Paulownia - A Tribute

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
Paulownia tomentosa is a beautiful tree and my safe, comfortable place.

Submitted: March 23, 2017

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Submitted: March 23, 2017



Paulownia tomentosa has the lofty common name Empress Tree (of China) and throughout the Orient, its timber is much appreciated and valued. And just as a random fact, the ancients used its seedpods as packing for their china exports – old fashioned polystyrene balls! Anyway - Unfortunately, my best specimen was damaged buy a severe wind, so for safety’s sake, I had to cut it down. I was sad at the thought, but it was the pragmatic thing to do because, despite what we might hope, ‘everything has its day’.

I bought this treeless property fifty years ago (almost to the day) and have slowly vegetated the area over the years with perhaps thousands of trees, most of which I have personally propagated. A few have been given to me and others might have come from the nursery but most were from seed I sowed or cutting I made. Each tree has a story of some sort, for example, the very first, a Poplar androscoggin, was a metre long branch I cut from an adult tree and stuck it in a wet patch of ground. Today three people struggle to touch hands around its trunk.

The Paulownia came from seed that I was collecting on behalf of the Forest Service in the botanic gardens, I just saved a few seed to sow home for my own use. At the time it was a trendy thing, with a promise of huge demand and huge profits and it turned out to be a huge let-down, typical of niche trends. To achieve a nice, straight stem, the tree is cut down to ground level each winter for the first two years and the third season, a long, straight stem about three metres tall is produced. ‘Rogering’ was the term we used.

The blue foxglove-like flowers are fragrant, a fragrance I enjoy. I’m not sure everyone likes the smell, which I guess is all in the nose of the sniffer! The leaves are large and perhaps leathery-cum-hairy, the text books says they were palatable to livestock. My sheep have no interest in them whatever. On a sunny day, especially in the spring when the flowers were out, it was a favourite pastime of mine to sit facing towards the Northwest and be content, at peace with the world. There are always the calls of the birds and they were always company but suddenly silence would reign and then there would be the occasional ‘plop’ of a flower falling to the ground. In a good year, there would be a circular fragrant carpet of blue around me. Stunning!

No matter who you are or what you do, rich or poor, stupid or sane, there are time when Mr. A creeps into your head. Anxiety, stress, worry, call it what you will, is an affliction to the human spirit. Perhaps it is a self-affliction or something that exists only in your head or perhaps it is a matter of fearing fear itself. Whatever it is, my personal coping strategy is to imagine being in my safe and comfortable place – familiar too. For me that place is under the Paulownia tree facing to the Northwest.

I don’t physically go there when I’m anxious or stressed, I use my imagination. For example in the early ‘80’s I was in charge of harvesting trees during a recession in the timber industry. The contractors were cranking out logs, filling the skid-sites but they weren’t moving. After six weeks, the logs are beyond redemption. For me sleep would not come unless I imagined that I was sitting under my Paulownia. Then I slept like a log – pun intentional.

I can wax lyrical about the good times I had in Africa, but there were pressures. One maggot brained individual who should have known better, tried to halt funding for our project, so I ended up self-funding it for six months before it was sorted. The risk was enormous because I wasn’t sure that funding would ever come through and my workers were depending on me for their livelihood. Imagining my safe, comfortable place helped me through the stress and to win the battle.

Each year for twenty five years I was in charge of controlled burn-offs of areas of up to two hundred hectares. The safely of men and machinery and the value of the adjacent forest resource was the stuff of sleepless nights. But imagining I there on my fragrant carpet of blue allowed me to sleep and be alert on the light-up day.

I recommend the strategy to everyone. Yeah, I know, few people have a Paulownia to sit under but everyone can select or even make up a safe, comfortable place. Maybe from a story read or movie watched. A figment of the imagination or somewhere visited. The imagination is a wonderful thing to stimulate. During bad times, of few stressless moments are more valuable than a gold watch!

But my Paulownia will coppice again, a rebirth if you like. But the really cool thing is that I squared the trunk with my chainsaw, cut it in half and have shared it between two woodworking mates of mine. They will create enduring pieces that will give pleasure in entirely different ways. And I still have my imagination.



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