I invite you to visit also my literary blog: Journeys in Creative Writing where I post original fiction including short stories, poetry and 'Paternity', a full length mystery novel.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Bird City - A Fig Tree to Love

For years I lived next door to a giant fig in a park. It was a lot of tree to love.

That tree spread its branches across an area as large as two large suburban lots. Its roots meandered across the space to my garden where it clogged up the sewage pipe.

But I had no ill feelings. I really loved that tree.

Officially it was a Moreton Bay fig or, if it had lived closer to Sydney, a Port Jackson fig.
It dominated the view from my kitchen window, and thus much of my life.

It was bird city. Life with these residents was always full of drama.

There was a family of magpies who lived there for years, with the male attacking all and sundry every breeding season. He swooped and dived
for weeks on end so that everyone in the street wore stout hats before venturing out .

One year the little family had a tragedy and lost all of the babies (I think to butcher birds) and all of the magpies left the tree, never to return.

Many tiny birds flitted among the branches of the tree.

Noisy minors with orange beaks and big eyes have babies that are the greatest naggers in the universe, cheep cheeping until they are fed.

The tree came alive with fruit bats every evening at dusk. The black shapes swept in against the darkening sky to feed on the fruit and hang upside down. They didn’t nest there but left late after making a great mess.

I loved the puffy crested pigeons with their strutting and their deep chests and cooing. They had amazing mating rituals and it was a hoot to see the girls flirting with the males in hot pursuit.

The lorikeets, one of the many colourful Australian parrots, were the cheekiest pack of all. I made the mistake of leaving honey and bread out in a dish until I heard it was bad for them and withdrew the feast.

These arrogant little creatures used to knock on the kitchen window, screeching for more. I’d have probably thirty of them fly in suddenly, and leave all together without apparent reason. They were real characters – every one of them different.

The fig was such a majestic tree, planted in the first decade of the 20th century by the first landholder in the area.

Its bark reminded me of elephants’ skin, and the roots were something out of George Orwell.

Children loved to climb high into the canopy. Mothers and their toddlers came with strollers and explored and rested.

Council workers looked after the tree and its little park, mowing carefully to avoid the roots, and tree surgeons came now and then to guard it against borers.

The branches hid lots of crooks and crannies for little scurrying animals, but I never saw a snake, although I’m sure they would have been there somewhere.

When I first moved next door to the tree I could see the sunset and even Mount Warning, the tall plug of a volcano which is reputedly the first point in Eastern Australia to feel the warmth of the sun’s rays each morning.
But as the years passed and branches spread, the view disappeared.

Occasionally I'd walk across and lay my head against the hard bark to feel its life within, and to be at peace. It was so cool under the tree, and seemingly so safe.

However, come a storm and wind, and the tree changed. It roared and swayed.

Sometimes I would be startled with a loud crack and crash and next morning a huge bough would be lying there on the ground beneath.

My fig tree sheltered many lives, but it could also be a widow maker – a term the old timber cutters used to describe a dreaded killer tree.

More pictures follow ...

That's my old house in the background - see how close I lived.
This week I made a little pilgrimage to see it all again.

The roots were something out of George Orwell ...

Crooks and crannies for scurrying animals

But the tree had a dark side ...

©June Saville 2009. Not to be reproduced without express written permission of the author.

Do you have a special tree in your life?

And by the way if you've read a few chapters of my novel 'Paternity' on Journeys in Creative Writing you'll be interested in Vikki North's great portrait of Pip our main character. See it now


  1. I don't have a favorite but I have about 22 large oak trees in my yard. They can be very scary when we have storms and high wind but are just lovely in the summer for shade and keeping the house very cool. I seldom even turn the air on in summer. My grandson, Thomas Wyatt loves them and that was his very first word "tree"!

  2. JUDY - out of the mouths of babes ...
    Those oak trees sound grand. And they're doing their bit for the environment too!

  3. What a fantastic old tree! Don't you wish it could talk and tell you about all the thins it's seen in it's lifetime? Thanks for sharing this one, June, have a great weekend!

  4. I love fig trees, and figs...especially Moreton Bay figs...grand old tree.

  5. If trees could blog, there would be so much that the tree outside our complex could talk to your fig tree....

    I am in one of the more wooded areas of Mumbai, and just yesterday, there was a huge noise and they brought down an old tree in the process of constructing a set of high rises on campus , to cater to the increasing employees and student enrollment. That is supposed to be "progress".

    But I remember trees that pre-date all of us on campus, maybe by even a 100 years. They stand tall and majestic, and some of them are banyan trees where the kids have a grand time swinging on the hanging roots. Mango, tamarind, and lots of flowering trees . Children walk home from school, on hot summer days, sheltered by the cool shades of these trees. I wonder how long they will last.

    But I enjoyed your post on your fig tree, and I applaud the very thoughtful way that folks are looking after the trees.....

  6. Hi SYLVIA
    Yes it could tell lots of stories, but there are some I wouldn't want to hear ... Like the shock of having bulldozers get to work on all of your family and friends nearby.

  7. BRAJA
    I'm pretty sure that both the Moreton Bay and the Port Jackson are the same family of fig. The names are probably the result of state rivalry in years gone by ...

  8. Yes Suranga - progress!
    'My' tree is now one hundred years old. All such trees should be given heritage status, with preservation guaranteed for their lifetime. Property developers (and universities) often have a lot to answer for.

  9. What - are you leaving us hanging on? I want to know more about the dark side of that tree? How mysterious...

    A tree-mendous post!

  10. LADY FI
    Tree-mendous post - like that.
    Earlier I said: 'My fig tree sheltered many lives, but it could also be a widow maker – a term the old timber cutters used to describe a dreaded killer tree.'
    Then I went on to show more pix. I suppose that was a bit confusing - sorry.
    Australian bushies call large trees that drop their branches without warning 'widow makers'. You can imagine how that got its name in the early days of this continent when forests were being cleared wholesale,using simple axes and saws. Those men lived among the trees for weeks at a time.

  11. My favourite tree is a eucalypt on the neighbour's vacant block. It is knarled and twisted and not that tall and has heaps of hollows for the galahs to nest in. It doesn't have much canopy, but it does have character.

    Oh, and I keep away from that side of the house in wild storms, because each of the hollows were created by branches snapping. I saw it doing a wild and crazy dance in the last big storm. Scary and intriguing at once.

    Although the fig next door would have to be my all round favourite individual tree there are many others I'd favour as a species. Of course eucalypts are among them - we're Aussies aren't we?
    I love the Australian trees that are ugly/beautiful; mostly of that lovely dark blue green that we know so well here.
    The ones that have 'character' as you say. Irregular and certainly not classically beautiful.
    I reckon I'd like your neighbour's tree too.

  13. Thanks MARJIE. How are things?

  14. That is one beautiful tree. I can't remember that I have had ONE tree in my life, I move around too much. But one of the things I particularly like about Paraguay is that there are trees EVERYWHERE!

    Its wonderful.

  15. Hi Brenda - good to see you again. It's fun to get to know people from other lands. The world is a small place but we still need to become closer.
    We've lost a lot of our rainforests in the name of 'progress'. Please don't let it happen to you.

  16. Such a beautiful specimen June. I have more then a few trees on my property, and hating the thought to have a few cut down. The most endearing is the Acacia or Black Locust. I "relocated" seedlings years ago from a local historical property. Those trees were 100-150 years old and mine came from those. Always the last to leaf and bloom in the Spring but also the last to loose their leaves in Autumn. It blooms in June :) and are very similiar to wisteria only white. The scent, o my heavens! The air is filled with a sweet vanilla perfume attracting scores of bees. So many one might think the trees are humming. Mine are maybe 20 years old and already 50' tall, with one of the hardest woods here. Thanks so much, I really enjoyed this. Cheryl

  17. Hi Cheryl
    It seems you love your tree as much as I do mine. Yours does sound a delight.

    I looked up Acacia in good old Wikipedia to discover that there are many many types of Acacias throughout the world. One, the Australian wattle, is our national emblem and featured on the coat-of-arms. (Pic on my side bar)

    Here's what Wiki says:
    'Acacia is a genus of shrubs and trees belonging to the subfamily Mimosoideae of the family Fabaceae, first described in Africa by the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus in 1773. The plants tend to be thorny and pod-bearing. The name derives from ‘akis’ which is Greek for a sharp point, due to the thorns in the type-species Acacia nilotica from Egypt.
    Acacias are also known as thorntrees or wattles, including the yellow-fever acacia and umbrella acacias.
    There are roughly 1300 species of Acacia worldwide, about 960 of them native to Australia, with the remainder spread around the tropical to warm-temperate regions of both hemispheres, including Africa, southern Asia, and the Americas.'


  18. That is some gorgeous tree June I would be tempted to draw it at every opportunity ! It's really fascinating, kind of reminds me of a tree in Fortingall, Perthshire which I saw when I was on a school trip at twelve years old - it made such am impression that I remember it still. It's actually on the 'net.
    Thanks for posting about yours. Hey btw missus what did ya mean cheeky Scot, I thought the video was really cute, it 'was' the video Judy sent me in the email - not the Red Hat story! Cheers Peer, Love Kate x.

  19. You are a gifted writer. I could see the tree in my mind even before I saw the pic´s. I didn´t know fig trees could get this big and old. I don´t have a favorite tree but love sitting under one and it´s shade. We have very few big trees here in the Chaco, so when we do find one, it´s always special.

  20. Hi BETTY
    I thought you'd be in tree heaven in Paraguay - must do more research on your country.
    Thanks for calling in, and pleased you enjoyed the story.

  21. Hi Kate did you get the message I left on Shambles? I've also been in touch with Judy.
    That baby/dog video really is something else!
    I looked on the net for your tree - do you mean the yew that's 5,000 years old? Beats the age of my fig just slightly eh? That's amazing ...

  22. When we lived in Princeton I used to take the dog for a daily romp at the Battlefield Park. There was a magnificent old oak tree there of which your post reminded me! Now living on a prairie I think what I miss the most are trees!

  23. Yes Dogwalk - it does seem true with we humans that we only truly miss something when we don't have it any more.

    In my area the entire place used te be thick rainforest and very early in the colonial days timer getters moved in and the huge cedar trees were shipped out, the forests themselves irreparably harmed in the process.

    If only we could start again ...
    However, we can't, so we must look after what we do have left.
    Very sincerely

  24. In the yard of the house I grew up in, there were two trees out back I really liked, one a type of cherry tree, the other I'm not sure what it was. Spent many an afternoon climbing up and around and hiding from the world. Got sick once from eating the cherries (little sour berry-like, not good eating cherries), had a tire swing out there. I once saw one of my friends fall about 15 feet from a branch to flat on his face on the ground from one of the trees! Fortunately he was okay.

    Shortly after I went away to college, both of them had to be cut down. I still miss those trees, no good climbing trees in my yard now.

    Lovely photos. "The roots were something out of George Orwell" - AMAZING phrase, that will be in my head for a while!

  25. Hi GUMBO
    My climbing tree was a blue gum over the back fence in the vacant lot next door. Girls weren't supposed to climb so I had to do it on the sly.
    I remember a very large blue tongue lizard lived nearby, and had lost its tail.

    I'm pleased you liked my tree and the Orwell phrase. He had some creepy characters didn't he? Maybe H G Wells' 'War of the Worlds' could have spawned those roots as well.

    Your name Gumbo - it isn't a word we use in Oz - in my experience anyway - so I looked it up.

    Do you use it in the sense of 'soup'? If so, what are the main ingredients?

  26. Oh, that tree makes me SOOOOOO homesick for Sydney! Summer school holidays always included a trip to the city - Hyde Park, the Botanic Gardens and THOSE TREES. If you'd also included a photo of a jacaranda in flower I think I would be inconsolable. :)

  27. A fellow tree lover! Perhaps FEMINA I should not tell you that I featured jacarandas in full bloom in another post:

    Not that I want to make you 'inconsolable'.
    Your choice!

  28. Fig trees. I have a small one and it is bearing fruit. Fig trees remind me of my grandparents farm and that's why I bought one. They had a huge, huge fig tree which we all loved.

    Your tree June has many stories to tell I am sure. And the photos were amazing. Indeed it has a dark side.

    I think my favourite would be a blue spruce tree. Just beautiful.

    I am doing a few Australian posts given Jan 26th is coming up soon and I will link to your site in a couple of days. Have a great week!

  29. Hi LILLY
    I'm with you on figs for eating - unfortunately the fruit on my tree was only suitable for bats! Different variety.
    I do love spruce trees too - although the real ones need cold weather I think - bad luck about them up here.
    Thanks for the link ...

  30. LILLY
    I'll do the same and of course link to yours.

  31. FEMINA
    Official welcome! Thanks for following 70 Plus.

  32. Love this post! The photos of the tree and the text are perfect complements to each other!

  33. That is one gorgeous tree. Your post makes me stop and think hard about the entire universes that exist inside treetops. We owe these gogeous creations our respect and gratitude.

  34. SANDY
    Success! I would encourage us all to look into the nooks and crannies of life.

  35. JOY
    I am pleased you enjoyed the visit. I lived near that tree for probably eight years and every day it was a new experience.

  36. Hi June, Yeah I got your message, don't worry we're all 'gettin old and decrepit hehehe'.

    As for the trees - they are beautiful even your 'baby' fig tree it has an incredible bark surface as you say like an elephants skin... Looking at the trunk it reminds me of something which would be 'really' scary at night - don't think I would like to be passing the tree in the dark I would be scared in case it's arms would yank me into it - arggghh !

    Cheers Peer, Kate x.

  37. KATE - it's a very kindly tree really.
    Who's old and decrepit? Watch it lassie ...

  38. OOOOppsss sorry missus ! OK then I'm old and decrepit hehe. Cheers peer, Kate x.

  39. That is a magnificent tree. It definitely has a presence, one that could even be felt in a photograph. Your writing here is very evocative, and you make me wish I had such a tree in my life right now. Lovely.

  40. KATE
    When you're 70 plus you never own up to being old and decrepit otherwise that's what you will become!

  41. ROBIN
    I wish one for you as well Robin. Truly!

  42. Hi June! I read your post a day or two ago, but I was rushing out the door. I forgot to post until now.

    I love trees. They are the giver of life. Trees give us fresh air, life-saving medicines, delicious fruit, shade in the summer, beautiful scenery...

    I live in a private community. Along a pathway here is a beautiful pine tree. It has grown in such a way that it looks like a giant bonsai. I stop and admire it almost every day.

  43. Hi JEANNIE
    Good to know that you also appreciate trees.

  44. Hey June,

    Life is so strange sometimes. I was feeling low about my passing youth today. And I chanced upon your blog through a fellow blogger's list. Here I am now, feeling optimistic and looking forward to all the things i can do :)

    Thank you for your spirit, for your simple, heartfelt writing and for embracing everything life throws your way graciously and gracefully.

    Thank you :)

  45. Came here via Lilly's site...

    I miss trees like this. I remember playing on the roots when I was kid visiting relatives in Hawaii.

    Special tree? I think the most special tree would be a lone Kamani tree that grew along the beach near my family's ancestral home on Anini Beach, Kauai.

    I'm also enamored with California Valley Oaks. Just love them. Where I live now, there is the coastal live oak --the leaves aren't nearly as pretty!

    I have visited your blog and I have found a very honest caring person haven't I?
    I'm pleased if my site has helped in some way. It IS best if we can embrace 'everything life throws ... graciously and gracefully'. but as with everyone, I can't always make it. Do our best eh?

  47. KANANI As with everything, trees with less-than-pretty leaves still have many charms. I think of many of the scrubby shapes in our Australian bush, and I find many of these among my favourites.
    You've helped me remember something - a huge tree in my kindergarten playground. It had big orange flowers, and meandering roots on which we used to sit and eat our sandwiches.

  48. Hey June, you sure are a nature lover..the way you described the tree was so very touching.

    It is a beautiful tree.

    My favorite was a gauva tree that grew in the backyard and that I would climb for both the fruit and the fun.

    I normally didnt eat fruits but the fun of taking your own pick from a tree made me eat many guavas. Made Mom very happy :)

  49. PINKU - You Mom should have planted an orchard!

  50. I enjoy your posts immensely and the pictures of the tree and all the beach pictures are especially appreciated's freezing here :)

  51. I had a tree that was planted when my daughter was a baby. She grew with the tree and climb it with her friends. We had a storm named Gloria in Long Island in 1986. This tree stood the storm fury for quite some time but in the end it lost the battle. I knew the tree was getting weak from watching it battle the winds from a window. At some point the tree actually screamed. The sound was painful and then it gave a long harsh groan. Then the tree brake in half and laid lifeless on my lawn. It was a life special moment. I understood your tree story. Trees are beautiful companions and so alive! I still miss this tree.

    We certainly understand each other. Long live trees and all who love them.


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