Becoming one with nature and neighbours
It was a warmer than normal spring of 1977, when Rose, the inquisitive but reclusive girl from next door, was peeping through a hole in Harvey’s fence. She noticed Harvey in his back yard watering a very large and somewhat tired looking gum tree. Rose looked further up the tree and noticed many dead branches; blackened from the tree shutting down limbs to preserve moisture and survive. With such little water pressure, it seemed a pointless exercise, she thought to herself. Just then, Harvey started to examine the tree very closely, digging around the roots and inspecting some fallen bark. Rose reflected on what happened,
“This could be either an examination from a half crazed lunatic, or perhaps that of an observant naturalist, who is very aware of the tree’s fragile situation.” She paused, then whispered to herself,
“Maybe his mind is so inquisitive and in tune with nature that he is searching for a remedy to assist this dying old gum tree.”
These, were qualities that Rose admired in a person; she wanted desperately to find out exactly what he was doing.
“This is one of the few significant river red gums planted in our district by pioneers during the great floods of 1851, but now is struggling after a decade of drought.” Quietly she peeled back a loose sheet of corrugated fencing iron and crept through the densely planted garden to a row of thick apple trees near the edge of Harvey’s back lawn. Harvey still did not notice her, as he was too preoccupied; listening intently to the grand old Eucalypt tree. With his ear pressed firmly against the sun-parched bark, with his arms outstretched, embracing less than a third of the diameter of this majestic, but wilting tree. Rose asked herself,
“What is he thinking? Has he gone completely mad?”
With her body well hidden in Mrs Stewarts heavily laden apple tree, she thought she spotted a tear rolling down his cheek; then she froze, listening intently to her neighbour as he began to talk to the tree.
“Why? Why? Why?” He whispered in a broken voice,
“You can’t be dying! You are the king of our neighbourhood; you can’t leave this world yet!”
Then Harvey sat back and thought for a moment, looked up and started shaking his head sideways with disappointment.
“Where have all your leaves gone?” He looked at many bare black branches.
Again, he spoke out in a louder voice…
Where have all your leaves gone?
Where are all the leaves, as I gaze upon this tree?
Twisted branches on the ground, no sadder sight for me.
Once a tall majestic eucalypt, full of lush green leaves,
one too many dry spells, means your end is near indeed.
Long since our creek ran full; now, not even just a trickle,
weathered roots and dryer leaves, results in matter brittle.
Your armour coat of pink bark, is stripped back to the bone,
exposed skin bared for all to see, seems dryer than a stone.
I touch your flesh; I feel your pain; no comfort can I give,
precious water from my hose, means first my plants must live!
Another day of forty-two degrees; and that’s under the shade!
relentless heat and soon to rest, this old tree shall be laid!
A gentle breeze upon my face, some relief I hope for all,
but all it does is drop more leaves, and faraway they fall.
One hundred years of growing, invincible I thought,
fragile, our environment; at schools we must be taught!
Let’s stop this senseless slaying, and focus on what’s right,
without water for our trees and parks, their end is sure in sight.
Rose was in awe of what she had just witnessed. Still hidden by the dense apple tree hedge, she observed his every move and listened to every word of his impromptu prose. Harvey was still unaware of her presence. It was not long before she realised that Harvey was losing an old mate. This once magnificent red gum tree had such an influence over his childhood. She remembered the laughter that once echoed from the top of this tree. An imposing tree house sat high in the junction of all the main branches; it was the most magnificent tree house in all of Illawonga. As a small child, Rose would often peek out from her bedroom window late at night. She would see a small flickering light coming from the tree house, she remembered Harvey’s fascination with the hundreds of insects attracted by the light; and how he giggled and laughed aloud from the tickling on his face. Often he would fall asleep amongst a swarm of bugs. Rose remembered with a smile, a then ten-year-old boy arriving at class covered in mosquito bites. The other children teased him, since he looked as if he carried some sort of weird skin disease.
Today, Rose saw a very different Harvey from the person she remembered in previous years. His poetry and love of nature touched deep in her heart.
Meanwhile, Harvey crouched down next to the tree. Rose, without thinking, of the repercussions, spoke out in clear sincere voice,
“Thank you, you have touched my heart!”
Harvey bounced back from the tree, startled and still staring at the enormous dry trunk. He was unaware of his neighbour’s presence, as Rose spoke out again,
“That’s beautiful, what you said is beautiful.”
Harvey looked up at his old tree, shaking with excitement,
“You! . . . You . . . You can speak?” He stuttered as he crawled back on his hands and knees to the base of the tall gum tree, still unaware that Rose was perched in the apple tree hedge. Tentatively, he touched the dry skin of the tree,
“Can you really talk?” he whispered.
He pressed his ear against the trunk with his eyes shut; again waiting to hear more words from the tree.
“Trees don’t talk, silly!” A voice exclaimed, as she poked her head out of the apple hedge, the same moment Harvey opened his eyes. Frightened and shocked by the head, Harvey leapt backwards again, this time awkwardly tripping and falling into the Goldfish pond, with his bottom first. Rose laughed and giggled to herself, then crawled out on her hands and knees towards a wet and speechless Harvey. He was spreadeagled upside down in the fishpond. Rose extended her arm and quietly asked,
“May I give you a hand?” With an embarrassed sigh, he accepted her hand and somewhat uncomfortably rose up from the pond as if like an old boot covered in seaweed on the end of a fishing line. Harvey looked back at the tree, then looked at himself, then began giggling. Rose joined in and together they laughed until theirs sides hurt so much they began gasping for air.
“I loved your poem about the old tree Harvey; I thought it was both sad and beautiful, in a strange kind of way.”
“Thank you Rose, no one ever took notice before: especially not from mum’s apple tree!” Rose giggled again as Harvey continued,
“I guess it’s just my way of connecting with nature. Especially when I feel emotional, I tend to speak in rhymes and riddles. It’s a pity I couldn’t put it to better use!”
“Maybe one day you will Harvey, maybe it’s your destiny!”
“Perhaps rose, but sadly, the birds and bees don’t pay to be in the audience.”
Harvey suddenly realised what he said and started to feel embarrassed mentioning the birds and Bees thing in front of a girl.
“Err, I mean nature, I didn’t want to talk about birds and bees with you, at least not now anyway.” Rose just laughed.
Harvey grew more embarrassed, as he muttered to himself,
“What on earth was I thinking? How will I ever face Mother’s apple strudel without thinking of Rose and the birds and bees?”
“Well Harvey, it’s been informative and lots of fun. Goodbye for now, there is only so much laughter I can take for one day.”
Continued: Find chapter 8