The day came when a big willow tree, that had stood proudly in our family back yard for many years, had to be cut down.
I was eight years old, living in suburban Melbourne, Victoria, with my parents and four siblings.
Norm-from-next-door, had won his battle. He had complained about willow tree roots showing up in his lawn and he wanted our tree gone.
My parents had stalled for some time until Norm-from-next-door showed how serious he was by pouring petrol on any willow tree root that appeared in his place. (Perhaps ‘Round-Up’ had yet to be invented).
On the day, Norm-from-next-door was grinning as he clambered over the fence into our yard with various chopping and sawing equipment preceding him.
‘Oh, well’, I thought, in a childish way, ‘I suppose I had better get into the spirit of today’s action’ and found a small axe in the shed and, with it, began to chop at the tree trunk.
My mother tapped on the kitchen window and called for me to come inside. She seemed upset.
‘Please Darling’, she said, ‘That tree has been such a good friend to us, it’s not good for you to be hurting it like that.’
Hurting it? I felt chastised. But, more than that, I felt guilty and totally regretted my actions. I looked at the tree through the window and saw it with new eyes. I thought about the lovely times we had enjoyed playing under it; even picnicking under it. I realised that there would be no more tree climbing—and our tree-branch-anchored swing would no longer be there for happy (meditative) swinging – something I often did to escape the noise and clutter of indoor family life.
I think it was then that utter regret, plus a new thoughtfulness activated my love of trees.
(It wasn’t until many decades later that I discovered that planting weeping willow trees in Australia was not a good idea, due to the damage they caused as they clogged and spread into rivers and waterways, but our willow was never in danger of doing that).
Our willow tree was, on that memorable Saturday, eventually turned into a pile of logs — long and large— with piles of remnant autumn-dumped leaves.
We kids posed for a photo sitting on the largest piece of its rough trunk. And that was that.
And now, I think back to that tree as I walk in a nature park near where I currently live—over a thousand kilometres from my childhood home.
I walk to see gum trees. I look up into their magnificent branches and even take photos (just for me) if I see a tree top that inspires me.
I love trees.
The horror of seeing forests cut down for any purpose is constantly at the front of my mind. The devastation of this summer’s bushfires makes me shudder at the apocalyptic damage wrought.
The urgent need to plant billions more trees in order to save the planet is also constantly in my mind.
I would love to be a billionaire and be able to pour billions into reforestation.
We, as a nation and we, as people of the world have one chance to save our planet—and one of the most urgent actions is to plant trees.
But it’s no use just going to drought affected areas of treeless plains and poking saplings in the ground.
Trees need each other to survive and trees need what’s below the ground as well as water and sunshine and soil.
Trees are social beings. Trees have a symbiotic relationship with many creatures—insects, animals and birds.
They also depend on relationships with fungi around their roots; important fungi that transfers essential minerals.
In an article by Ricky French in a Weekend Australian Magazine from last October, he laments the tragedy of dying eucalypts in the Monaro countryside. He mentions ‘companionship’ and how trees possess ‘a sophisticated network’ below ground. ‘They feed each other, pumping sugar into struggling neighbours…’ They can communicate danger, ‘such as insect attack, via chemical and hormonal messages…’
French writes, ‘When those social networks are cut off, trees lose their ability to communicate.’
They also lose the ability to survive.
This all boils down to the fact that trees need other trees—and plenty of them. Leafy canopies protect them—and the underground, almost mysterious, symbiotic relationship between tree roots and the helpful subterranean fungi makes for healthy forests.
Trees are similar to humans. In order for us to flourish, we need other people and nourishment. For trees to flourish they need tree neighbours and companionship. Just like us!
If we are to plant more trees —and we MUST — it is more productive to plant outwards from existing forests and tree stands than starting in a treeless patch of countryside. Plant them where their helpful neighbours already exist.
I envisage outwardly extended rain forests all over the world. I dream of the borders of every earthly forest slowly and carefully expanding outwards by kilometres.
My love of trees which began in my childhood and which led me to plant dozens of eucalypts on my one-acre block of yore, has made me determined to see in others a desire to cultivate trees. We need trees for beauty and their positive influence on our lives but mainly, right now, we need trees to help save the planet. Trees by the millions, and trees in the best possible place for the best possible outcome— before it is too late.
from Science News U.S.:
‘In and around the tangled roots of the forest floor, fungi and bacteria grow with trees, exchanging nutrients for carbon in a vast, global marketplace’
from last week’s news:
‘Experts say between 2008 and 2017, Australia's major cities lost 2.6 per cent of their vegetation’.
From The Guardian, 17.10.2019:
‘More than 27,000 hectares, nearly 100 times the size of Sydney’s central business district, were cleared for agriculture in the latest year for which data is available. Most of the clearing has been between Moree and the Queensland border. If native forestry is included, the figure rises to 58,000 hectares.’
Plant native trees and have an impact in the battle against climate change.
A quick on-line search will show organisations that tell how you can help.
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I choose to comment on social issues and write creatively on a variety of subjects - for a variety of audiences.