A much younger tree to its direct left said, ‘Wow. That was close.’
A middle aged man passing by said, ‘Stuff me. A talking tree.’
Both were Eucalyptus trees located on the main street just outside a combined supermarket, bottle shop and souvenir store in Halls Gap, a small tourist town in the Grampians National Park.
The old tree did not catch fire, however both huge halves did topple. One fell across an empty road without incident. The other half fell into the store, destroying a row of camping non-essentials, two spinning postcard display racks, a large beer fridge and a substantial section of the roof. Heavy rain proceeded to pour into the store until it stopped the next morning, destroying plenty of produce. Very luckily, nobody was harmed.
The middle aged man was on holiday with his large extended family, who were all in tents at the campsite across the road. His wife and two adult children were in a hotel, because he’d read the weather forecast, and was terrible at assembling tents. A trait he suspected that he’d passed to his children, along with a preference for comfort.
Due to the severe weather, he was alone on the street so was the only one to hear the talking tree. Back at the hotel room, he encouraged his wife to come out and witness the damage, however his main aim was to present the talking tree.
They stood at the base of the broken tree, and the talking tree said, ‘Just a little to the left, and that could’ve very easily been me.’
‘Too true,’ said the man.
The wife said nothing, and got out her mobile phone to call someone, but had no idea how to notify the world of a talking tree.
After that, things progressed quickly for the talking tree. It became known as Terry, a name that the tree did not choose, but it did appreciate the sound of, ‘Terry the talking tree.’ Like most people who came to see the tree, it also didn’t know the meaning of the word alliteration.
Barricades were set up around Terry, there was 24 hour security, fields were set aside for additional parking, every piece of accommodation in the region was booked up months in advance, and the queues stretched out of town.
Terry souvenirs also sold exceptionally well, with the majority of the profits going to tree conversation. Most popular were the stubby holders and bottle openers, and at Terry’s request, no souvenirs were made of wood.
There was even a strict two-minute time limit for each customer’s meeting with the tree, however it was seldom applied. Much like a child’s meeting with a shopping centre Santa, the tree mostly just told people what they wanted to hear, and could add little of substance.
The problem was that the tree had never travelled, read a book, and all it knew it’d learned from observations and snippets of conversation caught from passing tourists. At only nineteen it was quite young in tree years, and disappointingly for the environmentalists, it had not noticed a spike in carbon dioxide levels.
Although it was a tree, it actually didn’t have strong feelings on any environmental issues. It understood that trees around the world were often trapped in terrible situations and was even shown some graphic pictures, but as the Grampians National Park was inundated with trees, Terry had trouble caring.
What Terry the Tree did want to stop was lightning, however none of the many scientists who came to visit seemed interested in helping with that at all. They wanted to take samples, and Terry was fine with them taking as meaning leaves as they liked, even the odd branch that was still attached, but refused every request for a core sample, which would reveal Terry’s exact age and may offer some hints as to why this one solitary tree could talk.
Terry replied to these requests by asking the scientists, ‘Would you be okay with me drilling a hole through your middle?’
Although some scientists said yes, Terry still said no.
The tree did learn to read, in an effort to expand its limited knowledge base, but quickly lost interest when it discovered that books were printed on dead trees, and never managed to master a Kindle.
One thing that did particularly tickle Terry the tree were puns. Specifically tree puns such as:
‘I suppose it’s time to leave you alone.’
‘I wouldn’t want to be caught barking up the wrong you.’
‘I wooden know I’m sorry. I’m stumped.’
‘Oh you poor sap. Don’t you just pine to branch out? Seed the world? You must get board, rooted as you are to this same patch of soil.’
Anybody who dropped a pun into conversation got bonus minutes with the tree, but after only a few months the tree had heard them all, in every combination. So Terry axed people to stop these increasingly shady attempts to spruce up their chats with puns.
Only two years after becoming world-renowned, the world lost interest in the tree. Tourism was back to pre-talking tree levels, toy Terry trees were no longer selling at all, and the only regular visitors were the scientists, all with very similar questions and requests for a core sample.
Three years after the tree first spoke, it stopped speaking completely.
After four months of silence, a much older Eucalyptus tree a few metres down from Terry muttered, ‘Finally. I was worried that stupid tree was never going to shut up.’
Xavier Toby is a writer and comedian. His debut comedy book about life on a FIFO mining site ‘Mining My Own Business’ is available now.