We were browsing in our local used book store when a book caught my eye with the title, Eucalyptus.* Of course, I had to buy it. It is fiction, a welcome reprieve from the dry, often dense reading I must do to inform the readers of Million Trees. Now I have the pleasure of sharing this diversion with you.
A fairy tale told among the trees
We are in post-war Australia. A young man marries a mail-order bride and soon loses her in childbirth, but not before insuring her life. With this windfall, he buys a beautiful piece of land beside a river in southeast Australia. His life is spent collecting and planting hundreds of different species of eucalyptus while raising his daughter.
The hundreds of species of eucalyptus provide what little structure there is to the book. Chapters are given the botanical names of the great variety of species and their various shapes and characters are described. Our very own blue gum is mentioned at length: “The Blue Gum is easily recognizable. The name E. globulus for the shape of its fruit, now describes the imperial distribution of this majestic tree: through the Mediterranean, whole forests in California and South Africa, and all states of Australia.”
The farmer is as devoted to his trees as he is to his beautiful daughter, so when the young men start coming around to court his daughter he protects her by devising a scheme that renders her nearly unattainable. He announces that the man who wins his daughter’s hand must first name every species of eucalyptus on his property. This proves an insurmountable task, but his daughter is indifferent to the failures of a long line of men who come from all over Australia to see her legendary beauty, but fail over many years to pass the test.
Finally, a uniquely qualified botanist presents himself to the challenge. It becomes apparent that he will pass the test. While the father and this botanist tick off the list of hundreds of eucalypts, a mysterious stranger visits the daughter in the forest. He tells her stories that charm her. For the first time in her life, someone interests her. He brings to her his knowledge of a wide world full of unusual lives and human predicaments.
When the stranger suddenly disappears without explanation, she falls into a deep stupor. Meanwhile, the botanist passes the difficult test and comes to claim his bride. But she languishes in despair and he is unable to revive her.
We must leave the story here, because the end is a wonderful surprise of which we do not wish to deprive you. It was a great pleasure to read about our trees where they are respected and admired, as they deserve to be here as well.
*Murray Bail, Eucalyptus, Melbourne, Australia, 1998