It has been very quiet here recently, partly as our remaining seedlings seem to have gone into a sort of trance, not getting bigger or smaller, just waiting for spring, those of them that have even sprouted (I on the other hand am dreading spring, or at least what comes after); and partly because I’ve spent another couple of weeks in the Blue Mountains, where it still gets misty and where I go to write. I’ve been struggling for ages with an increasingly odd and interior book about, or at least partly about, anaesthesia. It’s non-fiction and was meant to be a journalistic exploration. Instead it seems to have morphed into something far more subterranean and personal – an exploration of and wondering about unconsciousness – chemical and psychological – and the interrupted self. Or something. I realise this has nothing to do with planting trees – except that of course in some ways it does. All those lessons about waiting without expectation, about nurture, about simply putting in time and hoping something will grow…
Earlier this week, at short notice, and after some watering and pruning and a little stroking of leaves, I put into three polystyrene boxes: 71 grey box, 18 Victorian blue gums, three red stringybarks, two manna gums, and nine messmates, which I then left as instructed on our front porch. The next morning they were gone, 103 seedlings. Off to be planted in the wilds of Pyalong West. Out in the real world. We still have about two and half boxes of smaller seedlings or seeds in the back garden, but our lush little forest has gone. I would have taken a photo except that I broke the camera (or at least it went into a karmic seizure) after a traffic altercation in Tasmania (the less said the better) earlier this year. So, no photos, and no goodbyes to speak of. And it feels oddly empty.
Really, there should have been a lot more of them, but apparently everyone’s been having trouble this year, and last. Too hot. Too dry. Too erratic. I’d like to think that some of them will one day grow into very large trees. And I do feel quite proud to have got them this far. I was thinking today, as I tend to, about what a bad blogger I’ve been, and what a bad planter of trees (etc. etc.) and then I thought, good god woman, give yourself a break – you may not plant a tree every day, but you plant a lot more than you used to! And I also thought about how I am the sort of person who sets myself hard tasks and then makes them infinitely harder by berating myself for not having achieved them. Some days I feel that all I am doing is ticking off a great to-do list that I add to endlessly, and for which I rarely thank or congratulate myself. And because I now understand that this is not only ineffective but ungentle, I am trying to change the way I am with things and with myself. But the strange thing about all those seedlings was that although they started off as another task (and some days remained so) some days I would be standing out there in the cold, gently drizzling each plant tube with water from the portable sprayer we got for $8 from Bunnings, and all of a sudden I would find myself in a sort of trance, almost ecstatic. Full of love.
In the middle of all of the digging and planting and failed planting, I have been forgetting to write about the tree project. Outside our back window we now have a small forest.
Remember the grey box? Eucalyptus microcarpa (leaves like tiny hearts). We now have more than 80 seedlings, most of them looking healthy (though we do frequent battle with the dread powdery mildew, which we fought first with milk and water and then with potion from Bunnings which seems to hold it at bay). When they are big they will look like this:
Then we have 25 Victorian blue gum (euc. globulus bicostata) – only half a box, who knows why, but almost all lush, which should one day look like these – though this lot are in the Blue Mountains 36 years ago, so probably a different sub-species (trees, not hikers):
Some of the others have been less successful: 11 messmate; only two (*!?) manna gum; and of course not a single long-leaf box (euc goniocalyx) after the terrible events of February 24 of which we shall not speak. There doesn’t seem to be any particular logic to it (except of course the terrible events etc..).
On the other hand, we have a full box (48 tubes) full of tiny red stringybark, which now look like baby cress, but should one day look like this:
Which is to say, very big indeed.
Finally there are two boxes of peppermint gums (euc dives), planted last month. The first shoots are just coming through now.
Well that feels pretty good!
Here’s me at the park planting a tree (on what turned out to be the old tip).
Sadly, when I went back a few days later this particular seedling had been dug or pulled up and was very dead. But the other two were still looking quite perky. I am fighting, or at least largely ignoring, feelings of futility. And I am not nearly as prolific as I’d imagined I’d be. But in the end I’ll probably just keep sticking trees in the ground and who knows what then? If I ever have my own house again, with a garden, I want a fig tree and a mulberry tree and a locquat tree in the front. And out the back, eucalypts, which are surely the most languid and beautiful of all trees, and move as if they are under water.
And here I am with Finn.
Today my lovely friend Kevin came over for lunch. He left about nine hours later, having first helped me set up my new laptop and transfer all the data across from the old one (while trying nobly to explain it all to me in sentences simple enough that I didn’t glaze over…), and having then accompanied Finn and I and the dog, Boots, down to the Merri Creek to plant some trees! Three of them. Which we carried down in a green supermarket bag, with a small trowel and a bottle of water and some disintegrating gardening gloves, to a patch of mulched but empty looking garden bed, where I proceeded to dig. Or to try to dig, though it quickly became clear why there were no other trees in the area. The soil was thick with rubble, which my cheap trowel kept bouncing off. After I’d prodded and jabbed for a while I got an edge in under something and soon after unearthed a bit of a car (something to do with the brake, said Kevin), and then some crockery and a lot of broken glass. We were digging in an old tip!
After a bit I gave up there and tried another spot, with much the same result, but with Finn and then Kevin’s help we made a reasonable sized hole and poured in water and added a tree. We did the same thing a couple of metres on (Boots all the time yapping hysterically, as only a poodle-cross who hasn’t been walked for days can do…). Poor little trees – i don’t know what sort of life they’ll have there, but at least they’re unlikely to get mown over by the council guys, as happenned to the surviving two of the three I put in the nature strip near home…
The third I put in along the side of the bike track as we headed back towards the car and tucked in as it began to get dark.
To be honest I don’t know that any of them will survive. And at least half of me wonders if the whole thing isn’t pointless. And yet there we were, at the end of the day, with the yapping dog and the reedy creek and my son bent over putting name tags into the ground next to each tree. And perhaps that was enough.
Soft grey days, moist air. Time for planting.
I keep thinking of one of my favourite lines, which is from Rudyard Kipling’s Just So stories, which my dad used to read me. It’s from a story called, I think, The Elephant’s Child, and in it the young elephant goes to seek advice from the crocodile, who lives in…
the great grey green greasy Limpopo river, all set about by fever trees.
I love that line.
Tomorrow I will go to the banks of the small grey green occasionally greasy Merri Creek, where I will put some seedlings in the ground.
Also, thank-you to Sophie Cunningham, who took the gorgeous photo in my header of a river redgum.
Many years ago, the first time I went to see a counsellor, she listened for some time and then asked, “Are you, by any chance, Catholic?”
“No,” I replied.
“No,” I said again (I could see now where she was going). “Just guilty.”
Which is a drawn out way of saying I have been feeling very shitty for not having written for so long. And of course the shittier I felt, the less I felt like writing. And so on. And then of course I thought I’d wait until I’d done something really good so that I could write about it (maybe I am Catholic…). But instead, I let everything slide. Meanwhile, my poor plants (the ones I bought at the nursery and didn’t get around to planting before going on holidays) started going brown on the leaves, either from too much water or too little, and the worse they looked, the less i could look at them, and the more I didn’t plant them, and after a while I just wanted them all to die so I could chuck them out and forget about the whole thing.
I’d like to be able to say I’ve since gone out and planted them all, or even one, but I haven’t. They’re still sitting there looking wan, and probably pot-bound. And I’m still too scared to check in case I’ve left it too late. But it has made me think about how easy it is to let things slide – or rather, how hard it is to stop the slide once it has begun. Because of course that means having to admit to yourself what you have done.
And that made me think too about how easy it is to judge other people for what they have and haven’t done. I won’t go on, as I know this is threatening to become an episode of The Waltons. But I plan to have a proper look at them on the weekend and either plant them or put them out of their (my) misery.
In the meantime, we have planted more seeds (red stringybark I think) and are busily spraying our Tree Project seedlings with a milk and water solution to fend off the mildew. And the two seedlings I planted in the nature strip at the end of our street are still alive – though someone has stolen their stakes, and I have a bad feeling they might disappear the next time the strip gets mowed.