Tears for the Liquid Amber.

I live in a duplex which is tucked away behind a big old house. You can’t see my place from the road and when I give directions to people I usually say

“There is a really big tree at the top of my battle-ax driveway. It’s huge, it’s the big one at the bottom of the hill you can’t miss it… park near there.”

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Liquidambar styraciflua – the American Sweetgum.

I am close to the city centre, in an older part of town. Acre blocks that once accommodated grand homes have been divided and conquered by three storey unit blocks, villas and town houses that characterise urban living. Stands of established trees line the roads. Gum trees, jacarandas, Illawarra flame trees and a few liquid ambers jostle for their place in the sun and suck up the scarce water in this dry Spring.

My “landmark” tree is in the garden of a house that was built in the late 1870’s. It is not a native Australian species so it’s likely to be the same age as the house; around 150 years old. Three people could barely make their arms stretch around its girth and it towers above the telegraph poles by at least another half-pole height.

Last week a hand-written note appeared in my letter box…

Letter

Yes, with much regret… but it is required.

The tree crowds the house and low sweeping branches shroud it in darkness all year. The curious roots are lifting the house off its piers and they clog the drains, shattering and choking the pipes of the surrounding properties in their search for water. My duplex neighbour built a ramp so we could get out of our shared driveway because the pavement had lifted a full 20cm requiring heavy footed acceleration to get out onto the road and catapulted us dangerously into the path of unwary pedestrians.  Every autumn, it drops bazillions of russet and yellow tree-stars and spiky green seed pods.

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“Bloody tree” I would shout silently as hours of my precious weekend were filled sweeping its dropped clothes. I’d curse it and its deciduous-ity every time my green waste bin was too full for another load.

I know it must go. I know it will only continue to cause damage to the house in front. I understand all that but I still feel like an accomplice in a murder.  I stare up into the dense green canopy that only six weeks ago was nothing but bare sticks and marvel at the speed at which the green buds have developed into soft bright leaves, miraculously photosynthesising away without so much as a whir. The endothermic sink to all the exothermic reactions which go on around it. The beautiful, majestic giant has been faithfully pumping oxygen into our air for one and a half centuries. It has survived droughts, flooding rain, industrial pollution and developers.

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If you have a spirit dear Tree, I hope you understand that you have grown too big for this small place. You are a danger. You should have been planted in a wild open forest somewhere in Europe. You are not from here but were carried over the seas. You found a home and thrived, perhaps planted by an English wife trying to make Wollongong more like a fairy meadow with a showy display of autumn colours. I doubt it ever got cold enough here to allow you to become spectacularly red and show your true colours. (Like these ones from Bright in Victoria)

Your bare wintery limbs burst forth with buds and marked our Australian seasons in a way not matched by the eucalypts. They don’t change, their leaves hanging limp and dull olive, all year-round, the seasons marked by the roar of cicadas and not by the fall of leaves in June or the greening of fresh buds in late September.

I wonder how many children tried to climb you as you grew? How many picnickers did you shade before your big block was subdivided into smaller and smaller plots? Are there any pets buried beneath your wide spread boughs?

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Will you feel the chain saw as it removes your limbs one by one? Will you feel the mulcher ripping you into nothing but sawdust?

I hope not. I am truly sorry if you do and I hope I do not hear you scream in pain in my dreams. I feel for you.

Thank you tree.

Thank you for greening my neighbourhood.

Thank you for making oxygen every day.

Thank you for being a home to countless birds, bugs and grubs.

Thank you for being beautiful.

Goodbye sweet tree.

 

 

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