A tree fell on our house while we were away, camping. We three, in a tent, near a glassy lake, at the top of a diminutive mountain, five hours from the city. Our dreadlocked dog sitter – who, by choice, has no fixed address, lives to dance – and two yippy dogs, in a car on our street setting off for the park watching as the enormous tree creaked, groaned, leaned towards our house, rested on the roof. The tree’s roots – some thicker than a human torso – lifted the concrete footpath so high the slabs’ ends pointed to the sky, lifted our fence – palings like crooked English teeth, yanked up the leggy shrubs that grew under it. The stump alone weighed 2.6 ton the crane driver told me when he and his six men, two chainsaws, a truck, came to sever its cling to the earth, pulled it from the ground. They cut it as close to the soil as they could. Our car (a four-door Golf) weighs, I think, a little over 2 ton. Twenty dining tables in that tree, he said, which was a curious measure but one I understood and could picture.
The tree shouldn’t have been here at all. I loved it, admired it daily, but it belonged in a park or forest. When the previous owners of the house (a pre-fashionable bearded practitioner of herbal medicine, his masseur wife, their free-growing dope and caged birds, wood-burning stove – the irony of this Good Life family) planted this native tree they must have thought it would restrain itself in the suburbs. But, really, why should it have? It was meant to tower over a two-storey house and all else around, so it did. It was too dignified to be huggable by a couple stretching out their arms either side of its trunk, trying to touch fingertips. It grew. It had a straight, broad spine and even on the day it fell it boasted new growth, a full head of leaves. The thought it is now sawdust makes me weep. Even to think of it becoming furniture is wrong.
It couldn’t have fallen more gently, with more poise. An object that could have crushed corrugated iron and thin weatherboards with its weight broke one windowpane, hurt no living thing, didn’t so much as fling a limb at a car. Our neighbours, who sent us photos, collectively discussed its falling, watched possums scamper across power lines away from the tree, said they waited for the true fall, the letting go, but it didn’t happen. An elegance to put Downton Abbey’s Dowager to shame.
So the tree fell, making homeless not only possums but crows, kookaburras, huntsman spiders. It was kind to our dwelling. We were walking through bushland, back to sleep on the ground under tarp. Our dogsitter taking life one hour at a time. When we came back home it was hot – more than forty degrees for four days in a row, making us talk about how the planet is near-unliveable until, then, the temperature dropped to twenty and we were smug about how dull it is to obsess about the weather – and the newspaper said that people seeking refuge in Australia, cruelly rerouted to some godforsaken island nowhere, live in this heat through summer and have water rationed to half a litre a day. During our four-day heatwave our power was cut off. We stayed in a hotel overnight and swam in the rooftop pool until ten p.m.
I’m in our house now, clicking through web home pages (who came up with that term: Home instead of Front or Beginning or Main or NotKansasAnymore or ironic somesuch), waiting for an assessor who will tell me what the damage to our Beirut-looking yard is worth, in dollars. My son has taken to looking at photographs of pools in the magazines I buy, and wants to know if we can have a pool where the tree was. We can’t. Dave sends me an email saying we should go to an Asylum Resource Centre information night. We should. I go to our bedroom, which is at the front of the house and overlooks the street now. It used to overlook the tree – not even overlook: when I opened our bedroom window wide the tree would come inside, and I could touch it, more like a friend than a pet. I want it to still be here – it was beautiful, older than me, and it offered sanctuary, oxygen and shade.
When I go back to my desk I work on a new manuscript, describing a place of my imagining, putting words in people’s mouths. I write a forest and a garden – dogwoods, pines, birches and oaks. I write them large and solid, unwavering. I put the houses at a respectful distance. I try, pointlessly, not to think about the gaping wound outside my front door.