4 November 2022

Pining for the tree that was, weather you like it or not

| Sally Hopman
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Fallen tree

It had been standing for more than 100 years, but this once majestic cypress pine met its match – months of unrelenting rain. Photo: Sally Hopman.

It was the loudest of cracks. From inside the house, it sounded like something had split in two or was waiting for me to go outside to investigate before splitting in two, on my head.

You get good noises in the bush. Football teams tackling each other on the roof (possums). Freight trains coming straight at you (dirt bikes with muffler issues). Stuff that makes you cry (anything being weaned). But this crack noise was different. It sounded like real end-of-the-world stuff. Like something giving up, groaning, just in case you didn’t hear it the first time, and them come crashing down in a heap.

And it did come crashing down in a heap – the largest tree in the house paddock.

READ ALSO By gum, yet another tree hits the dust or was it just hearsay?

A stunning lump of of leaves and branches that had been standing upright for longer than anyone I knew, or even their long-lost relatives had known. Older than an elderly person which, some young bright spark disturbingly said the other day, was 50.

It was a cypress pine, believed planted when my cottage was built back in the 1890s. It stood smack bang in the middle of a sort-of garden behind the house. Nothing much grew underneath it because of its vast canopy, but it was oasis-like in the summer because it was so cool – in the cold sense of the word – and you could see a snake coming from 20 metres. But the pine had developed a lean over the past few years, although I reckoned that just added to its charm. Maybe it had relatives in Pisa?

We had lunch under it. Discussed the meaning of life around it. Mowed its underneath bits. Started many a Great Australian Novel from it – although I never got much past Chapter One because it was such a beautiful tree that all I mostly did while sitting under it, was to, well, sit under it and dream about writing a Great Australian Novel.

Dog on fallen tree

Mickey the blind wonder dog takes to the fallen trunk just in case there are ancient bones to sniff out. Photo: Sally Hopman.

Although it developed the lean, I wasn’t too bothered. With a trunk like a fat giant’s sock, I didn’t think it would ever come a cropper.

But it did. After I heard that crack and had looked around the yard everywhere except where the tree was, I braved it and went out there. The good news was that I could see so much more sky. The bad was that most of this magnificent old man was lying on the ground, white ag pipes sticking out of his, er, nether regions. Shit, I thought, thinking septic tank pipes.

There were birds everywhere. Don’t know if they were shaken out of the tree when it fell or whether they’d sniffed out the septic situation, but they soon scattered.

Tree roots

The cypress pine’s impressive roots could get a job as stalactites or stalagmites in any reputable cave. Might have to lose the ag pipe though. Photo: Sally Hopman.

All that was left was lumps of tree, and, remarkably, a table made out of old weatherboards which had been underneath. It was still standing. Somehow. Probably will be able to rescue it when I get my front-end loader licence so I can remove the remains of the tree.

I sort-of want to bury the tree, did I write that out aloud? But I don’t think I could stand any revival of talk about a certified person being barking mad.

It’s not like I would use it for firewood once it’s seasoned in a couple of lifetimes – pine gums up chimneys, so I’ve learned from experience. Bitter, red-hot experience involving a flue – and not the cold kind.

Maybe I could take up wood carving, but I reckon this tree has suffered enough.

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