By Kirsten Coates
On my nature strip stands a 160 year old tree. I often wonder what this tree has seen, who lives in it and what will become of it. As it is an English Oak tree, I know it has only been here since European settlement and I wonder what changes it has seen in the surrounding landscape over that period of time. It is a huge, solid, imposing tree that has a canopy as wide as the width of my house. I have been digging in my garden over 20 metres from the trunk and hit roots the size of my arm that I know are connected to the oak. I am frequently in awe of this tree and fearful during storms that one of its massive limbs will fall and crush my car. But more than admiring its age, its size or its imposing presence, it’s the beauty of the tree that captures my heart and imagination.
I am not a botanist or an ecologist, but I am an artist and I look at nature not with a scientific brain but with an artistic brain. I see shape and form and colour and texture. I imagine personality, emotion and cognition in animate objects that aren’t human. I touch and talk to trees as if they are listening. I have favourite trees and trees that frustrate me. When the nearby oak cycles through leaf litter, acorn attacks, seed pod shedding and cicada harbouring it reminds me that life goes on and on and there is nothing I can do to change it.
All through our town and surrounding area there are beautiful trees. In the hills behind our house a grove of special eucalypts produce giant gum leaves up to 60cm long, tapering to a rounded end like the elegant fingers of a concert pianist. On the local golf course are stands of ancient eucalypts with smooth white bark that stand like statues of Zeus.
Leaves, like feathers and snowflakes, are all beautiful and unique. Compare any two leaves and one sees amazing patterns and colours reflecting age, life experience and mortality.
When we lose any tree we not only loose habitat and history but we also lose beauty and a tangible reminder of the awesomeness of the planet.