Sunday 21 August 2011

Slow Dance Into Spring

Swaying or dancing? Tenuiramis woodland in South Hobart

Have we been abandoned by the roaring forties? That fastidious sweeper of Tasmania’s weather threshold; that dependable bringer of showers and sunshine in equal measure, seems to have left us in the lumbering grip of moody, blunt-fingered low pressure troughs. Careless heavy rains, doldrum drear winds, and a long run of dreich* weather have been the result.

Whatever the weather, getting out is still essential, even if walking our dog in the bush has become a gum-boot affair. This morning everything is still wet. The background shush of the rivulet joins with the tickle of water in a newly eroded gully. As we climb the hill behind our house, the usually hard, dry soil,  where it’s not just plain muddy, has an unaccustomed give to it.

There is a feel of change in the air: sunshine for a start, and sunshine with warmth in it. But there are other sights and sounds of change too. The pee-paw of spotted pardalotes and the chip and chatter of other birds also signal the shift.

We find the season’s first orchids, greenhoods and spider orchids, thriving on the wet winter conditions. Wildflowers too are blossoming, from the whites and reds of epachrids to the creams and yellows of acacias and the deep gold of pultenaeas.

Signs of spring in our local bush

In places, however, water has turned from giver to destroyer. The sheer volume of winter rain – in concert with inept road drainage upstream – has stripped out great gobbets of topsoil and created open-cuts in the slopes. We climb steeply towards the head of the gully, where a huge dead tree straddles what is becoming a gorge. This survivor of the 1967 bushfires must soon be undermined and fall.

Lower down this new gully a crater has appeared. A garage-sized block of earth has collapsed due to undermining. Fully-grown stringybark trees have dropped into the hole intact. For the moment they live on, shaken and skewed, but alive. Still, given the instability of the soil, their struggle might just be beginning.

This freshly-collapsed block of earth, complete with trees, has been undermined by water.

We wander over to one of our favourite “character” trees, a Eucalyptus tenuiramis we’ve nick-named Lena on account of her near-horizontal angle of growth. Alas Lena too has been hit hard by the wildly wet winter. Already undermined by insect attack, her trunk has fractured near ground level. Instead of hovering above the earth, Lena has fallen fully to ground.

We inspect the tree, and find there are still some connections between the trunk and the rootstock. Her leaves are green and healthy looking too. She may, perhaps, live on in this state for some time. We will keep a regular eye on Lena, although we wonder whether we should rename her Reclina.

"Lena" the gum tree before (left) and after (right) the fall 
Elsewhere there are happier stories among the tenuiramis clan. The habitually dry, shallow soils have taken water deep. The tenuiramis woodlands seem to glow with health. I fancy they are swaying, dancing even: a long, slow dance to the wildly intricate rhythms of the seasons. If they know anything, they know to dance while they may. And what better reason than the stuttering, slow, but inevitable arrival of spring in Tasmania.

* a Scots word for grey and dismal.

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