I grew a tree. Not just any tree, but a Dunn's white gum (Eucalyptus dunnii). Heralding from southern Queensland and northern New South Wales, this spectacular gum tree grows to 50 m tall, with a smooth trunk, coloured white or grey. A friend of mine imported some seed from the Queensland Forestry Department, and knowing that I was plant-mad (even as a teenager), he gave some seed to me. So 19 years ago, at the age of 16, I sowed some seeds.
They were tiny, like short lengths of orangy-red hair. Small and light enough to disperse by simply being blown about in the wind. And after they germinated, I planted three small seedlings on a hillside near a stream, at a place called Takou Bay, Northland. In this far and often neglected corner of the family farm, the young trees
grew, fighting through the gorse to reach the Northland sun. And each
year, they faithfully converted soil nutrients, the sun's rays, and rain into an
ever accumulating biomass of roots, trunk, branches and leaves. That
little seed contained all the templates needed to be a Dunn's white gum. Yes, it's just the growth of a plant, a biological process that occurs in most places, across the globe, day after day. But for some reason I never cease to marvel at this miracle. That something so small can grow to colossal proportions.
Already, for this Dunn's white gum, the youthful exuberance of rapid
growth is giving way to maturity. It now stands tall in the landscape,
providing shade and shelter, and flowers and seeds will soon be
forthcoming. Many storms have assailed it, but have only succeeded in
adding to its character. Gnarled branches and tree holes mark the location of past wounds, but only add to the tree's beauty.
Unbeknownst to me then, the place where this tree grows would become deeply rooted as a part of my life. I have sown, planted, harvested, and consumed from this land ever since, the very soils of the place becoming engrained in my skin and psyche. And as I think about the passage of time between then and now, I realise that the growth of trees is an incredibly apt marker for a man's passage of time. The trees and I, we grow old together.