Friday, July 8, 2011

The Arboreal Thing

"The Arboreal Thing"

I think that I shall never see/a poem as lovely as a tree

Me and the boy took a stroll through the Botanic Gardens yesterday – green grass, blue sky, sunshine, sculpture, ducks and botany. Luver-ly! We came to a massive old Moreton Bay Fig, fenced off with a sign: “For your safety keep outside the fence as tree may drop branches without warning”. Hmm, I pondered: what kind of warning might a tree be expected to give - a week’s notice in writing? In triplicate? Or might it bark something more cursory: “Oi, fatso, move your arse, I’m gunna snap a big one!” No, no. That would be the uncouth locution of a loutish eucalypt, or bogan Melaleuca. An elegant old Moreton Bay Fig would surely be better mannered: “Look, I’m awfully sorry about this … it’s all a bit dashed awkward … but you see, the thing is, I’ve got this beastly branch that’s been agitating for some time to part ways with me, and I’m afraid you’re sitting right under it, so, err, [sounds a bit like Hugh Grant] if you wouldn’t mind awfully moving your picnic a few metres to the right … that’s it, that’s it, just the ticket … now ERRRR, [CRASH!], ahh, that’s better. So kind of you. Lovely spot of weather we’re having, isn’t it? …”

No, there’s no malevolence in trees. For all the carnage we’ve inflicted upon them I don’t believe they’ve ever hurt anyone on purpose. In fiction? Okay, there’s Harry Potter’s Whomping Willow; a grouchy orchard of apple trees in The Wizard of Oz and grumpy Ents in Lord of the Rings. And, I suppose, you could argue for some ambivalence with Jack’s beanstalk, a tree-like monster that helps Jack facilitate the death of an innocent giant, who, as far as I can tell was hurting no-one, just minding his own business in his cloud castle when Jack rocks up to thieve his property and bring about his brutal death. At a stretch you could argue that the apple (or olive, or fig) tree in the Garden of Eden left a fairly nasty taste, but that wasn’t an act of malevolence on the tree’s part, per se, but an engineered outcome by the Master of Puppets to set the Bible in train. And these dark fictions can be balanced against the fiction of Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree, a benign portal to a land of wonder and delight.

One of my favourite trees is the Liquid Amber. They look great, are a cicada mecca in Summer, colourful Autumnal wonders and the big ones are brilliant to climb. You have to love the name for a start – Liquid Amber – it just flows. Same as the Camphor Laurel, which I’m fond of too. Okay, I know the Camphor Laurel is introduced and considered a pest by many, but, like coral trees, I think they add character and charm to a farm. (These trees would also make great names for twin daughters: “Liquid Amber, Camphor Laurel, your Aunt Petunia and Uncle Russell are here!”)

Other fave trees? – oaks, elms, beeches, poplars … spot the pattern here? Yep. I’m afraid most of them were introduced to Australia. But then again, who wasn’t? I know it’s unpatriotic of me, but I’m a shameless Anglophile in many regards, including matters arboreal. I’m a dyed in the wool Wind-In-The-Willows-Alice-In-Wonderland-Pooh-Bear-English-Garden-Woodland fantasist. There, I’ve said it. Gums are okay, in their place, which is mostly in the mouth. But compared to English trees they’re bland as batshit. (Is batshit actually bland? Anyone?). If I must have Australian Wild give me rainforest. The really old primeval kind, thick with creepers and vines and massive mossy fungi-studded boles, twenty metres in circumference, with big veins creeping down into the forest floor like the necks of old people; the kind of rainforest with deep, clear creeks and trickling icy streams replete with Platypi and Yabi, the kind of deep terrain to give Bob Brown a woody, with hobbits, and Ents, and trees with doors that lead to fairyland, and …

Err, sorry. Where were we?

That’s right, pointless, dumb signs about trees not giving due warning of impending falling branches. It puts me in mind of those roadside signs along steep embankments: “Warning, Falling Rocks”. Hmm. Okay. Fair enough. But what the fuck are you going to do about it?: “Hey kids, keep your eyes peeled for any five ton boulders hurtling from the cliff up there that are about to crush the car. I want plenty of time to take evasive action.”

Nah. Trees are prettier and smarter than us.


  1. I've heard that OH&S requirements at Jimmy Buffett and Aerosmith gigs include large signs either side of stage that say "Warning. Falling Rockstars"

  2. It's about time somebody lambasted those lamby bastard pc softcock arboreal hypocrites who decry anything non-native. In my old stomping ground of Nimbin it was chronic. I mean, fuck ... look in the mirror ... whar you fum, boy? Where's your tobacco from? The mull? The pistachios, the pineapples, the mangoes, the tomatos,the paw paws, the acocados et al? Then they whine ' but that's fooood ... so that's exempt'. To which I cry ' what about food for the soul you desolate spirits, you curmudgeonly spiritual wowsers ... what about flowers, what about pretty things that smell nice, how can you hate a rose, the larch, the pine, the mighty Scotch Fir? We are part of the natural order of things, and, true to evolution - unless you're a fucking brainless creationist - you have to accept that, like the coats and droppings of animals and birds, and the currents in the ocean and the winds that traverse the globe, we distribute shit plant-wise. And if you are a creationist, you have to accept that it's the will of whatever god you happen to fancy. So ... um ... good point, Tug.

  3. Beautiful, Arch! That's a lovely rant-poem in the making, if not made!