My place. Sunday, 1.15pm
One of the rules of planting trees is to never plant in the middle of the day, especially if the day is very hot. It creates extra stress for the tree.
Today is very hot. And I’m planting a tree.
That’s bad, because it breaks the tree-planting rule, and also because I just want to lie down. And this being Sunday, the day of rest, there is some excuse for that. But, then again, I wanted to lie down yesterday too, and the day before that…
I reckon there is another rule of tree-planting: If you get the chance to plant a tree, do it – no matter what the time of day. (If you don’t grasp opportunities, you’ll become pot-bound.)
My window of tree-planting opportunity is open. It will slam shut shortly when the two blokes who brought me the tree return to Lismore. I need their help for the planting; it’s a big tree. A Wollemi pine.
This pine has been living in a pot in Lismore. At first it was quite happy. Lismore is a fine place to live. Sure, there’s the odd flood, but there’s also ample parking and a tribe of eco-warriors.
In recent times, though, the pine’s guardian has observed a sadness about the plant.
‘It’s not happy,’ he says, as we three lug the tree from his ute to a gully near my shack under the cliffs. (Can plants be melancholy? Do they sometimes just want to lie down? Do they know about climate change?)
Maybe it realised that its pot, no matter how generously sized, no matter how elegantly shaped, is still a prison cell.
Maybe it has ancient memories budding in its DNA: memories of forest soils where roots explored freely, unimpeded by a barrier of Chinese ceramic, unaffected by polluted water, unthreatened by corporate greed and short-sighted government.
Maybe it even remembers when dinosaurs roamed under its branches, some reaching up to nibble its leaves. (The Wollemi is an ancient tree.)
This is, of course, an anthropomorphic rumination by me. Trees don’t remember stuff. They don’t get sad. I’m obviously projecting my own emotional state onto this vegetation. The tree will nevertheless help shade against a fiercer sun.
In the gully, we dig a hole. It’s hot work. But the soil is a chocolate basalt and gives way easily to spade and crowbar. It smells good. I try to remember when I last planted a tree.
The Wollemi’s root ball tells the story of its incarceration. The finer roots have turned inwards in a swirl of frustration.
We stand the pine in the hole and fill around it with soil and water. The bloke who nurtured the tree for years and noticed its depression, adds star pickets to gently support it as it comes to grips with its liberation.
‘It looks happier already,’ he says.
And it does. Standing not far from a trio of large cousins (Norfolk, bunya and hoop – I definitely remember planting them), it already anchors my place under the cliffs to the bigger story.
The Wollemi was there when Gondwanaland separated from Laurasia during the breakup of the Pangea super continent.
It was there when the first people moved onto this great southern land and dreamed the tree songs. It was there when the Europeans came and dreamed of riches.
Despite my fears for the future, the Wollemi reassures me (in tree language) that, long after I’m gone, it will still be here, towering 40 metres above the gully. And I believe it.
Thank you, Wollemi. My recent lethargy, born from an overwhelm of depressing ecological news, lifts.
Now, to liberate that macadamia fretting in a pot at my back door…