too every tree has its voice and its feature. Casuarinas speak in the wind, almost like the murmur of human voices. The trunks of eucalypts creak against each other. Wattles choose to converse in heady perfume; bottlebrush in the multitudinous voices of parrots and honeyeaters.
Trunks split to reveal creams, russets, browns and blue, especially under the influence of rain
bulge out in intricate carbuncles
create patterns of sublime subtlety over their musculature
present designs like subdued Matisse cut outs
Their roots break pavements and gather sun-mottles.
Their bark peels in rich strips
and they blush as they excoriate.
Brown, they lean over green foliage and water
Tall and silvery-skinned, they reach for the sky in the morning light.
They tell their history, not only in their precisely accurate rings of bark which record the quality of seasons as well as the passing of years, but also in fire scars
and the only-recently-deciphered tracks of moth larvae.
Moth larvae postscript: I mentioned these tracks in a previous post, unscientifically hidden in a haiku. My indefatigable friend, Prue, sent me links to some remarkable research by Dr Max Day, recently turned 100, and a number of other retired scientists. Dr Day's most recent paper was published when he was 97. The articles are well worth reading.
The quote at the beginning of this post is from Thomas Hardy's “Under the greenwood tree”
Whenever I think “Enough blogging! I'll stop” I get one of Prue's emails and I realise I need to keep baiting the hook. She sends me wonderful responses to blog posts in the form of emails, which means I'm the only one to savour them. With her permission, I'll copy this lot into their own post so more people can enjoy her stories. They reveal her passion for music and trees.
The mallee flower is so tactile, I can almost hear it.
This reminds me of the time I took John Cage, American composer, and Merce Cunningham, dancer and 3 dancers from Merce’s New York dance troupe to the Australian Botanical Gardens here in Canberra to listen to bird song – their trip to the National Park in Sydney had them covered in leeches and they heard very few birds there. I promised no leeches, but plenty of birds, which there were, but we were all excited about listening to Banksia cones by softly running our fingers down them.
Hey! the rhythms this made were most exciting – for all of us.
The sound of the mallee flower is far more delicate and very soft, but it tingles the imagination somewhat, and the delicate perfume is more appealing than that I remember of the different banksias we explored.
The tree, well the tree made me homesick for the tree we had in our yard in Chifley. It was as big as your tree image and it took three men holding hands to circle its girth. One arborist reckoned it was between 300 and 400 years old. It was a yellow gum. We hung a bird feeder over one of the lowest branches – about 3.5 metres above the ground, and it was outside the kitchen window.
A seat belt was thrown over the branch, and secured, and a chain hung from it down to the bird feeder – about 2.5 meters from the ground. Parrots, particularly sulphur crested cockatoos, would climb down the chain, frontwards, backwards, upside down, downside up. The mob of them was quite patient, waiting their turn. This was comical enough and gave us hours of pleasure.
We’d put a circular margarine container inside the feeder, full of water. The smaller birds could get at it, but not the cockies. One of them succeeded, by standing on the edge of the feeder, tipping it so the water flowed out of the container, and towards the edge he/she was standing on. It then turned around and drank the water as it fell over the edge.
When we were about to sell the house, I had the tree heritage listed, which the National Parks mob were happy with.
It cost me $10,000 I used to boast, as the shonky real-estate agent deducted that amount from the sale price, as no owner would be able to cut it down.
It used to rain down onto the ground, gutters and roof twigs, leaves, gum nuts, and branches big enough to crack the roof tiles, but we kept a supply of new tiles under the house for this eventuality.
It's a while since I've paid tribute to trees. Flowers, yes. Rocks, yes. Assorted creatures, yes. But not trees. So here we go: spotted gums, swamp mahogany, iron bark, casuarina, scribbly gum, milk vine. There is poetry in the names, and homage beyond any I could pay in these words from Herman Hesse.
For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured.
Suddenly on this stretch of road the trees become bigger, towering up out of the drop down to the river. Wattles are in the splendour of full bloom, and so are ti trees and white mint bush. The air is dense with the buzzing of bees and with perfume, heavy-sweet and spicy. Below, the swishing of the river in a series of small rapids. No familiarity on this stretch, after more than twenty years.
A car stops. The driver leans over, looks at me, and says “I know you.” His name I remember; his face has changed. On the edge of the road past and present meet, and I’m incapable of giving him the required directions in the jangle of adjusting old memories. What do I remember? Offending him by refusing to let him carry my bag after a P & C meeting in Sydney in 1978. Did he really sulk for 300 km? Is this a story I’ve made up? I don’t want such intrusions on my grinning solitude.
The pink rocks of the cutting soon fill my mind with memories in the making, and I relax into the beauty of the morning. I pause on the bridge, noting that sand has taken over, where there were once pink rocks. The river brushes noisily over pebbles, and floats circular mats of algae. A man on horseback nods hello, and the cutting still towers, revealing tree roots coiling from crevasses.