by Liz

Walking by the river close to my home calms me. I amble along with the two dogs and get away from the main paths where we can run free. Anxiety has been a frequent visitor as I’ve aged and I breathe in deeply amongst the tall red gums and feel the calm seeping in. I straighten up, standing tall amongst them, stretching my arms and branching fingers high, looking up into the canopy of grey, green leaves, blue patches of sky and mottled shade softly swaying above. I slip off my shoes and feel the earth as my roots burrow below me, grounding me, stabilizing my shaky being.

9 years old
I climb the towering pine tree, my favourite spot in the garden. It’s hard going, lots of intersecting branches spiralling out like spokes of a bicycle wheel from the central trunk. I am determined to get to the top. Halfway up it’s getting a tighter fit between the sticks but I squeeze myself through and press on. I need to get to the top. Scratchy, sharp sticks inevitably, perhaps thankfully, prevent me reaching the ‘tippy – top’ but I am very high, surveying for miles around. I can see the hills in the distance and Mrs Lorimer over the road. I spot my dear ‘Non’, Nonnie Hancock, below in her garden. I was passed over the fence to Non from 6 weeks of age and she has looked after me often. More like a granny than my real Nan. I take friends around to visit her as she is a good supply of lollies and ‘bickies’. My favourite activity with Non is having a cup of tea with sugar (not allowed in my house) and a biscuit to dunk (also not allowed in my house).

‘Ooo – hoooo” I sing out to Non from my crow’s nest. ‘Oooo- hoooo’ She has taught me this as a ‘hallo’, her greeting on the rare occasion when she came to our house. I always call out ‘ooo-ooo when I knock on her door. She would come to the door, always greeting me with a delighted welcome and a snorty laugh. Perhaps I had the pram with a kitten in a dress and a bonnet to show her or maybe a blue ribbon from sports day. Once I was intrigued to see that her hair was crooked when she opened the door. I disturbed her afternoon nap and she had slapped
on her wig quickly. I realized she is the reason I became an expert wig spotter. I would be fascinated at thehairless back of her neck as she bent forward to retrieve something out of the cupboard below.

She cant see me, where am I? I keep calling and laughing with delight at having tricked her. She eventually spots me high above and is shocked, terrified I will fall. I’ve nearly given her a heart attack she says. She has areally soft spot for me, I know.

Kerry visits me from Sydney and leaves me some money to buy myself a lemon-scented gum that I love so much, a house warming present. Still homesick from the move from Sydney to Adelaide, her visit is an elixir for me after a difficult patch of ill health and relationship unhappiness.

I plant the tree with Kez and Sydney and my desperate need to feel at home swirling around in me. It’s not a sensible tree to plant in a city garden and I ignore the comments, warnings and opinions freely given. They grow too tall, and they drop branches. What about the roots, they’ll wreck the house, very expensive.

20 years on the white bodied tree stretches tall into the sky, towering above the house. The canopy is a haven for bird watching and sky patterns. The trunk’s girth is the circumference of a double arm hold. The wrinkles where the branches leave the trunk are skin like, a massive elephant, a creature of wisdom, comfort and grace.

As I walk down the garden under the thick arm stretching over me I inhale the sweet scent. I can’t reach theleaves anymore to crush in my hand and sniff but I give the trunk a gentle slap and a smile. I do wonder if a branch will knock me out one day, drop on my head and kill me. So be it.