A suitable inheritance

Lianas and Beechwoods in the escarpment above Kiama, NSW 

As a kid growing up on the seaside at Kiama (a pretty bit of the south coast of NSW) there was what would now be called a nature reserve between our house and the beach. When I was small it was just a bit of grassy space with a swamp at the end of it, and was where all the newly built households along that stretch came to dig out vast quantities of sand, to cart it back to their quarter-acre blocks for their kid's sandpits… despite the fact that there was are rather larger sandpit (ie a BEACH) right there for their kids to use whenever they liked… ever noticed how private pools figure largely in the backyards of beach-side houses? Same psychology, i think…

Anyway. My Dad decided that we would plant a costal forest on this sorry little strip of grass at the bottom of the hill, and endless sticky summer days were spent carting buckets of water to resuscitate all manner of seedlings that our family planted all up and down this open space – Norfolk Island Pines, Ti-trees, Coral trees, Banksias, more Banksias, more Ti-trees and later on a couple of Morton Bay Figs and even a costal Quince or two. This planting and watering cycle went on for most of my childhood, interjected with Dad rushing down the hill every now and then to intercept marauding kids who meandered up from the car-park at the other end of the beach  and attempted to trash the plantings. Good, clean fun.

I remember Dad telling me once that the avenue of Ti-trees we had planted that day would one day reach far above my head and create a tunnel that I could walk through, down to the waves. And I remember thinking that there was NO WAY that could ever happen, as I looked at those pathetic little seedlings already half lost in the long grass – yeah sure Dad – and I moped off feeling both resentful and tired after a day of hauling water from the little swamp on my fat little 5-year-old legs.

Now whenever I go back to my parent's house I wander though this place, my favorite forest… the ground is deep in topsoil after 30 years of leaf litter mulching it, the trees stretch tall and there are many tunnels through which I can walk down to the waves. Under one of the special trees are the ashes of my Grandmother and also my Great-Aunt, with a legion of family dogs, goldfish and other little critters laid to rest here and there in the many groves. This little forest is a privilege and a pleasure to be in, and now that the ecology has found a kind of balance, all manner of native species are popping up, both plant and animal, that would have never, ever stood a chance here 30 years past, when it was just that little windswept strip at the bottom of the hill.

So lately what we have been mulling over is this: what is a suitable inheritance? What things can you bequeath to your children that will actually enrich the environment and deeply connect the child to country at the same time? The above example is one way. But here at Milkwood, we're planning for another.

afternoon above the studio site at Milkwood

I've been gathering a collection of flying rumors about trees as inheritance. Not the plant-a-tree-and-save-the-world type thing, nor the offset-your-guilt-about-X-by-planting-Yx100-trees type thing, though both those concepts have their merits. Im talking planting specific trees for a specific purpose, specifically for that particular child. For example, I've heard that in Poland there is an old tradition of planting a grove of trees apon the birth of a child. The species of tree is chosen for its superior qualities of structural timber. When the child 'comes of age', that grove of trees is used to build their house with. Or there is the Chinese tradition of planting a grove of trees for every daughter (on certain islands of the Yangtze), the timber from which will become her dowry. Or the tradition in the south of France, where a line of Lombardy Poplars are planted for every girl-child, for the same reason…

The reason I like this idea of trees as inheritance (not dowry, mind you, just inheritance) so much is that it ties the kid to the land and to the country in specific way. You grow, you watch your trees grow. You can sit in the middle of your own grove. You have stewardship of something and you have responsibility for something. The actual outcome and the implications of what having a grove means might not resonate with a 6 year old, but that's fine. They are just your trees. And one day when you need them, they can be turned into high-value timber; for you to build something, or for you to secure something else, depending on your needs and wants.

And when it is time to turn your grove into a resource, it's not just a matter of cashing in that long-term deposit. It's a process which is real and actually happening in front of you, and contains all the emotions of transformation from one state to another. You can see it happening, smell it happening, and most likely you'll be deeply involved in the whole process of taking this resource from tall tree to dressed timber. And though this concept implies a different sort of 'worth' from the usual forms of inheritance, but I thinks it's the one that we're going for… 

As expectant parents (we're due at the end of Summer) we are about to embark on the process of choosing the species, location and other parameters of our first-born's grove… thinking, thinking… I'm all for Black Walnut (Juglans Nigra), Nick rekons Blackwood (Acacia Melanoxylon) would be better… hmm… we've got five more months to come to an informed and amicable decision…