Branching out with old friends

By Shepparton News

Some of my best friends are trees.

I get a lot more sense out of listening to a river gum than I do listening to shirt and tie people who are big on tax cuts but short on ideas about how to actually improve people’s lives.

I’m not too sure, but I think I may be able to buy an extra coffee a month after I receive my tax cut aimed at helping hard-working Australian families contribute to the economy by spending all their extra hard-earned income.

But not for another five years apparently.

Good things come to those who wait.

Personally I would rather sacrifice my extra coffee and put it towards affordable dental care, free education and health treatment, and decent housing for the homeless.

But that means trusting people to spend my extra coffee money properly — not on more tax cuts.

Anyway, back to trees.

Because I am a networked investigative journalist riding an information super highway of fact-checked facts, a piece of startling information landed with a deafening crash on my desk yesterday.

Researchers have found that many urban trees are unlikely to survive the onslaught of rising temperatures and declining rainfall which is forecast for earth’s changing climate.

So, just as the terrific idea of greening our cities takes root, urban planners are faced with the challenge of finding a tree species that will last the distance until we can sort out this fine mess we’ve got ourselves — and the entire planet — into.

Greenery in urban landscapes is a vital thing.

Trees do lots of things — they improve air quality and lower temperatures, they remove pollutants from the soil and water, they stimulate ecosystems for birds and insects and they do other important things like make us feel better about life in general.

Subconsciously I have always chosen trees as neighbours.

In all the years I have lived in cities, I have managed to find trees to walk among.

Even in the megalopolis of London I would seek out parks and common land to walk my dogs and lie around with a book.

The commoner and wilder, the better.

In the south of London, about a half-hour drive from my cupboard-sized flat, I found Mitcham Common.

On Mitcham Common you could walk for 45 minutes and not hear a car or a train. It wasn’t landscaped or tidied up — it was left to blackberry bushes, grassy knolls, and corridors of wild sycamores and stinging nettles.

After a 40-minute walk across Mitcham Common the concrete jungle became bearable for a while, until the next time.

Cities without trees are deserts.

I remember spending a day in Los Angeles waiting for a connecting flight.

I made the mistake of leaving the hotel to take in the city.

It was a moving car park with not a tree in sight — just the classic urban landscape of free enterprise gone mad — billboards, flickering neon and overpasses, underpasses and thundering traffic.

I walked for an hour and saw nothing that lived or breathed.

Today I cherish the moments I spend in the bush near my home — beaten and trashed though it is by the soulless and the lost.

I know all the glistening gums on my 40-minute walk — the scarred ones with burls, the curved and slender ones, the tall and rangy ones, the squat and hollow ones.

Each is a universe to itself, and a familiar comfort to me.

When I return home, things seem less complex, and the world more welcoming.

Even my tax cut seems generous.

John Lewis is a senior reporter at The News