Friday, March 26, 2010


Tree-That-Was: a truly mighty blackwood, probably close to seventy years old. That's near the end of the lifespan of such trees, apparently. The photo shows the Mau-Mau playing what was one of her favourite games with the dog. She liked to climb onto the tree-swing, and the dog would then grab the tag-tail-end of rope that hung from the bottom of the swing. Then he'd drag her willy-nilly back and forth, shaking his head and growling while she giggled and swung and clung on for dear life.

There were a tremendous lot of games around and under that tree. It must have been 25m tall, at least, and it shaded an enormous area. Today, when I walked out that side of the house, I also realised what a windbreak it used to be. The westerly wind pours unimpeded down that slope now. It's cold. I know; I've said it before. But I miss that tree.

So here's what's left. A mulch heap of truly phenomenal proportions, and a pile of rounds. Some will be taken up to the woodshed to dry slowly. Eventually, I'll give them to people who like woodturning and so forth. Blackwood is a wonderful, beautiful timber. They make high-end guitars and violins out of it.

Unfortunately, it's a bitch to work with. Apparently the sawdust is peculiarly hooked. It gets into your airways, and there it stays, causing all kinds of hideous respiratory issues. The people who work with it use heavy-duty filter masks, and even respirators.

I don't have anything like that. And I'm not nearly enthusiastic enough about woodworking to go through that much fuss. So we let the tree-feller take those sections of the main trunk that he wanted for his own use, and those bits left behind -- well, like I said. Some will go to wood turners. Some will become firewood.

Taking the tree down was, by standards of economy and safety and logic, a good decision. This slice through the butt, about a metre above the ground level, shows several notable things. The most obvious is the big, rotting hole in the middle. But if you look, you can also see the big cracks that go from the hole in the middle to the very edge. And if you know much about trees, you'll realise that this isn't a single trunk. This is actually three or four trunks of one tree, grown so close together they couldn't be distinguished. But there was bark between the trunks: they weren't one, single, strongly-forked piece of wood. They were individual pieces, and each piece was holding its own chunk of that massive, spreading crown -- and it's something of a miracle we didn't see the thing fall to pieces ages ago. Possibly on top of one or more children, or cars, or the cubby house, or the power line, or a mixture of all the above.

Nevertheless. It was a beautiful tree.

And still it serves. Here's the Smaller Son, redoubtable atop Mount Mulch. He's planted his flag, as true explorers do, and he is delighted to scramble up and down, leap off, burrow into, and otherwise lay claim to the huge pile. It's Kid Heaven. The three of them spend hours charging around that mulch heap, playing and climbing... Smaller Son actually stands on top of the pile, and hurls himself headlong into a hands-free standing somersault that sprawls him down the side of the heap, mulch flying in all directions. Daft little bugger.

And there's more. The mulch has already gone into a much-needed soft fall at the bottom of the cubby-house quick-escape slide. I put the slide on the downhill side, and it gets up a fair bit of speed... and since the ground used to slope away at the base, the kids would come hurtling off the slide, plant their feet and then go arse-over in a heap. Scared hell out of 'em. But now, with old tyres around the bottom as a retaining wall to hold a mulch-pit in place, they love their groovy escape slide.

Still more: I put in a small bamboo on the hillside above the site of the Tree-That-Was. The bamboo is a non-invasive kind, rejoicing in the unfortunate name of 'Indian Black-Butt'. It has edible shoots, and the individual stems grow up to 15cm thick and 25m tall. It's used in furniture-making -- and it's very beautiful. I bought two of them today, and they're both going up on that hillside. And to help them grow, I dug swales above them, and filled the swales with mulch. And the first of the two bamboo-babies got nicely mulched into position as well.

Still more: I'm going to put in a proper strawberry patch. Three metres by six metres, with netting and rabbit-proof fencing, and wire mesh to keep out field mice and even grasshoppers. And I'm going to need a lot of mulch, yep. You betcha.

So the Tree-That-Was keeps on giving. The bamboo will grow to frame the space where it lived, and I will put weeping cherry trees there, at the request of the kids, and there are already a dozen new blackwood trees just a few metres uphill, where Natalie and I planted them a few years back. We'll keep the space for play and enjoyment, and every now and again, I'll make sure to remind the kids of the old tree they used to play on.

And there is the first autumn leaf of the year on the little pin-oak I put in place upslope of the Tree-That-Was, Christmas 2006. It's a healthy, growing tree now, and very beautiful. I like to get live trees for our Christmases, and plant them out afterwards. This one is doing especially well.

I'm hoping for plenty more.