26 January 2024

To the tree that literally grew on us: Don't pine, it's just time to branch out

| Sally Hopman
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Big cypress tree next to old house

Whoever planted this Cyprus pine so near the cottage a century or so ago clearly needed glasses – or didn’t plan to live too long. Photos: Sally Hopman.

More than 100 years ago, someone planted a tree – a baby Cyprus pine.

We know so because it was planted too close to a cottage that was even older – it still has the slab walls to prove it. And the tell-tale low doorways that demanded you bow your head, if you were over five foot six in the old money and didn’t want a headache.

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With the recent wild winds, the pine developed a lean – an ominous Pisa-like look that seemed to be moving closer to the house by the hour. Daily, some of its monster branches would break off and land just near the house, with one just missing the dog by a bone.

Yep, it had to go, this tree, I was told. The next day, when I came home, there was a monster truck parked up the paddock. I left it alone seeing it was so much bigger than me.

Man on cherry picker cutting down tree

The tree surgeon reached great heights in his bid to safely bring down the tree.

But at around 7 am the next day, I heard it growl up. And then its friend came in too, a giant red spider-like number that boasted a lift and a bloke with so many chainsaws he could have sold them cut-price.

I was going to sit inside, headphones on, pretending to work but I couldn’t. From the first roar of the chainsaw, I was out there, admittedly behind the fence, watching the tree surgeon do his job. I thought it would make me sick but, instead, it blew me away.

He took the branches off first, climbing up the tree on his cherry-picker as if he were part-monkey. He’d been doing it all his life, he told me later, about 50 years all up. His son, who stayed grounded, collected the branches and used the dozer bucket to lob them into the back of the truck. But always watching his dad, every move he made, every branch he cut. Learning from the best.

Pile of dirt outside old cottage where tree used to be

Now what would you do on this fresh pile of dirt? Plant flame trees because you like Cold Chisel or install a mini-golf course because there isn’t another one within cooee?

It was less than three hours before all that was left on the ground was a section of recently swept dirt. Nothing. Just a memory of a tree that was planted in the wrong place.

My helpful friends have offered lots of advice on what I should plant in that naked sweep of dirt. Although I’m unlikely to be around in 100 years or so, another Cyprus pine is clearly out of the question.

I’m favouring some flame trees, because I just love that Cold Chisel song. But then how can you go past natives? Maybe I should get my teeth into planting a bunch of gums there – eucs, ghosts, the gnarlier the better.

Someone suggested a swimming pool, there’s certainly room enough. Nope, not on precious tankwater. I quite like the idea of a mini-golf situation, complete with flags, little holes and uneven surfaces. Might work out as a decent business opportunity seeing the closest putt-putt is about a thousand ks away.

For the time being, I’ll just go and put a chair on it, take out my cuppa, and plonk down, contemplating its meaning in my life.

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