Sitting under the casuarina trees this morning on the Nightcliff foreshore a flock of Red-tailed black cockatoos took flight, as Whistling kites circling overhead. It is these trees more than any other which make me feel like I am grounded in this place (and also transports me to other places). Listening to the wind blowing through the needles takes me back to places like Wilsons Promontory, where stands of Casuarinas line the south sides of mountains. I can picture one of these stands in my mind, along the old track that passed granite boulders on the way to South Point.
This week I came across the Trees Project. Instigated my ABC Radio National, the project elicited contributions from listeners in the forms of stories and poetry (also listen to the Trees I’ve Loved ABC Radio documentary).
I love the contribution to the project by Fiona Vaughan called Presence :
The jacaranda is gone.
But the space where it dwelt
remains. And the spaces the tree held within itself
still linger. They carry memories of currawongs
landing, their weight on the branches, calls
broadcasting to the neighbourhood. The smoky
lavender blossoms would be falling on the driveway
between the flats by now. Trunk, branches, leaves,
flowers all palpable in their absence. Their solidity
now sits within my body. Perhaps if I held out my
arms, the currawongs would come to roost on my
limbs in the night, balancing on one leg, bright
yellow eyes gleaming out of black.
This poem reminds me of two trees I knew as a child and teenager in the neighborhood in which I grew up. I would pass by these trees on my way to the train station, or as I walked to a friend’s house. They grew on the top of a rise, in the front yard of a property on the corner of two streets. Both were eucalyptus; the bigger tree had dark brown stringy bark and the other was a slender lemon scented gum, with smooth white luminescent bark. Each time I walked by these companion trees I would stop, close my eyes and drink in their heavy scent. I can’t remember what season it was, but I would delight in the litter of tiny flowers that they would drop onto the footpath. Walking past one day I noticed that each of the trees had fluorescent pink tape tied around its trunk. The sale of the property, upon which the trees and a dilapidated old house stood, triggered the subdivision of the land and signaled the looming development of two new super-sized dwellings. This kind of urban consolidation, where new dwellings on subdivided blocks took up almost the whole area of land, was common in my childhood neighborhood. I walked past that place one day, my head was lowered and I was being introspective. Something prompted me to look up and there on the street corner, I stared into space. It is hard to describe the tragic feeling of loss, that something has been thwarted, but this is what I felt when I looked down and saw the big stump of the stringy bark. I knew it was then only a matter of time before my other friend would be gone too.
What was built in place of these two beautiful trees barely merits a mention. An exotic species, low maintenance ‘instant garden’ and spa/pool.
There is something inside me that beckons these trees and their spirits each time I walk past where they once stood.
I try to see and feel their form, or even just evoke the feelings I felt when I would stand, with them.