Somebody once said that a tree can be a thing of beauty or just a big green thing that gets in the way. How true that has seemed in my own life in the past two years or so.
I love trees. That’s one of the delights, for me, of living inland rather than on the coast.
Over the past more than four years, I’ve shared a house here in Canberra – Australia’s “Bush Capital” – with my wife and our two wonderful children and three cats, and more recently with my wife’s mother as our very welcome guest. When we first moved into our home, we were surrounded by trees. Look out of any window in the house, and there was tree staring right back at you.
In fact, there was a screen of trees around our house, trees that were either on our own property or on adjacent properties, through which we had no more than a few glimpses of the thousand metre high hill that overlooks our immediate neighbourhood, Mount Taylor – and no view whatsoever of the hills that were further away in our beautiful valley or, beyond that, the range of mountains far out to the west of the city.
I love our family home. It’s a good quality, well-designed typicallyAussie four-bedroom house, built in the mid-1970s, situated in a quiet cul-de-sac, with a front and back garden that are huge by the standards of the English society I grew up in. In a ‘leafy suburb’ (aren’t they all here in Australia’s Bush Capital?). The only thing it didn’t have that I’d wished it had when my wife bought it was a view to the mountains.
As it happened, it needed only a stroll to the nearby reserve (to the park, that is) at the bottom of our street to get a pretty good view of the mountains; but, it would have been nice if we’d been able to see them from our house.
Still, I was very happy to be here with the people I loved, in a home of our own at last, and thought nothing more of it.
Then, a couple of years ago, a very interesting chain of events started.
Firstly, we had a drought.
During the course of it, we lost two trees at the corner of our front lawn close to the driveway. They died (although killed by weevils, not the drought itself), so we had them removed, and – since the drought had turned what had been our front lawn into a dustbowl – we created a circular gravel drive and some flower beds in its place. Which changed the whole look of the front of our home, very much for the better.
Subsequently, at various intervals, it transpired that other trees were to disappear from our view.
The property across the road from us that was closest to the corner of our street had a wide and very tall gum tree at the front of it that was right in our line of sight to Mount Taylor. That was also killed by weevils and the owners eventually brought in the professionals to take it down and turned it into a stack of mulch.
Then, the owner of the property in the street around the corner from us whose back garden backs on to ours had two trees that had grown up dangerously close to overhead power lines, and, although he could have trimmed them to a safe height, he decided to take them away altogether so that he could build a small gazebo in their place.
On the other side of our back garden, the house next door to us changed owners. The previous owner had been quite a reclusive character and there had been well-established trees and shrubs all around his house, so that it was almost hidden away. The new owner was of an opposite mind. Plus, he had a bobcat and he wasn’t afraid to use it. He ripped out three big trees from the back garden, pruned two more back to next to nothing, removed a couple of smaller trees from the front garden and took all the shrubbery away from the front of the house.
Our next door neighbours on the other side had a very expansive apple tree between their garage and our fence that had grown wildly out of control and was hanging over our garden. There had never been an issue between us about it, it was just an apple tree hanging over the fence, but, one day, they decided it was a danger to their garage roof and cut it down.
In the middle of our back lawn was a big tree that had always seemed to me to have been planted in the wrong place, but I would never have touched it. It died. This time, it was the drought. I took it down myself before it fell down.
There was another tree in our back garden closer to the edge that I’d always thought was ugly, but I wouldn’t have touched that either. It fell down one day after a thunderstorm.
And what was the net result of all this ‘deforestation’?
From the front and right side of my home, I now have a panoramic view of the hill overlooking our neighbourhood that I once had only glimpses of.
To the left side of my home, I have a view clear through to the local reserve that I didn’t have at all before.
From the back of my home, I have a view – shorts strips of it through the gaps in the summer, longer strips of it in the winter – of the hills across the valley and, beyond that, yes, the mountains!
The interesting thing is that this enhancement to my life and to the lives of those people I share my home with required the unknowing cooperation of four other families or individuals who, acting independently of us and of each other, had done only what they wanted to do to improve their own lives.
I hadn’t had to ask anyone to do anything for me. Yet I’d got what I’d wanted.
It’s no wonder, then, that a few days ago, as I was standing on my back porch watching the evening sunlight falling on the distant mountains, I felt a sudden and enormous surge of gratitude to whatever it is that knows so much about what’s going on in my mind and in everyone else’s minds that it could arrange this beautiful experience for me without me having to do anything more than wish for it, once, more than four years ago.