I love trees, and trees are central to so many things in our lives, from paper to picnics. They bring people together and drive them apart. As humanity becomes more and more concerned about its future, trees become contentious and no more so than around our village, including when they (or bits of them have) to make way for the ubiquitous telephone and power lines.
Eucalypts are not indigenous to South Africa and, actually, few trees are indigenous to the Western Cape of South Africa, and particularly the biome in which we live. Other than along river courses, where one sees beautiful, shady Karees, have no significant native trees occur in the Cape Floristic region. As a consequence, and for timber (furniture, fencing, firewood, etc.), Eucalypts were introduced from Australia. They are magnificent, but in a region with young soils and little rain, they literally drain the earth of its lifeblood, water. They have also become invasive, complicated by the fact that they release chemicals that change the soil profile and “scare” away indigenous flora.
As some of you may have noticed, many of the photographs taken from The Sandbag House feature power and telephone lines. The view through those gums, into the village, is no exception.
So, back to the controversy. Early in 2015, there was a hue and cry: the gums along the river that we cross on the way to the village were being removed. Now, here’s the conundrum: the earth and humanity need trees. Lots of them. I know that the earth is under threat. But that doesn’t mean that every tree, as beautiful as it might be, should be allowed to wreak havoc on the indigenous flora and the natural water courses. Those gum trees along the river had, over the years, choked out the Karees and the reeds, destroying the natural habitat for the local fauna and flora. Little grew under them; they also sucked up litres and litres of water that should have been staying in the earth, feeding the groundwater system. It is the groundwater that the river and boreholes rely on during summer, and with the storage dams are essential for irrigation: no irrigation and agriculture suffers which has another series of knock-on effects and which I shall not belabour.
All of that said, mature gum trees are beautiful, and there’s a favourite spot where, on the way home from Cape Town, The Husband and I enjoy a shady lunch and a glass of wine. One of the trees is this magnificent gum.