Friday, 20 February 2009

Heartwood

A dictionary definition says this is ' the older, non living central wood of a tree or woody plant, usually darker and harder than the younger sapwood. It is also called duramen. '
You don't need to be much of a language specialist to see the way heartwood can be understood to convey age and strength, as well as being something close to the heart of Man.
Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised then, by all the comments generated by the coming demise of my Eucalyptus tree. I sympathise with everyone who has had to say farewell to their own trees at some point, for whatever reason.

The BBC 2 programme about cassowaries last evening only served to highlight how vital trees are to much of life on Earth. With a large part of their natural habitat destroyed by a cyclone, these huge birds may be facing extinction. The Australian rain forest fruits supply them with food, and the birds in turn help disperse the seeds far and wide in their droppings, thus ensuring the continuation of many tree species. A tit for tat arrangement. Scientists are currently trying to determine exactly how many cassowaries survived the cyclone and its subsequent mayhem caused by not enough rain forest left to sustain the birds where they are at present.

With trees as a subject hovering around my mind, I remembered some particularly vivid images I saw back in the '80's. In this part of the country the winds mostly let us off lightly, with only occasional demonstrations of their power. Thanks to the computer having a better memory for dates than I have, I pinpointed this to the night of 15-16 October 1987. This computer 'brain' also told me it was the worst storm in the South since 1703, killing 18 in England and 4 in France, which had also been hit. Apparently, the air pressure was equivalent to a category 3 hurricane, with wind speeds equal to a category 1 - but for some obscure reason beyond my comprehension, it could not be called a hurricane. What's in a name, I ask myself?!

Because of the wind direction compared to the position of the house I lived in then, I actually slept the night away peacefully, untroubled by the howling wind or its games of toss the roofs/chimney/trees...

Next morning, the widespread damage was evident. But the most vivid picture only hit me when I walked into town along the main road. Large, mature trees lined the pavement on one side, and had provided shelter from hot summer sun or driving winter rain for many long years. I was astonished to find one totally uprooted tree still in the process of being demolished. Luckily, it hadn't fallen across either road or pavement, but had ended up lying on the grass verge. But the size of the root ball was what amazed me; now it stood at ninety degrees to the horizontal, I could see it was at least five or six feet side to side. And wind had blown it over as though it was no more than a matchstick. How small and weak we all are, compared to the power of natural forces.

Surgery

I watched a bulldozer using its claw
to worry matted tree roots,
like a bull terrier worrying a rat.

The tree shuddered horribly
the length of its being.

Then the sickening burr
of chainsaws rent the air,
as their blades cut
the once living wood,
sending sweet smelling sawdust
spraying in golden arcs
reminiscent of blood spurting
beneath a surgeon's knife.

Four arms
could not have encircled its girth
yet the tree had been uprooted
by invisible currents of turbulent air;
air full of oxygen synthesised
by a lifetime's leaves.

13 comments:

  1. Nice blog...
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  2. Lovely. And wouldn't heartwood make a great title and/or poem?

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  3. What struck me were the possible associations between heartwood and duramen. Very suggestive, don't you think, when you put them together?

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  4. The image of the rootball is striking, of course, because we often think that we're firmly planted, but aren't. Nice writing, as usual.

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  5. Ah bless you Jinksy....you're a tree hugger alright, aren't you? :)))

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  6. You paint such a great word picture. I once saw a storm on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia (where two major chapters of my novel Vegemite Vindaloo are set) bend a young two-metre tree double, so that the tip touched the ground!

    Am about to answer your question/ comment on my blog - gimme literally five minutes.

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  7. At times nature is as bad as man. Storms uproot trees and ruin habitat. Lightning cause fire and wins fan it. Old mother nature is not so motherly.
    Another great poem.

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  8. Jinski, the cassowaries they live where i used to up in Mission Beach!!! I saw them all the time...we have road signs that say slow down Cassowary Crossing! They are in such a delicate balance of survival and have been for many years now...as the area becomes more populated and more roads are put in, it eats into their 'green corridors' the areas they use to criss cross the rainforest....so many get hit and killed by traffic let alone having to contend with nature and its fury!
    Great poem :)
    xxsm

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  9. we don't have hurricanes in England, although I can recall a tornado in Birmingham of all places a couple of years ago...

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  10. THAT was really poignant, Jinksy. Sad and a little horrific. I feel for trees.

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  11. Mine was a Pecan tree who's image remained in the air for minutes after it had fallen...really, you could still it's outline. It had stood there for nearly a hundred years and one day it simply said, I'm tired, I think I'll take a wee nap...and over it went. I cried buckets that day. I do love trees...and I loved this post. Congratulations on Post of the Day Contender!
    Sandi

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