Tree Counting

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs


The kids were keen to win a prize, and some were cheats.

Submitted: June 05, 2018

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Submitted: June 05, 2018

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As I recall, it happened again at Losinoni primary school. After our environmental seminar and the kids had prepared the planting holes laced with dry cow manure, tree planing day arrived. We were targeting the senior kids, Std. V, VI and VII and there were enough prepared holes for each student to plant two trees. The idea was for each student to write their name on a label and to attach it the trees they planted. Later in the year, we would award prizes for the best ten trees. The idea might sound good, but it was flawed and I knew it even before we started. Trees are living things, some thrive just because they can, others get sick and recover, and others turn their toes up and die. So later we changed the selection process to the amount of work the student carried out to ensure the tree’s survival and growth, but this was also was fraught with anomalies because why should a student work hard to care for a dead tree? The good thing was the idea took me out of the hot-seat and gave the decision to the environmental teacher, some of whom allowed nepotism to cloud their judgement, which was another issue.

Anyway, when we announced that we would be at the school to make the final inspection and judging, there was a kerfuffle at the school to clean up around the trees, weed them and water them. In the hope of winning a prize, kids with trees that had died, still tidied their tree and a few shrewd kids stuck a tree live branch in the hole to make it look like a tree was growing and even thriving. Kids aren’t silly creatures! But I’d seen it all before…

Years earlier on the forest, a consignment of trees arrived for a species trial Keith, our District Ranger, wanted us to establish. He required plots laid out on a ridge that was free of gorse or other weeds. Individual species were to be planted within each plot and labelled with the species and the seedlot number. All this was stock-standard, bread and butter work for me and it was all completed in a couple of days. For my own records, I drew up of plan of the layout, species and number of trees I’d planted.

The twentieth of February was the official day that survival counts were supposed to be carried out, but obviously all survival counts can’t be done in one day, I had the trials as well as fifty hectares worth of normal counts to complete, but they were all done within a week. I sent Keith the survivals of his trials and a letter came back saying there was an error, and he asked me to count the trees again. I hadn’t made an error, so I said so by return mail. Before long the phone rang and the oft-fiery Keith had the bit between his teeth, suggesting that I couldn’t count! I held the receiver away from my ear for Jack and Albert, the office bods, to hear. Keith thundered that he would be up tomorrow to count the trees for himself! Jack and Albert appeared alarmed.

A partially placid Keith arrived about afternoon smoko time, so he joined us for a cuppa and all the time I noticed that Jack and Albert were fidgety, often glancing at each other. Keith must have been huffy with me because none of his conversation was directed in my direction, which didn’t bode well for our later tree inspection. We began counting and the first two plots were exactly right, but at the next one, we counted one more than I had previously recorded. Keith sniffed victory! I noticed something odd but said nothing. We began to find quite a few more counting errors and Keith was getting wound up about having to come up to do a simple job of counting trees. Spitting tacks, he was!

Quietly, I asked him if he had noticed anything odd with the dead trees, he said he had, and he asked me what. Had he noticed the newly turned earth especially around the dead trees? Well he’d assumed it was pig rooting, which probably caused the death of the trees. I suggested he pull one of the dead trees out to check on the condition of its roots. He tumbled to the fact that dead twigs had been stuck into the ground to imitate dead trees. Jack and Albert, I guessed, had stolen some of the trees without telling me, to plant around the headquarters site in their recent amenity planting project. My bet was they had expected Keith to forget about his trial, which was likely, because he could be forgetful.

We were late back to headquarters, so Jack and Albert must have decided they were safer at home. Keith and I walked around the headquarters plantings and we found all the missing trees, so to show my maths was up to scratch, I gave him a copy of the plan I had drawn up, with the tree numbers noted. Maybe he felt guilty about tuning me up, but I was surprised that he wasn’t perturbed about his trial trees being side-tracked into amenity, saying that they could still be part of the trial. He added that I should put a peg beside each one and record them on my plan – and remember to keep count of them.

The next morning I let the sheepish pair stew while I headed into the forest before they could ask me about Keith’s reaction. When I arrived back, I told them that I had indeed miscounted and that Keith had ripped the shit out of me! They didn’t confess! But Dominatrix Vanity is a great part-time teacher and a handy tool. I added nothing more to the tree-count saga, but a week later I told them a newspaper reporter had rung wanting to take photos and do a feature of the magnificent, new amenity planting development at the headquarters site. I gave them the date and time, which was to be a week later.

I made sure the troops were too busy to be available to help clean up the headquarters site, so Jack and Albert were at it for the week; mowing lawns, watering, weeding and raking dead leaves. On the appointed day I had to suppress a smile because they both arrived dressed for photos! But y’know, newspaper reporters are such unreliable sods; this one didn’t turn up!

Silence can be golden!


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