29 December 2013

Many Christmases ago, when I objected to the built-in obsolescence of a pine Christmas tree, one of our beautiful children gave us a Wollemi pine. It was a tiny little tree with a great big certificate. Its recent discovery, or I should say, its recent entry into our known world, overawed me. Could I keep this precious thing alive? Despite its lack of familiarity with the suburbs and their small gardens, it thrived in a pot. It sat under the jacaranda and grew its ancient leaves (leaves? branches? some other technical term?), the new growth extending from the previous year’s leaf (leaf?) in a bright-green flourish, a new crown of leaves (?) appearing at the top. It moved into a bigger pot, almost annually. The trunk thickened, and it became the happy bearer of baubles and tinsel, spending a week or so inside the house every December.

But when we moved out of the suburban house with the suburban garden and became bi-homal, as one friend describes it, with a flat in Sydney and the house at the farm, the fate of the Wollemi pine became uncertain. Although we continued to celebrate Christmas in Sydney, with our obstinately Sydney-based family, there was no room for a Wollemi pine in the flat. The obstacles were even greater at the farm. We have bushy gullies that might suit a Wollemi pine, but we were unwilling to introduce an alien species into them. We have all sorts of trees near the house, but we don’t want big trees – they’re a bushfire hazard, they drop leaves in the tank, they shade the house in winter. We wavered, week by week, unable to decide. Spring came, unseasonably dry, and it was a bad time to plant anything. Rain came, and we dashed around planting fruit trees and all the summer seeds we’d held off on. Whenever there was a high wind the Wollemi pine fell over in its now-inadequate pot. It was becoming battered, neglected. It entered my dreams. It played on my conscience. It endured. It grew a new crown and I felt less culpable until the day I found a grasshopper finishing off the last of the green shoots.

Yesterday we chose a spot, dug a hole, planted and staked the Wollemi pine. It was a hot day, the spot is quite near the house, and we had to tease out the roots ruthlessly. Today the wind is blowing fiercely, and the shadecloth I wrapped around it seems to bow it down, rather than protect it. I hope this is not a memorial to the Wollemi pine, but the beginning of a story of recovery, of rights wronged and neglect redressed. I’m going to water it again now, and put in stakes for the shadecloth. My remorse won’t let me do any less.