Seeing the wood for the trees: a chance for courageous change

Elspeth McLean.
Elspeth McLean.
The same afternoon the last tree came down, I was lining up for a tetanus shot.

The latter was uneventful, if you discount the horror of the locum grabbing the chance to plonk my lockdown lumpiness on the scales and run a measuring tape around the waistland of the Covid kilos.

Returning home with a renewed resolution to do something about that uncomfortable weight gain, I was confronted with the new view of my property.

The hill behind my place, obscured for the 40 years I have lived here by a row of large macrocarpas, including those on the boundary of my property, was suddenly in my face, punctuated by raw jagged stumps and piles of slash. The delicious smell of fresh-cut wood was everywhere.

Although it was a sunny day, my front lawn, which had felt secure and almost cosy, was exposed and cold.

Somehow, it was shocking, even though I had wanted my trees’ removal before their creaking limbs and longevity posed any more problems for me or anyone else. Taking them down was part of a wider programme to remove their peers from the neighbouring farm in preparation for a housing development.

The corner of my section beyond the front lawn was a depressing sight. Some longstanding trees had gone, caught in the crossfire, while others were looking bruised and battered.

Two weeks on, it is still unsettling.

Peering over the edge of the lawn, I find it hard to see beyond the mayhem on my bank. Where my companion can visualise several years’ firewood supply and a future wonderland of native planting, all I can see is a god-awful mess. I know, too, that I will spend days praying for the chainsaw to break down or run out of petrol as my firewood stacking speed struggles to keep up with his chainsaw mania.

It doesn’t help that my habit of storing hard-to-dispose-of rubbish over the tatty lawn fence is now revealed in all its ugliness. Why did I have a collection of dilapidated old garden hoses (an ACC claim waiting to happen when they inevitably fell me with an ankle tackle)?

My gardening sins of neglect are also on show — invasive aluminium plant, out-of-control ivy, and other unwanted creepers left dangling from their mangled hosts.

At the weekend, some of the offspring came out to view the devastation, recalling the days when they would wend their way through The Jungle on my place to The Dirt Factory on the farm where they spent many happy hours mining dirt in the roots of a fallen tree. They thought they could tell where The Dirt Factory was, but, like everything else, it’s changed now.

They made encouraging noises about the benefit to the soil now the macrocarpas were not sucking the life out of it and the extra light my garden would enjoy.

I recognised the sense in what they were saying, but it was small comfort. Bizarre.

Would I have felt so uneasy if this had happened at any other time?

Hunkering down during the lockdown had been a time to revel in the familiar, literally sticking to my knitting. Apologies to those recipients of any unsought and unwanted strange woolly creations which arrived by post — one pair of my mittens, first sent to someone at Dunedin Hospital is still out there somewhere, possibly much to the relief of the former patient.

It was a distraction, of course. Matters of birth and death injected themselves into my lockdown life, along with particular sadness at disconnection from two friends going into care and others coping with all that goes with knowing a disease is shortening their lives.

I pushed down any concern about my work situation. Since I was accustomed to precarious income and about to become a superannuitant, what did I have to complain about?

Perhaps my discombobulation over the trees shows how easy it is for many of us to kid ourselves we are big picture thinkers. We are, until something threatens our back yard.

Coming out of lockdown, we may look at all the broken trees in our lives and long for things to be the way they were, even though the ugly stumps show there is no going back. We want some control, but where do we begin? Can we trust ourselves and our leaders not to squander the chance to make something better?

I have made a start, planting some quick growing native plants along the edge of the lawn in the hope they will soon partially soften the view. If this turns out to be short-sighted or just plain wrong, I hope I will be brave enough to rethink it. Our big picture thinkers must show such courage. It might be exhilarating.

■Elspeth McLean is a Dunedin writer.


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