Michael Leunig has another beautiful and insightful piece in today’s A2 in The Age: “Dead lemon tree syndrome”. He writes about a lemon tree:
I often have occasion to walk past a cafe near Melbourne where a small, dead lemon tree is displayed in a pot by the front door. Each morning, the chairs and tables are carried out on to the sunny footpath and this parched and tortured lemon tree, accompanied by two cigarette butts in the dirt at its base, is placed in position, to welcome customers and impart its special aesthetic qualities.
It had lingered and suffered for a long time but finally, after a wretched public decline, the tree died — yet amazingly, was still placed on the footpath each morning to welcome and reassure the caffeine seekers.
Situated in a desirable location, the cafe would probably be classified in a restaurant guide as a cool and groovy urban “caffeinerie”. Many chic tattoos can be observed. Many fine haircuts can be discerned. The coffee is good. The lemon tree is dead. Day after day, the lemon tree is dead.
This little story says so much about our lives today. You could use it as a metaphor for many things, and Leunig does just that in his own meandering way in this column.
I have a lemon tree. It was given to me by my good friends the Krohn’s for my 40th birthday. It is a “midget” lemon, small in stature, but producing full sized fruit. For four years, it has been lovingly tended in a pot in my rented accomodation – there are limits to what I can plant in my garden, and I never quite know when my landlord and his good lady will appear with shears and saws and hack away at the trees and bushes that I have. I had to battle to save a beloved fig tree from being chopped down in a routine trim (admittedly, the tree belongs to our next door neighbours, who don’t want it and have cut it all the way back on their side, but we still have its lopsided shade and annual crop to enjoy on our side of the fence). Well, my little lemon tree has two little green lemons growing on it at the moment. If they come to full fruition, that will make four lemons in all in four years. It isn’t the tree’s fault. Something is eating it. I suspect it is the possum that I feed at night with old fruit in a terracotta dish out the back. I hope that if he has a full tummy he won’t want to eat my lemon tree. No proof of the strategy working yet…
Milli the cat came into the house with a rather sad offering the other night: a dead baby ring-tail possum. Not the big brushtail that is, I suspect, my lemon tree snacker. I had left her out because the night was hot and the garage in which I shut her at night was even hotter. No more pity, Puss.
This morning I planted out a climbing rose that has, like the lemon tree, lived in a pot for many years. More years than the lemon, because we brought it here from the old manse. I have been regularly pruning it, but this year, for some reason, it finally put on a growth spurt and proclaimed to all the world: “Let me LIVE! I am a CLIMBING rose!” So today I planted it out against a fence where it can climb, with the aid of two old bits of lattice that I found on a neighbour’s hard rubbish collection heap. One’s man’s junk, as they say. Now the rose keeps company with a passionately growing passionfruit vine on the fence under the fig tree.
One day we will leave this place. Not soon, I hope, but life as a renter is never one with a stable domiciliary future. Then I will have to leave “my” fig tree, and my passionfruit vine and the climbing rose. And the possum. But I will take my lemon tree with me.
There is some meaning in that somewhere, I am sure. The main thing is that the lemon tree is alive, and I watch and tend it every day. Maybe they can plant it out on my grave.
Day after day after day — the lemon tree is dead but still they keep putting it out there.
It is a small thing, among the many things that are wrong with the world. But it is definitely wrong.