Friday, August 1, 2014

Remember the trees

I've had this post kicking around my head for several months now. It's a combination of all the years of observing the changes to our landscape, and the shared environment with our neighbours. What we all do on our land, and the choices we make in our stewardship, effects everything in our environment. Not a lot of people however, always pay attention to the specific details.

Before I go any further though, I want to share some amazing things I've witnessed with trees. These aren't the living ones, but the ones we've left to add to the habitat once felled.

The story begins...

This Spotted Gum was big, at least 30 metres tall and too close to the house. We spent $400 getting a professional tree lopper to take it down for us and cut it into lengths. That was roughly five to six years ago. It's girth was over a metre wide at the base...


We used its remaining stump as a birdhouse stand, and built a play fort around it. Our daughter used to be just tall enough to slap the top of the stump when it was first cut down, and now it would reach her waist. While my children have grown up around a decaying tree, would you believe this tree still has some life in it?


Or perhaps I should say, the tree has some life still growing on it. When the wet season arrives, the decaying matter on the ground grows all manner of microscopic lifeforms. What we can see without needing a microscope however, is fungi. This fungi can be food for various other creatures, and fungi is what moves nutrients around the under-story, making it available for other plants to take up and grow. So you see, there is still a lot happening around this old bitty.

Marked from the past and present

On the wood, are remnants of the beetle larvae that would live part of their life cycle underneath the bark. This was food for the cockatoos and marsupials while it was living, but it now grows fungi instead, and provides homes for wasps who like to burrow into the wood to carry out their life cycles too. Had we decided to burn this tree, like our neighbours tend to do, we wouldn't have witnessed this amazing second life that plays out around its fallen form.

Dark, organic, soil under the log

There is always evidence of digging around decaying trees. It's either echidnas looking for termites and ants, or other marsupials which like to eat juicy bugs that burrow underneath the logs. When we stop to pay attention to these very ordinary details, we get to witness how nature uses organic matter, and gives it back to other living organisms to prolificate and reproduce.

If I had to replace the organic matter this old tree has produced, by hand, I'd be looking at around a few tonnes. Fifty trips with the trailer perhaps? It would cost more than $400 to replace what this tree has provided in the environment it grew up in and then fell upon. It's still got a lot more organic matter to give as well - its continually producing it.

Synchronised compost piles

We still have chunks of log around the yard, doing their part to help nature along. This is an area which is begging for organic matter, and other people just collect it and burn it because its considered neater. I'm all for having clear tracks and areas which will be used for human activity to take place. But just to have a barren landscape after removing the trees and burning them, its any wonder this region is slowly evolving into a desert.

One of our neighbours hired some earth moving equipment recently, to almost completely denude their property. With their new lunar landscape, they spent many weekends filling our neighbourhood with smoke. Then after all this effort, and what I imagine would have cost a few thousand dollars, they started parking their vehicles next to our shared fence line. For ironically, there were trees growing on our side, which could shade them.

Reaching out

I was more than a little upset with that, not because they got to enjoy the shade, but because they didn't think anything living on their side of the fence, would appreciate the shade either. This summer, the outside temperatures are going to be hotter, thanks to our neighbour's new lunar landscape, and we're already feeling the effects of the wind. What used to be the most protected side of the house, is now blowing dust. Their line of tall trees are gone, so the wind is free to blow through the gullies unhindered, until it hits our house.

Most disturbing of all, is having to witness the kangaroos getting skinnier. I planted extra pigeon pea trees to help them through this normally scarce food period. But what extra I planted was quickly eaten in the first month of winter.

Joey's off mother's milk, searching for vegetation

The knock-on effect of what the neighbour did, by removing all those trees and burning them instead of letting them decay on the surface, is deprive a generation of creatures their food supply and homes. There will be less creatures around for next season, to start the life cycle of nature again. This is how deserts are slowly created. We strategically remove anything of value at a few thousand dollars, and then let the natural systems degrade until we completely expose ourselves too.

It scares me to think I can feel the effects of what one neighbour did on a few acres, compared to what must be happening all over the world on larger chunks of land. Forgetting our responsible stewardship of the land, guarantees a poorer system. I'm not suggesting trees can never be removed, or that fires can never be lit, but if that's all individuals do for land management, while working hard off-site, to pay for the air-conditioning - then it seems like a counterproductive means to an end.

Let them live again

Truly, we won't get any climatic comfort by completely disregarding the environment we already have. There is much talk about carbon and government policies being responsible, but those things we cannot directly control. Reducing our carbon footprint or voting for greener policies, won't necessarily translate into lower National emissions, or a government who will curtail industry from polluting. But regarding trees, shrubs, ground covers and other living creatures in our environment, anyone can effect that today.

Anyone can look at something growing on their land and ask themselves, what is living on it or what is completing its life cycle through it? What if I had to remove that living thing for necessary reasons, and what would I replace it with to return the balance? Can I plant more of it or find something else to compliment it?

When I walk through our property, I see cycles upon cycles, and I'm extremely privileged to bear witness to it. My children's silhouettes are imprinted on this land, along with the baby Joey's. Is there no finer mark of a steward, than to remember these things are never to be set apart? What we do, will always effect something else. So it bears remembering those tall giants - with one life growing and another spent decaying, is for the next generation to begin.

Has your land (no matter how small) spoken to you lately?


  1. thank you for this post Chris, it troubles me all the things that people do and dont think of the consequences, all they see is their goal and be damned with anyone or thing else. These people walk around their whole life with blinkers on. I find myself more and more staying away from people as i find most of them only think of the here and now and what it can give them and not what they should be giving.
    does this make any sense? some times i find i ramble and dont seem to get my point across.

  2. I suspect we can all have our blinkers on at times, so it matters what we choose to be so single minded about. If its about dominion, then we can effect a great deal without realising the consequences of our actions. If its about custodianship however, we tend to observe what's happening around us more and make decisions with other living things in mind.

    Fortunately we have some more thoughtful neighbours on the other side. I think of them as low-impact neighbours. Once their road was put in and house built, they let the rest of their land resume its natural course. They have less work to do maintaining their property now.

    I'm not against human development, but it has to be in partnership with the existing environment, or else every living thing becomes exposed.

    Thanks for commenting.


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