i talk to the trees…

Well, the trees sure don’t listen to me. By the way, here’s some trivia for you… what movie has my title in it as a song? Your only (and obvious hint) is that Clint Eastwood is singing it. Yes, his version of it is atrocious, but it’s not a bad song, when someone capable of singing does it.

Anyway, since the trees don’t listen to me when I either talk to them (or hug them), I had to ask the kids’ grandpa about them instead. He tells me he knows his way around the trees and birds, though he’s going a bit deaf, so he can’t identify birds by their sounds. Which is too bad, because I still haven’t figured out what kind of bird was making those beautiful sounds, last week.

Gesturing to the trees in the year, I asked which of the trees were eucalyptus, and if not all of them, what were the rest? I’m aware that eucalyptus comes in many, many shapes and forms. He told me that what I should really be looking for was the shape of the leaves, and if I can reach the leaves, you can crush them and smell their distinctive scent. Unfortunately, I can’t reach the leaves on any of our resident eucalypts, so I can’t test and see whether their leaves actually smell like Vicks VapoRub or not.

Yes, if you weren’t aware of it, the strong scent of Vicks comes from eucalyptus oil. I figured this out, just last week, when I was wandering through the hallway, and asked Mrs. B if she or someone was using Vicks. I could smell it, but couldn’t locate where it was coming from. She looked confused, and then noticed that I had a Kleenex in my hand. She told me that it must be the Kleenex, as the box we were going through was eucalyptus scented. No wonder it smelled so strongly, if I was holding the scent right up against my nose!

The first tree that he pointed out was tall, with a smooth, slender, silvery trunk. It reminded me of an American silver birch, but when I looked up pictures of those, online, it didn’t resemble it at all. Except perhaps at a distance. And yet, I have the strangest feeling I’ve seen that kind of trunk before… I even think I have pictures somewhere… but I didn’t bring them with me on my laptop. Oh well. This tree with the beautiful trunk (that doesn’t sound quite right, but it’s true) is often called a lemon-scented gum. If you crush some of the leaves in your hand, and then take a whiff, you’re supposed to smell eucalyptus, mixed with a strong citrus scent. I need to go find out if any of these trees have some low branches, so I can try it.

In passing, Gramps pointed out the bottle trees, of which they have two or three, but they aren’t old enough or big enough to look quite as distinctive as other famous bottle trees. I remember seeing some of them when we were out driving, during my first week here. It’s trunk has a swollen look, which makes them look like they’ve been eating too many between-meal snacks. The really fat ones actually do look like a giant bottle, because they store a lot of water in their trunks (if I have that right). So, it’s actually just “water weight”.   : )

And as we looked around the yard, he kept referring to “the oak”, but since I didn’t see an oak, I finally had to ask him which tree he was talking about. Surely, if there’s any tree I’d recognize, it would be an oak. He was referring to the tree over by the swing, and after staring at it for a minute, I was sure I’d heard wrong, because I’d swear he was pointing at a pine tree, or some form of evergreen. No, he wasn’t joking with me, so I started questioning him on it, explaining what I thought an oak was (Am I losing my mind, and an oak is no longer an oak?). Finally, he referred to it as a “she-oak”, which gave me the clue that I was looking for.

So, later, I went looking online (don’t you love the Internet?) and found the she-oak (genus Casuarina) which happens to be… an evergreen. It also flowers… do our evergreens do that? I had to dig some more, trying to figure out why it’s called a she-oak (also sheoak, beefwood, or ironwood), and here’s the best I can do. One webpage suggested that because she-oaks have very little undergrowth, aboriginal kids had their tea parties (or whatever games they played) under them. It was supposed to be safer, too, because… snakes aren’t fans of pine needles? I’m not researching snakes, don’t ask me. But anyway, the she-oaks were named for being a mother figure, a sheltering place of safety for children.

Somewhere during the tree discussion, we jumped to bushfires. I’m not sure when, but here’s the reason bushfires happen regularly in Australia, and why they can be so dangerous. Australia is known for very hot, dry weather and eucalyptus trees are the most prominent type of tree in the outback. Eucalyptus is also full of extremely flammable oils, which (Gramps told me this, remember!), in really hot weather, they can ignite. I think he said the leave can ignite, and then the falling embers light the grass and so on. If it’s hot, dry, and windy, bushfires can travel up to 50 kph (he must’ve said kph, though I keep think mph). So, in some areas, people don’t know this, or are forgetful of it, and they plant eucalyptus all around their homes, or they build in eucalyptus forests. And then a bushfire goes off like a bomb, and homes burn before their owners can get out.

So, where we’re living, there’s a lot of fields beyond us, though there are a handful of trees around the house. It’s a relatively safe location, as bush fires go, with us being at the edge of town, with no large stands of trees nearby. I had read about some of the terrible fires they have out in Western Australia, and now I know why they can be so bad. And in AUS, fires can be so bad, the really huge ones often have names. With names like Black Thursday, Red Tuesday, and Ash Wednesday, these are names that really mean something to Aussies. In some of them, thousands of cattle and sheep were lost. In others, thousands of homes were lost… in addition to other structures. With that much damage, how many human lives were lost?

After all this nature study, a thought for all Lord of the Rings fans… perhaps the Entwives went to Australia, as eucalyptus and bottle trees? Just a thought.

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