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A Tall Tree Teaches Us About Life

Life happens moment by moment

Close-up of a all eucalyptus tree catching sunset glow on its truck.
A tall tree catching the glow of sunset near Evergreen. LIke the tree we had to fell at the bottom of our driveway, this tree holds kookaburras as they call, hides countless insects, and provides holes for parrot nests and marsupials.

This is a tale about a very tall tree and how life happened to it – just like life happens to us.

When we bought this property and named it Evergreen, there was a yate tree (Eucalyptus cornuta) at the bottom of the sloping driveway. It was rooted on a hillside and had a definite lean. Over the next 27 years we watched it grow taller and lean more and more as the weight of it increased. Every little bit more of a lean made it more imperative that it be felled, before it fell on one of us.

Whenever I backed down the driveway and came under the shadow of that yate tree, I knew I had to switch the car into forward-drive as soon as possible – because any moment now the yate could snap its roots and mangle me in metal.

That tree was having a great life. Yates are endemic to the southwest of Western Australia, so it was in its natural element. It housed wild bees and had a high branch from which kookaburras woke up the sun every morning and put it to bed below the horizon every night. When it flowered, the smell of honey drifted in the wind, making this a sweet place to live. And every now and then it was visited by a ring-tailed possum, sometimes with a baby on her back.

But the tree kept growing and leaned more.

Our five children grew up and left home, lessening the number of lives being threatened. But then grandchildren were born and soon they were toddling and running beneath it on family holidays, with loyal dogs trotting along behind. There were, once again, too many lives at risk.

A day finally came when Rob, taking his life in his hands, strapped ladders one on top of the other up its trunk, scaled the rungs, and used a chainsaw to cut down the tree, leaving only a seven-metre stump. With careful calculations he cut it in such a way that it fell without endangering the shed, the lemon tree, two palm trees, a purple-leafed sycamore, and another yate. It was a sad but necessary moment when it hit the ground with a reverberating thud.

Now when the winter westerly winds blow wildly at night, I don’t have to cross my fingers and hope the yate won’t fall on the shed, or on me in the morning as I back down the drive.

The yate tree wasn’t destined to fall. This outcome was a result of the tree slowly growing taller on a hillside and increasing its chances of falling over and hurting someone. If that hardy seed that grew into a giant yate had fallen a bit further south, or the original owner had put the driveway in a different location, or we hadn’t bought the property, or the land had been zoned to be heritage listed as endangered wetlands and not sold as private property, that yate would still be standing in all its glory – a home for birds, bees, lizards, ants, spiders, beetles, and possums.

Life Happens Moment by Moment

Life happened to that yate tree the same way that life happens to us.

Everything that happens, moment-by-moment, changes possible outcomes, changes what might happen next, changes the world. The taller that tree grew and the more it leaned, the more likely it was that it would fall or be felled.

Some things that happen are a result of circumstances we can’t control, just like the yate tree couldn't control where it grew. But there are many things we can control.

The yate couldn’t pick up its roots and move somewhere else, whereas we have a certain amount of choice in where we live, who shares the space around us, what we think, and what we feel.

Every move we make, every thought we have and every emotion we feel, rearranges molecules and energy, and thus changes what will happen next.

Life happens moment by moment.

We need to be aware of what we are creating.

A Happy Ending

There is a happy ending for the yate tree.

The section that is still standing is sprouting, the bees have moved back, and the part that was felled has been sawed into logs to form a picnic setting overlooking the garden.

Despite what happened to it, the yate tree is still contributing to the wellbeing of the world.

The yate tree’s response to life is a lesson for all of us.

With love, Marlane

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