The Tree’s Human

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There’s a big eucalypt growing in the street outside my place. I live on the second floor, like Luka of sacred memory, facing west, so my windows look directly out into its foliage. Its birds and bees. Its nests: currawongs one year, magpies the next. Just about to flower now, with creamy white blossoms bursting from the buds. Then making woody seeds. Last Thursday I was out the front talking to a friend when a fellow he knew stopped and joined the conversation. He was an aborist. I asked him if I should ask the council to trim the tree, as they did the other day to the one outside the building next door. He looked at the tree. It’s a Tallowwood, he said. Eucalyptus microcorys. Then he said, yes, probably, it looks like it has a problem in the crown. I didn’t see it then but I did later. A rather large branch had become detached from the trunk, high up, and fallen into the lower branches. It looked precarious. It looked like it might cause some damage when – not if – it fell to the ground. It could kill someone. It could bring down the wires feeding electricity to my building. It could damage a car. At 8.30 next morning I rang the council. The recently amalgamated Inner West Council, a behemoth that has replaced our local Ashfield Council, of fondest memory. I used to know the ex-Mayor. You could go for a walk around the neighbourhood with him. Not sure if we even have a Mayor any more. Anyway, the woman at the other end of the line took down the details and said she’d pass them on. I was out for the middle part of the day. When I came back, around 3.30, the branch was still poised precariously above the footpath and the road, the service wires. I rang them again. Friday afternoon: what could happen? This is Australia. Nothing much. Second verse, same as the first. Saturday I voted. Not for the clowns who currently run the place, for some other clowns. A fellow called Tom Kat (I kid you not, or only a little: it’s Kiat). Monday, nada. The neighbours on both sides had noticed that Damoclean branch by now and they had rung up too. Nothing happened. Tuesday neither – except they were cleaning the gutters for the first time in months so I went out and spoke to a fellow with a shovel who was clearing the dirt around the tree. As soon as he saw the branch he got on to his phone and called the council. Apparently someone came out later on that day to have a look and pronounced it ‘stable’. Yeah, right. Today’s Wednesday. It’s hot, windy: nor-easters. 32 degrees. There’ll be a southerly change later on tonight. When I came back from my walk I saw the branch had shifted. I rang the State Emergency Services. They have a depot in Haberfield, just over the other side of Parramatta Road. They gave me instant attention. She took my number and, minutes later, a guy called Alex rang up. I told him the story again: I knew it by heart by now. I was watching the branch, out the window, the whole time we were talking. It was moving in the wind. Alex said he’d call the council. Half an hour later, a ute pulled up and a bloke in a fluoro vest got out. He was clearly here about the branch. I turned down the element that was heating the beef bisque I was having, with buttered toast, for lunch and went out to talk to him. He was on the phone. Stop right there, he said. There’s danger. I know, I said. I stopped. He was talking to an aborist and, while we stood there, facing each other, about three metres apart, the branch fell. With a sound like a sigh. Didn’t bring the wires down, didn’t hit a pedestrian, did scrape the side of the florist’s van. Lucy’s. Their son does the markets every morning and leaves his grey Hyundai outside my place. A minor scrape, but still. I heard the bloke say to the aborist: it’s down, don’t worry, see you, and then he hung up. We had a chat and he shook my hand. That was nice. Like I’d done my duty as a citizen. A good outcome, I guess: no-one was hurt. This arvo I went down to the florist to tell the woman there what happened. They’re Chinese. He’s a nice guy but kind of non compos. She runs the business. I guess she’s Lucy. Not a great command of English. Turned out the clean-up guys had come down and asked her to shift the van; but no-one told her it was damaged. She said she couldn’t shift it because her son had the keys and he was elsewhere. I gave her my card. I said: I’m a witness. I said: the council has to pay for the repairs on your van. The bastards. Their chainsaws and their leaf blowers ruined my afternoon. I couldn’t concentrate. I kept thinking about a line from a Tom Waits song. About how the cops always stop for coffee on the way to the scene of the crime. It was a bit like that. They could do the clean-up, quick smart, but they couldn’t avert the disaster. But still. It wasn’t really a disaster. No-one got hurt. The branch is down. I will always remember the moment when it fell between us, me and the bloke, he was called Mike, with a sound much like a sigh. Tallowwood. They can grow to be very large trees indeed. 70 metres high, if the soil beneath is deep enough. The name comes from a greasiness in the wood. Much used for fine work. Cabinet making and so forth. But not such a good suburban tree, because it needs those deep roots to grow tall and who knows what’s underneath us here. The complications of drainage. The underworld. Mostly sand, probably, originally. Black sand. Tallowwood flowers are beloved of apiarists; therefore, of bees. Leaves a koala can eat; if only. Koalas in Summer Hill!? The Latin name, microcorys, small helmet, refers I think to the nuts that will form after the creamy flowers are done. This very year! While I still live here! While I am still alive! I love this tree. I think of it as my tree. But, actually, I belong to it. I’m the tree’s human.

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