It occurs to me that I still have not posted anything about trees. It is well known that i have a bit of a tree fetish, given that I was raised in place where we have three varieties. Pines, aspens, and cottonwoods. Very nice trees, of course, but still only three. (Okay, there are elms, too, but they are not the most sturdy of trees in such a climate. More power lines are downed in Pueblo over tree branches felled by snowfall than you can imagine.)
Anyway, there don’t seem to be that many species of trees in most areas of Australia, either. This is also a demanding climate. Many of them are thin, feathery things, with water-preserving leathery leaves. There are the lovely tree ferns of course, elegant ancient things–in the Dandenongs, I saw a line of them, all in a neat little row, as if planted by a settler’s wife to line a driveway. In Tasmania, the guide said the aborigines there ate the center of the trees, but only very rarely, because removing the tender center kills the tree.
Which might be three hundred years old. Give or take a few decades.
There are wattles, too, the tree of Australia, which is coming into delicate yellow bloom through out Victoria just now. Also a pleasant variety of trees. In the mountains, I saw mountain ash trees that were over 250 years old and some were 30 meters high (I am sorry not to translate for you into feet, but my brain is kind of tired of the constant conversions–why haven’t we made this transition yet again? It’s really confusing to figure out temperatures, especially). That would be around 90 feet, I think. Very, very tall.
But most of the trees here are forms of eucalyptus, or gum trees, and there are many varieties. They are wonderful trees! The trunks are so artful, some of them smooth and white, shining in the bright light. Others mottled in a dozen shades of spotted gray and white and black. Some of them cast off their outer bark into great piles of shredded curls and tangles, all lying in piles like kindling.
Which is exactly what it becomes in the dreaded bush fires, which burn so fierce and hot that people really do speak the word fire in a way I’ve never heard it spoken. With respect and a bone-deep dread.
Looking at the forest floor, knee deep sometimes in those cast-off curls of long, thinly shredded bark, you can understand it. How hot and fast the fire would burn. The sap of eucalypts is prone to exploding, making it even hotter and more fierce yet.
I couldn’t stop wondering what the biological purpose of the shredding was. It nagged me through our time in Victoria and on to Tasmania, where I found a park ranger with the answer: those trees are shedding that kindling because it is kindling. Because they want the fire to burn. They can stand it. It gets rid of the competing trees and allows the sun-loving eucalypts to grow stronger.
Nature is a miracle.
The other thing about these trees is the ancient hugeness of them. There are no doubt thousands of ancient, enormous trees all over Australia, since the species can live so long, but I didn’t take pictures of all of them. Just these two in Port Arthur, in Tassie, so you can see what I mean.