Saturday 1 September 2012

Somebody Turned on the Lights!

[Silver wattle and eucalypts, near Underwood, Tasmania] 

Sometimes I feel like that goldfish. You know the one: he’s supposed to possess such a minuscule memory that every time he swims round the fishbowl, he is freshly surprised to see a feature – say a water plant – that is actually there every time.

For me it’s the blossoming of the wattle. I shouldn’t be surprised, it happens every spring without fail. Yet somehow my delight and surprise remain as fresh as the first August/September that I witnessed it. And certainly this spring must go down as a stellar one for the flowering of our silver wattle (Acacia dealbata).

The sheer extravagance, the staggering profusion of blossoms –inflorescences if you want to be technical – is hard to credit. One month the trees were standing drab between and beneath the elegant eucalypts, their grey-green foliage graced only by its fern-like appearance. The next they were covered in brilliant bright yellow flowers.

[Silver wattle: blossoming from top to bottom] 

In a good year, if autumn and winter rains have been just right; if spring hasn’t been too windy; and if borers and biters haven’t been too profuse, the blossoms can completely cover a tree. When the trees are widespread, the effect is spectacular. It’s as though somebody has suddenly turned on the lights in the forest.

It was early September, thirty six years ago, that I first witnessed this. Lynne and I were on our honeymoon. It was our first visit to Tasmania (and the rest is history, but that’s another story.) I remember driving over the Sidling, a thickly forested, motion sickness-inducing road near Scottsdale. I also remember braking quite suddenly, and getting out to take in the jaw-dropping scene: a forest full of blooming wattle, the like of which I’d never seen.

Forward to this spring. We are up north, driving through the same country with a daughter and grandchildren in tow. We’re curious to see whether the wattle up north is as amazing as it has been in our valley. I’m also wanting to see if honeymoon-tinted glasses have exaggerated how beautiful the sights and scents of these wattle forests were.

[Blooming young: a silver wattle doesn't take long to bloom]  

A simple drive, in part a distraction for grandchildren, in part a trip down memory lane, turned into a pilgrimage. Road after road, mile after mile, I oohed and ahhed, resisting the urge to stop and photograph everything, but still stretching the patience of the little ones with the number of photo breaks.

[Wattle blossom spreading towards Mt Wellington] 

Back in our valley the slow tide of gold is now past its best, at least in the lower forests. Further up the mountain slopes it is yet to peak. That sounds like a good excuse for a Father’s Day jaunt up the mountain. I’ll try not to be surprised, but I don’t like my chances.

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