Saturday, 5 March 2011

More Than Skin Deep


Antonio Vivaldi: prolific Italian composer famous for The Four Seasons 

If Antonio Vivaldi had been a wine grower, I wonder if we’d have ended up with a very different Four Seasons. Might we have had musical evocations of leaf-fall, bud-burst and harvest, for instance, rather than spring, summer, autumn and winter?


Or if he'd been a Yolngu man in north-east Arnhem Land, might we have had The Six Seasons? For Yolngu, concepts like spring and winter make no sense. Instead they have built a six season calendar around local weather, food, and seasonal activities.
For instance early March is Waltjarnmirri. It’s the wet season proper, when flooding restricts travel, and people are concentrated around their camps. They will look forward to late March, when it will be Mirdawarr. By then hunting and fishing outings can begin, and bush vegetables will become plentiful again.
Wherever we live there are regular natural patterns that signal changes in the year. Some of these seasonal changes may be obvious, but others are more subtle, requiring a long and attentive familiarity with a home range.
After a mere 25 years in this place, I’m still a new-comer. But I am starting to notice some very particular seasonal patterns.
Take our local silver peppermint (Eucalyptus tenuiramis) for instance. Visit at most times of the year and you’ll find a prudish tree, grey-trunked, slim, blotchy and easy to overlook. Visit in late summer/early autumn and you’ll happen upon a different creature altogether. Much of the dowdy bark is gone, piled around its feet like clothes discarded in passion. 


A Eucalyptus tenuiramis with recently-shed bark, South Hobart, Tasmania 
Instead this Clark Kent of trees now stands proud and glowing in the fickle forest sun, trunk and boughs alluringly smooth and creamy gold. En masse tenuiramis trunks can light the forest like candlesticks.
During today’s walk I notice that the bark shedding is incomplete on some trees. Giving in to a child-like impulse I pull on one of the skeins dangling from a youthful tree. The grey, dead bark peels up the tree with a small but satisfying crackle. I tear free a ribbon of bark perhaps 3 metres long and examine this source of the tree’s once dowdy looks.
Free of its coat, the trunk is a luminous wonder. It will hold these golden good looks perhaps until the Yolngu are beginning to burn Arnhem Land’s dried grasses and woodlands: around May in our calendar.

Eucalyptus tenuiramis
 woodland during early autumn, South Hobart, Tasmania
Regardless I will keep visiting these Tenuiramis woodlands, and will keep finding their beauty, even when the cold winds force them to again don dull protective coats. Beauty is never out of season. And nor is it skin deep.


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