Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A tree falls in a forest

They didn't hear it fall - though perhaps something did - a yellow robin, or a white-cheeked honey eater, or a wallaby.

It's a huge old sally wattle - not long-lived anyway, and with its fall it takes a couple of other trees with it, trees they had planted. They decide not to cut up the trunk, or clear it away from the path. In fact, it's now the nicest part of the rainforest they'd spent almost 25 years working on - a focal point. Its trunk has scores of tiny birds-nest ferns growing on it, and fungi, and in time it will rot away and enrich the soil. The gap in the canopy will allow other trees to flourish. This is as it should be.

It's like a child leaving home. The rainforest is grown-up at last. It's first natural felling.


God-like, and rather presumptuously, we sometimes think we created this little rainforest, but really all we did was work around what was there - a foam bark, some kamalas ... though we did plant hundreds of trees we either propagated ourselves, or bought. Seed collected from the foam bark that grew here, and black bean seed from trees found along the creek. In time, they seeded themselves, thickening everything up nicely.

There's a bunya nut pine or two, grown from a cone from a tree further up the road at Cawongla, whose enormous seeds were brought back a century ago, at least, by Aboriginal tribes who journeyed to the Bunya Mountains in Queensland for the bunya nut feasts, coming back as fat as butter.

There's a blue quandong, and a Moreton Bay fig, and callicoma, and walking-stick palms, and crows ash ... and ...and ...and

A labour of love

That's what it was. Purely and simply. Because we love trees, and the land I only ever considered we were looking after. Because we wanted to put it back to a semblance of how it once was. Hours spent clearing lantana, and digging up and pulling down and brush-cutting madeira vine, but mainly crouching down with a couple of buckets pulling the weeds up out of the ground - hours at a time, meditatively. The zen of clearing madeira vine.

Madeira vine

You have your own heading. I should say,    !!!!MADEIRA VINE !!!!

This weed is truly a curse. Without it, and its friend balloon vine, regenerating a rainforest would be a doddle. Madeira vine smothers and kills; each plant produces hundreds - thousands!- of  tubers that fall to the ground and stay viable for years, each of which send up its own little innocent shoot that grows into a raging growth, cutting out the light from trees. The tubers are so indestructible they must be burnt.


And yet we've managed to rescue trees from it. We found one tree, many metres tall, that had but one little branch and a single leaf clinging to it. That tree (whose name we don't know) is now flourishing and healthy.

The Nicholsons

Remember that the attic is a bookish one. I want to bring into it a series of brilliant books that were our Bible when we did our planting. They are called Australian Rainforest Plants, and there are 6 of them,  published by the authors Hugh and Nan Nicholson.

They're such simple, beautiful little books, and have done so much in making people aware, appreciative and educated about rainforest plants. With a beautiful photograph of each plants, there is a graceful and informative description, and how it may be used in the garden.

Mallotus philippensis

Red Kamala

In India a golden-red dye for silk is made from the powder covering these fruits. Red Kamala is widespread through Asia and New Guinea and from north Queensland south to the Hunter River in New South Wales. It is a very common tree growing to about 10m and is most useful for regenerating abused ex-rainforest land, often unfortunately in competition with the introduced Camphor Laurel. Brilliant red and blue bugs often inhabit the foliage but do little harm to the tree.
In the garden: It is not a remarkably handsome tree and is rarely seen in cultivation. However it could be grown more often for reforestation purposes as it is very tough in full sun and in depleted soil. For a pioneer tree its seed is remarkably short-lived and it is difficult to find trees with good seed. It should be sown when very fresh.
Family: Euphorbiaceae
Australian Rainforest Plants, Nan and Hugh Nicholson

We have countless Red Kamalas growing all over our place - all naturally there, all self-sown. They aren't very attractive, but their red seeds are decorative - and I've seen huge clusters of the little red and blue bugs!

Sleepless nights

Sometimes I wonder what will happen to our rainforest when we leave here (and we have decided to move on to new adventures). Although it's all grown-up it's not really able to look after itself. If not kept in check, weeds like lantana and balloon vine, but especially madeira vine (hello again!) could smother and choke it.

I don't know if people will come who value it as we do - or even notice it. (If no one's noticing it, will it still exist?) When people buy houses these days, even houses in the country, they seem obsessed with bathrooms and kitchens, but not a beautiful little rainforest pocket.

Ah, I know you will say that I should be optimistic. But if you don't know a rainforest and understand it, and know what it is you're looking at, can you be expected to value it and care for it?

As a writer once said,

A forest is so intricate it takes intimacy with it to know how to look at the maze of plants entwined like serpents: twisted, coiled, sinuous, insinuating. A rainforest is artful and curled and wild. It is the wildness I love most of all. It takes time to know it and love it, to see properly what it is.

Joanne Horniman, A Charm of Powerful Trouble, 2002

Thursday, April 11, 2013

So I am with them, in London

We castigate ourselves when we forget things. It must be some failing in us, or worse, a premonition of dementia.

But imagine if we were to remember every single thing in our lives. That way madness lies. We were meant to forget. Some things drop out of our minds to make room for others - even though sometimes we remember trivial things and forget stuff that seems more important.

Our memories are different from those of our friends. One of mine swears I went with him to THE big, famous, anti-aparteid demonstration at Coogee oval during the 1971 Springbok tour.  But I don't think I was there, though I can't be sure. I've seen footage of it - and sometimes I think I remember it - but they may be false memories. But why would I block out such a big thing?  - it looked violent and scary.  Maybe I've blocked it out because of that. Maybe my friend is mistaken, and he was there with someone else ...

And so to books. I forget most of what I read. The only books I remember really well are ones I've read many times - such as Jack Kerouac, or the early novels of Margaret Drabble.

I even forget the books I've written. I'd be hard-pressed to name the minor characters in some. It all flows away.

What I do remember of what I read is a) whether I liked the book and b) why I liked it, in a broad sense - for the style, or the atmosphere, or a memorable character. Plots I'm hopeless at, either reading or writing 'em.

There's a book by Elizabeth Bowen I must have read about 20 years ago. I went through a real binge of reading her, and owned most of her novels at some time - still own most. But not this one, until now.

I read it as a library copy, and all I remember of it is a few sentences. What I thought might be it turned up as a second hand copy yesterday, and I wondered, Is this the one?

I looked at the back blurb:

...  when sixteen-year-old Portia comes to live with her wealthy half-brother and his wife, Anna, in London during the thirties ...

This was the one!

I found the bit I remembered, a few pages in, just where I thought I'd find it.

 Portia keeps a diary, and Anna has found it and read it. She talks to a friend, who is a writer, about it:

'Tell me, [he says] do you remember the first sentence of all?'
'Indeed I do,' Anna said. '"So I am with them, in London".'
'With a comma after the "them"? ... The comma is good; that's style ... I should have liked to have seen it, I must say.'

Elizabeth Bowen, The Death of the Heart

A sixteen-year-old girl with a diary. A girl who can write with style, who knows where to put a comma, for effect.

I am thankful for my forgetfulness. I am going to read this book all over again, with great enjoyment.