The Man Who Counted Trees

Post your true-blue Aussie yarns here.
Post Reply
User avatar
Stephen Whiteside
Posts: 3783
Joined: Sat Nov 27, 2010 1:07 pm
Contact:

The Man Who Counted Trees

Post by Stephen Whiteside » Sun Jan 15, 2012 9:28 pm

The Man Who Counted Trees

© Stephen Whiteside 12.01.2012

There once was a man who decided to count the trees, so one morning he set off with his dog, "The Boss". He was a white dog with black spots. In fact, there was as much black on him as white - perhaps more - but if I called him a black dog with white "something or others" I wouldn't know what to call them - the white shapes between the dots - so it's just easier to describe him as I have.

It was a bright, sunny day. "The Boss" wore a big smile and wagged his tail. There were trees in the man's drive-way, so he started counting them right away. This was just a bit of a practice run, really. He had counted the trees in his own drive-way many times, and knew exactly how many there were. Still, it was good to count them again now. Good for his confidence, good for his counting muscles - not just the muscles in his neck and fingers, but the muscles in his brain, too. He sensed his brain muscles expanding and contracting, storing all the information.

There were rules. He had worked this out. The definition of a tree. When did a tree become a simple bush? And how did you deal with hedges? What about dead trees? He decided he was only interested in live trees, though it was not always easy to tell if a tree was dead. Sometimes part of a tree could be dead, and another part still alive. Fallen trees did not count. That much he knew. But what about saplings? Baby trees? And would he know enough about trees to distinguish all saplings from bushes?

There were bound to be many challenges. Trees on his side of the road were OK, but what about those on the other side of the road? Should he count them at the same time, or re-trace his steps to do so? What about trees in the side-streets? Then there were trees in paddocks away from any roads or paths. And then there were forests. How on earth could be begin to count the trees in the forests? That was a depressing thought, because forests seemed to be at the heart of his problem, and he had no idea how he was to tackle them. No plan at all.

Could he recruit assistance? Forest rangers, maybe? Fire fighters? Bush walkers? And would they all be trustworthy? Maybe the birds could help him. The eagles. The owls. They got such a great view. But would they understand? Would they be reliable? And would they require some kind of reward? And what might that be? Questions. So many questions. And while he began to worry about all these theoretical trees, these challenges for the future, he began to miss the trees right in front of his nose. That always happened when he tried to think too far ahead. He began to mess up the present. The here and now. So he turned around and walked back to the point where he had been confident about the count, and started again. 'The Boss" looked briefly puzzled, but nothing more than that. He was a great comfort, "The Boss". He never seemed to worry about the future at all. Maybe he did when the man was not looking, or before he fell to sleep at night, but it was doubtful.

Another dilemma had been whether to bring along a pen and paper. Or even a laptop computer. In the end, though, he had decided to rely on memory alone. The man had a good memory, and was sure he could manage it. It was not as though he would be alone. He had Nature to help him - the sun by day, the moon by night. It was only ever really air conditioning that was his undoing. As long as he kept away from that he should be fine.

So the man resumed his count and stopped worrying about the forests. Tried to, anyway. He looked at "The Boss". Like the eagles and the owls, he was not sure he could be relied upon to count, but he was exemplary in all other respects. He just had to be careful, once again, not to be distracted by him. Not to be distracted from his count.

After a while, though, with the count going well, he felt he was neglecting 'The Boss" a bit. He was a great dog, but he still needed a bit of affection from time to time. So he made a mental note of where he was up to, then dropped to his haunches and called "The Boss" over to him. He gave him a good scratch behind the ears - his favourite place - and down his neck. "The Boss” soaked it up. He loved it. Then he dropped down to his chest, behind his fore-legs, and along his belly. All clearly very much appreciated. "The Boss" never passed up an opportunity for a good scratch - unless he was eating, or had a lady dog in his sights. He always seemed to have his priorities right. The man envied him for that. Shortly, the man resumed his count. It went well for another hour or so, but then he began to feel a bit hungry.

The man took his back pack off and sat down beside the road on a fallen tree. He pulled out a brown paper bag which held some sandwiches wrapped in grease paper. He took out two sandwiches, then wrapped up the rest and put them back. He was going to have to be careful to ration out his food. Otherwise, it would soon run out. He also brought out several dog biscuits, a bottle of water and a small plastic bowl. He poured some of the water into a bowl for "The Boss" and placed it on the ground, then took a few swigs himself. They were ham and salad sandwiches. They weren't going to last long. They'd be horrible by the next day. Still, he wanted to save some for the evening. When they were done, he gave "The Boss" another good scratch, packed up, and resumed his way.

It was hot work. The sun had by now risen quite high in the sky. He continued to count doggedly, but sweat dripped into his eyes. The man knew the area well. It was time to head down to the river for a siesta. He would resume his counting in the cool of the late afternoon. There was no hurry. Slow and steady wins the race. Not that there was a race either. So he made a mental note once again of the place and count, and man and dog struck across country.

It was beautiful down there. Time seemed to stand still. It was quite hypnotic, sitting and watching the bubbles being swept downstream by the current. In time, the busy world of the road slipped away from him, and the world of the river sprung up in its place. He began to hear the humming of the insects. The wind in the leaves. The creaking of the boughs. He toyed with the idea of throwing in a line. Fish for dinner sounded so much nicer than salad sandwiches, but it seemed like a lot of effort, also. He would have a bit of a snooze now. Later, he could try to catch a fish. He looked across at "The Boss", sprawled out in the long grass beneath the shade of a tree. No arguments there.

The sun was quite low by the time that he was awoken by "The Boss’" tongue gently licking his face. He sat up and gave a good stretch. Not much point in returning to the count now, he thought. It was time to start making plans for the night. He was in luck. It looked like being fine, and relatively warm. He hadn't brought a full tent, but he did have a waterproof jacket, and a large square of plastic. He could have a roof over his head or a groundsheet, but not both. Tonight, it would be a groundsheet. There was certainly time now to throw a line in the river, though, so he did.

The man who counted trees had never been much of a fisherman. Never caught a fish at all, in fact. He didn't have the interest, and hadn't developed the aptitude. Nevertheless, he had felt, a fishing line did not weigh much and certainly did not cost much, and it was the sort of thing that might come in handy. It was the sort of thing he felt he should carry. Alas, he was bound to pass another evening without catching any fish. As night finally fell, and the line hung limp in the water, he finished off the last of his salad sandwiches, and gave the last of the biscuit bones to "The Boss". The two snuggled up together on the groundsheet, and were soon fast asleep. He woke at 4 am to a starry sky. As a result of his nap the previous afternoon, he was no longer in need of much sleep, and felt raring to go. "The Boss", it would seem, had other ideas.

He spent twenty minutes or so sitting on the groundsheet with his legs drawn up, acclimatising his eyes to the star-light, then gave the dog a gentle nudge to wake him. "The Boss" looked a little confused by the early hour, but was keen to please nonetheless. He rolled up his groundsheet, put it in his back pack, and contemplated his next move. Breakfast. They both needed breakfast, but had none.

This was not something he felt at all comfortable about, but there was no way around it. They were going to have to beg - that, or go home, and that was out of the question. They scrambled together up the bank, and began to walk across the open paddocks again to the road. After reminding himself of the location and the count where he had left off, the two headed off down the road to a farmhouse they could both see. Strictly speaking, he could have resumed his count at this point, but he was hungry, and in a hurry. The owners of the house were his neighbours, He knew them, but not well. They seemed nice enough. They owned a mixed concern. A hundred sheep. An apple orchard. Chooks. Vege garden. They were pretty well set up.

It was about 5.30 by the time the man knocked on their door. They were all dressed, and in the middle of eating. Fried eggs. Thick toast with marmalade. Scalding tea. The farmer answered the door with a small lump of butter hanging onto one of the corners of his mouth.

"Excuse me, sir. Pardon me for intruding like this, but I wondered if it would be possible for me to have some breakfast."

"Sure. Of course. Come in. Haven't we met before?"

"Yes, we are neighbours. I live in the old house at the end of the road. Or rather, I used to, until I started counting the trees."

"Did you say trees? Why are you counting the trees?"

The two were walking through the hallway of the house, and had by now reached the kitchen.

"Dorothy, this is our neighbour. He's joining us for breakfast."

"Good morning, Mr…what is your name, I'm sorry?"

The man side-stepped the question. "I'm counting the trees."

The farmer and his wife were very kind people, and remarkably broad-minded for farming folk. Nevertheless, they were both a little disconcerted at the somewhat strange behaviour of their new visitor.

"I see," said the farmer's wife, glancing nervously at her husband. 'Would you like a plate of eggs?"

"That would be wonderful. And you wouldn't by any chance have a bone for "The Boss", would you?"

"The Boss?"

"He's my dog. I tied him up at the front gate."

"Oh. He's not going to eat our chooks, is he?"

"No. I tied him up well. He'll be OK."

"Well, yes, I am sure we can find a bone for your dog. We might even be able to do a bit better than that. So where did you spend the night? I hope you don't mind me saying so, but you look terrible."

"Down by the river."

"The river?"

"Yes, we camped down by the river. It was beautiful, but I didn't have much luck with my line, I'm afraid."

The farmer and his wife were becoming increasingly anxious. It was illegal to camp down by the river these days. There had not been good fish in the river for years. Their poor neighbour was clearly in a world of his own.

"So what are you plans now?"

"Well, after breakfast, I guess I'll resume counting."

"What will you do for lunch? And dinner? And where will you sleep tonight?"

"I haven't thought that far ahead, to be honest. I guess I'll sleep by the river again tonight. It's not much fun sleeping by the side of the road. Perhaps I'll have more luck with my line."

"You're welcome to have lunch with us, you know."

"Oh, no, I couldn't. I've already imposed far too much on your generosity."

"Don't be silly. It's nothing. If you're feeling guilty about it, I'm sure we could find a few odd jobs around the farm for you to do."

"Well, I guess that would be OK. Are you sure you wouldn't mind?"

"No, of course not. It would be our pleasure. We don't get many visitors, and it is nice to have somebody new to talk to."

In spite of their calm exterior, the farmers' minds were racing. Who was this strange man? What should they do with him? How could they turn him away when he seemed so unable to look after himself? But how could they afford to keep him forever? And did they really want him to stay forever, anyway? Did he have a family they should contact? Perhaps they should call for a doctor?

They decided that they would call a doctor, even though they would clearly have to pay for it themselves. They also decided that the farmer would keep the man engaged in conversation until the doctor arrived, while his wife would slip back to his house, and see what she could find out. She found the house unlocked. His wallet and personal belongings were not hard to find. His identity was discovered, but it serves no purpose to reveal it here. Let us call him "Michael" from now on. Later enquiries revealed that the last of his family members had recently died.

The doctor declared Michael sane, but troubled. Medication was offered, but refused. Indeed, Michael was shocked to learn that a doctor had been called to see him, but he took it all in good humour. The thought of payment does not seem to have ever crossed his mind. MIchael stayed for lunch and dinner. He spent the night with the farmer and his wife, and stayed for breakfast the next morning also. "The Boss" was well looked after, too. Micheal talked often about his need to return to his tree counting, but each time he was reassured that there was plenty of time for that, and he agreed.

The farmer and his wife began to think in terms of a roster. Clearly Micheal was not well enough to go home. Indeed, he expressed no desire to do so. On the other hand, he could not be simply left to his own devices. He was good company, too. He was cheerful, affable, and his needs were few and simple. He was also strong, quite happy to work hard, and showed plenty of initiative. Indeed, if anything, there was a danger that he might be exploited. So it was agreed. He would spend one day of the week with a different family from the district, with the exception of weekends, when he would stay over.

Michael was not sure how he felt about all of this. He found it all rather overwhelming. He felt he should be returning to his counting, but was constantly reassured that all that could wait - and he supposed that it could, too, though not forever. There was no doubt that these people were all very kind, and he and "The Boss" had not eaten so well in a long time. "The Boss" began to fill out from being the rather scrawny individual that he had been.

It was ten days later that tragedy occurred. Children can be cruel. He was seated at the Fitzgeralds' breakfast table. Their ten year old son, Bruce, blurted out that his father reckoned Micheal was some kind of nut. There was some truth in this. Andrew, the father, had said some harsh words in frustration to his wife the previous evening, and the son had overheard them. The parents were mortified to hear them repeated by their son the following morning. They did their best to apologise and smooth things over, but the damage had been done. Michael said nothing at the time, but when they called him in from the paddock for morning tea two hours later, he was gone. A desperate search of the area revealed nothing. They searched the river bank for miles. Police Search and Rescue were involved. Presumably, Michael was hiding from them. The search was called off after 24 hours.

Three days later, the original farmer who had first cared for Michael heard a whimpering and a scratching at their door. It was "The Boss", looking cold and bedraggled. The dog led the man to the river bank only a short distance away. There was poor old Michael, stretched out cold and inert beneath a large, spreading willow. It would appear that he had died of exposure during the night.
Stephen Whiteside, Australian Poet and Writer
http://www.stephenwhiteside.com.au

Neville Briggs
Posts: 6857
Joined: Sun Oct 31, 2010 12:08 pm
Location: Here

Re: The Man Who Counted Trees

Post by Neville Briggs » Mon Jan 16, 2012 8:15 am

Certainly an unusual tale. Different.
Neville
Singleton Bush Poets.

User avatar
Maureen K Clifford
Posts: 7551
Joined: Tue Nov 09, 2010 10:31 am
Location: Ipswich - Paul Pisasale country and home of the Ipswich Poetry Feast
Contact:

Re: The Man Who Counted Trees

Post by Maureen K Clifford » Mon Jan 16, 2012 9:00 am

There are quite a few troubled souls sleeping rough on our streets and often their dog is their ONLY friend - and the counting trees bit smacks of someone with a obsessive/compulsive disorder. It has a ring of truth to it Stephen. Is it?

Cheers

Maureen
Last edited by Maureen K Clifford on Mon Jan 16, 2012 9:20 am, edited 1 time in total.
Check out The Scribbly Bark Poets blog site here -
http://scribblybarkpoetry.blogspot.com.au/


I may not always succeed in making a difference, but I will go to my grave knowing I at least tried.

User avatar
Stephen Whiteside
Posts: 3783
Joined: Sat Nov 27, 2010 1:07 pm
Contact:

Re: The Man Who Counted Trees

Post by Stephen Whiteside » Mon Jan 16, 2012 9:19 am

Thanks, Neville. Interesting comments, Maureen. You have to be a bit obsessional to write bush poetry, don't you?
Stephen Whiteside, Australian Poet and Writer
http://www.stephenwhiteside.com.au

User avatar
Maureen K Clifford
Posts: 7551
Joined: Tue Nov 09, 2010 10:31 am
Location: Ipswich - Paul Pisasale country and home of the Ipswich Poetry Feast
Contact:

Re: The Man Who Counted Trees

Post by Maureen K Clifford » Mon Jan 16, 2012 9:22 am

without a doubt - and to hug trees :lol: :lol: :lol: I plead guilty on both counts :roll:
Check out The Scribbly Bark Poets blog site here -
http://scribblybarkpoetry.blogspot.com.au/


I may not always succeed in making a difference, but I will go to my grave knowing I at least tried.

Post Reply