A range of Australian haiku poets have been included in the latest edition of the ‘cattails’ haiku journal (from the UHTS), including the following three, whose work has been featured among the Editor’s Choices:
only the moon
privy to a possum’s
– Madhuri Pillai
the length of a dog’s
– Jan Dobb
first spring day
– Hazel Hall
The Editor’s commentary accompanying these three haiku can be accessed through the following link, as can the text for Marietta McGregor’s haibun ‘The Ten Millennium Tree’, winner of second prize in the UHTS haibun contest:
The judge’s comments in response to this prize-winning haibun can also be accessed through the UHTS website:
The Ten Millennium Tree
Mt Read is surrounded by high-country woodland in the wettest part of Tasmania. More than three metres of rain fall on this place every year and, at an altitude of 1000 metres, it is cold enough for frequent winter snow. Crowding the margins of a small glacial lake is ancient forest, a relic of Gondwanaland, with 1000-year-old celery top pines Phyllocladus asplenifolius, endemic deciduous beech Nothofagus gunnii, and creeping pine Microcachrys tetragona. The feeling of this strange botanical world is primordial, a dark kingdom fit for trolls or dragons.
Beside the lake sprawls a distinctive stand of gnarled trees covering a hectare (2.5 acres). Tangled grey trunks stippled with peridot-green moss writhe like mythical serpents. Over the years, bowed and almost snapped by the weight of snow and alpine wind blasts a branch touches earth, sends down roots and throws out new upright stems which slowly mature into adult trees. These trees are male specimens of Lagarostrobos franklinii, or huon pine, a member of the Podocarpaceae family endemic to Tasmania, which is a dioecious species, bearing male (pollen) and female (seed) cones on different plants.
Huon pines are slow-growing, adding barely millimetres of growth each year. The timber is pale yellow, close-grained and almost free of knots with only tiny dark whorls visible in the satiny surface. Beloved by cabinet-makers and boat builders, huon pine contains a natural preservative, methyl eugenol, which gives the wood a characteristic aroma that persists for many years after milling. A gentle rub on the inside of an old box releases an unmistakable, delicately-sweet and haunting fragrance. Tree-ring studies of the Mt Read huon pine stand date the oldest trunk at around 3,000 years. Only California’s Great Basin bristlecone pine, ‛Methuselah’, has been verified to be older.
Botanists now believe the venerable Mt Read huon pines to be unique survivors. The remarkable fact is that they are genetically-identical males, part of a natural vegetative clone which thrived here for at least 10,500 years. What evidence is there that this clone has persisted for over ten millenia? Fossil pollen grains recovered in sediment from the lake have yielded a carbon date of 10,500 years. No female huon pines (distinguishable from their berry-like mature seed cones, tinted bright red by anthocyanin pigments*) grow at Mt Read, and there are no other living huon pines within 20 kilometres.
The Mt Read clone has been accorded the highest conservation value. But it has not always been so. From the first convict loggers in the 1830s who were forced to cut pines and float rafts of the buoyant green sawlogs down the Gordon River to the Sarah Island prison settlement in Macquarie Harbour, indiscriminate felling and burning by possum hunters has taken a heavy toll of accessible stands of huon pine.
Many hectares of burnt-out forest scar Tasmania’s south-west. Timber-getting and bush fires that rip through the wilderness unchecked remain the huon pine’s greatest threat. Fewer than 105 square kilometres (26,000 acres) of natural forest containing this species remain. Habitat shrinkage caused by climate change looms as a possible future threat. The patch of trees at Mt Read guards its priceless key to the resilience of nature.
holding the box
in both hands
Note: The writer made a comparative study of anthocyanin pigments in the Podocarpaceae for part of her honours thesis at the University of Tasmania, and also undertook palynological studies of post-Pleistocene glacier lake deposits in the south-western Tasmanian wilderness.