Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Tenacious Tenuiramis

[A silver peppermint tree clings to the edge of a stone quarry in South Hobart]

What a vantage point we have, caught as we are between earth and sky! You might technically call our dwelling place superficial, but taking into account the vastness of the universe, it is an extraordinarily uncommon superficiality.

There are some trees near home that highlight for me this amazing event horizon; this junction of heaven and earth. Both are humble trees, silver peppermints (Eucalyptus tenuiramis). One stands atop an old quarry in Strickland Avenue. Perilously close to the edge, the twin-trunked tree clasps the crag with crooked hands like Tennyson’s eagle moreso than a tree.

Often eucalypts have shallow roots, and certainly lack the tap roots that we associate with many plants. Rather they splay out strong, sometimes buttressed roots that give them a good toe-hold against storms. This particular peppermint stands on mudstone with a very shallow soil overlay. Both rock and regolith are poor sources of nutrient, and highly prone to drying out. So the tree has grown used to the botanical equivalent of thin gruel. And yet it has done far more than eke out an existence.

It has a handsome golden-flecked double bole, each trunk creased and rumpled, stretching and tapering with a slow and crooked patience towards the sky. Its irregular branches, some clean and straight, others arthritic and contorted, seem all well-covered with narrow grey-green leaves.

Here and there past difficulties have produced failed branches, some hollowed out to owl’s-nest perfection; others still pointing in mute accusation at an unblinking sky. The tenacity of tenuiramis is illustrated elsewhere in our local woodland, a place much put upon by fire, feet and mountain bikes.

[A reclining tree? This Eucalyptus tenuiramis has a very unusual growth aspect]

This tenuiramis seems just a sapling in terms of height, although a hard life may have stunted it. It faces up the slope, almost recumbent, as though it's about to succumb to fatal wounds. Yet on closer inspection I can’t help smiling as I see a nyad extracting her feet from a hole, or a dryad frozen in the act of escaping. No, this tree too is thriving, with a good covering of leaves, and a fair chance of weathering the prevailing nor-westers for decades to come.

I find G.K. Chesterton’s fanciful description of a tree very apt here. It is when we consider it as a prodigious wave of the living soil sprawling up to the skies for no reason in particular that we take off our hats. Tenacious tenuiramis, I dips me lid to you!
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