You were always there – your figure slim and broad and coarse and smooth, all at once. Your stature proud, steadfast and knowing, yet quiet, subdued and watching. Always watching. Breathing. Sighing. Whispering. Your leaves took shape in elongated, finger-like patterns of umber, flaxen, titian, mauve and maroon, all viridescent and earthward-facing. These were prickly, scratchy, crunchy beneath my shoes. You housed ants, crickets, spiders and butterflies, and you nestled owls at night and watched on, patiently in the day, as cockatoos – white, black and red-tailed – negotiated future courses and rested their tired wings. Cicadas clicked and bees hummed. City sounds interplayed a chorus of conversation emitted from every aspect of your form. I didn’t notice you there, because there you always were.
That is, until I travelled far from you. Your absence went unnoticed at first, yet gradually as I became rooted in a foreign land, the strangeness of the trees, plants, flowers and animals surrounding me became increasingly apparent, until I ached for you. Each time I came upon one of your consanguineous relatives perched atop a lonely hill, lining a farmer’s driveway, or tucked away quietly in the farthest corner of a botanic garden, I longed for your ubiquitous presence. I tried to imagine how these trees must also have felt – did they long to be home like me, or did they not know where they had been planted? Surely, they were aware that they were not like the other trees. Perhaps the soil tasted strange. Maybe the birds chattered in a language unknown to these cousins of yours, so that they longed for heat and dry winds and red soil to soothe their imposed solitude.
Now, home again, I pause when I pass you on my daily route. I inhale the sharp, dry aromas of your crackled leaves and feel the softness of small vermilion flower buds brush my fingertips. Lingering here for just a few moments each day, I remember to thank you before I pass you by.