The Isolated Tree


Early morning on 4 Jan 2018 I listened to a podcast about the soul and sound of trees. It was an interview of the ABC’ Richard Fidler with bio-scientist, David George Haskell, who has written about his investigations into the life, sounds and environment of twelve individual trees each growing in a different environment, ranging from the Amazon rainforest to in a park in downtown New York.

He used sensitive sound recording equipment to study what sounds the trees generate, and what sounds, smells, sunlight, air movement they experience, including and stimulation and threats from other biological interactions with the unseen micro-species, other flora, fauna, and humans. In relation to the latter, Haskell says, like Australian environmentalist, Tim Low, that the concept of Wilderness should be debunked; that there is absolutely nowhere on this planet Earth where the human modification of the natural environment hasn’t happened to a considerable degree.

The interview prompted me to think about the present life of a particular isolated tree in the middle of a sheep grazing paddock near Borowa in New South Wales, that all three of us, myself, Neil, my son, and Jennifer, my daughter, commented on as Neil drove us towards Canberra for a family Christmas gathering.

It was a very hot sunny day close to midday and most of the sheep had gathered in tightly under the shade of this one sprawling eucalypt. What sounds and smells was that tree communicating to the sheep? What sounds, smells, sap essence, sunlight energy etc. was filtering through it as it stood there so far away from its cluster of cousin species and understory plants in the clumps of forest up hill or along the roadside, none nearer than 100m away? Was it feeling the loneliness or appreciating the sight, sounds, smells of the sheep?

Thanks to Haskell I’ll look at trees differently now, indeed as communities not just species. They are hosts and inter-actors in the ecology around them. Giving them a name is like shutting a captured insect in a shoebox. It diminishes them. They are so much more.

So now I have a short one kilometre walk in Toohey Forest in order to communicated with a selection of large trees that have personality and and history, and that represent a range of ecological communities, ones to observe and write about as things change with the weather and seasons. I trust they will be welcoming to me.

Rob Simson

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Into the Sunset — thoughts on dying

On Dying

I’d paid a social visit to friends, Les & Ursula, who live two doors down in Brookland Village and updated them on my health situation. Les has dementia, not too serious yet but progressing. He is quite sharp with words still and still loves a joke.

When I was leaving and Les came with me outside to wish me well, he said, ‘Find me a cloud.’ There had been storms threatening in our area for three days but they didn’t deliver any rain. He has an attractive garden full of colourful shrubs which will survive without water for weeks, but if it doesn’t rain he insists on watering them by hose. I suspect it is cathartic for him, like him believing while my garden plants live I’ll live.

So I thought the the request from Les was for me to wish up some rain, but of course it wasn’t, it was a wry request from Les for me, when I’m up there in heaven, to seek out a comfortable cloud as a resting place for him in the paradise of heaven. He was facing up to his own dying.

Now I am well and truly on that path with Les.

Granite shoreline Sawyers Bay Flinders Is.
It has become of great interest to me exactly how I and my family are dealing with the issues — Advanced Medical Directive, new Will, Power of Attorney, funeral planning etc. It is an intellectual as well as a deeply emotional experience, and strangely I am loving, while the palliative care medication is keeping me going on overdrive.

My palliative care nurse was frank in the prognosis — that I won’t see in 2019. My dear friend, Tim Apelt, who died three years ago, when on the same journey after a medical check up unexpectedly revealed he had aggressive small cell cancer and had just eighteen months to live. It seems my bone cancer has set me on the same course with a similar time line. When I last saw Tim alive he was in the final phase, about a month to go. He was very quiet, pensive, and resigned to the situation. He knew the love of family and friends were around supporting him, yet it was his own personal journey in his heart and mind. He may have been surmising what would be said in the eulogy, and wether his Catholic faith in God’s blessing was justified. Who knows?

Many people don’t have Tim’s and my opportunity to reflect for so long on death and dying. They are snapped away in car or plane crashes, in bizarre shootings, by drowning at sea, or sudden heart attacks, and are never given the chance to share that dying phase of life, the brilliance I am finding in the sunset, the fading light.






That is so sad for them and their families, while I am so grateful I can die with dignity and without fear.

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Rainy Nights

As a young boy during WWII I slept on a veranda room under the galvanised iron roof of my grandparent’s home in Hawthorne. When it rained, the sound of the drumming of raindrops on the roof would waken me up and I would lie there thinking about the bombings over Britain and what the civilians were suffering while the rain became heavier and the noise louder.

I recall this because over the last month my sleep has been disturbed by a pitter-patter dreamy niggles, building up to a crescendo of thoughts that force me fully awake. The benefit is that while lying in bed my mind at first meditates and then gets very active so sometimes I don’t get back to sleep for the remainder of the nighttime hours. I think about the things I still wish to do and what I and keen to write; also the bucket list of adventures still not addressed; then how the family could plan for the time after my departure with the implications of new will  and/or the responsibilities my children and grandchildren might take on as a legacy.

When I arrive at some really important ideas, some special things that should happen, I get up to sit at my desk and jot down lists, key words, and brief notes, so the following morning I can fill them out more fully. I find it all intellectually and emotionally rewarding and don’t appear to suffer from the lack of a longer, deeper sleep.

It is mystifying how it occurs night after night, but I have been so stimulated over these last two weeks on an excellent palliative care regime, that I love what is happening and am thoroughly thankful for this ‘rain soon the roof‘.


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Cancer Pain

It is three months since a bone scan showed I have serious bone cancer — the pelvic bones, the right and left femur, the shoulders, the ribs and down the spine. Devastating! The medical oncologist tried me on a new drug to suppress the tumours while keeping up the hormone therapy I’d been having on and off for seven years since my prostatectomy. The latest bone scans show the cancer tumours are still growing and spreading, so now my treatment is confined to pain control using Norspan slow release patches and Abstral tablets dissolved under the tongue as needed every three hours.

I have good days where I feel okay, bad days when I live in misery, and days of hope that lie in between. There appears at present to be a cycle, four bad days, two so-so days and the four good days. I call the bad days the Painstorm Days, the good days the Suncoated Days and the in betweens the Streuth Days. Painstorm Days are full of sudden lightning strikes and crashing thunder and persistent rumblings around my weakened body. Streuth Days may deliver a call of surprise and optimism, or a just a plea for diminished pain and hope. Either way it is at least 50% better than Painstorm. Suncoated Days are a joy in the context of the cycle allowing me to shop and cook, and the chance to write, Letters to Dorothy, my wife in the ARCARE nursing home, or the occasional philosophical Blog posts.,

Meanwhile I keep losing weight and apatite, and try my best to be calm and stoic. Pain is part of life and being a Homo Sapiens with a big brain and a conscience, I am able to make my condition worse or better according to attitude. It is time to stay positive and at the same time plan my funeral.

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Eating Nectarines as a child


The sweet smell of ripening fruit,
the first taste, tangy on the tongue,
the joy of the second bite
the juice running down my chin.

Each mouthful delicious, delectable,
an early summer pleasure,
Crop it down to the seed and suck a little,
then pitch the seed away.

The aftertaste remains —
tempting, alluring.
Should I eat another?
Give in to desire
before my siblings discover
and accuse me of greed.

Later in life I will understand the message
in the myth, the Garden of Eden.
And learn the Buddhist law of nature —
‘Suffering arises from craving.’

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Thoughts on Departing Life


What do you do when your Oncologist explains you have incurable bone cancer, not just in one location but in bones throughout the body, and in the lymph nodes as well?

At 81, why should you cry? I’ve had a lucky and happy life, full of achievements, with virtually no regrets. But it is a shock and demands a re-think about priorities — family responsibilities, personal estate issues, unfinished projects, bucket lists. What to keep doing, and what to give up.

And then there is an ethical question. Is it right that Australian taxpayers money is being allocated to keep me alive just one or two extra years. Every hormone therapy injection costs the Government over $1000; the new drugs I am on are also extremely expensive, and there are the regular bulk-billed appointments with the Radiation Oncologist, the Medical Oncologist and the Palliative Care doctors and nurses. Couldn’t this money be better spent on children with cancer, or indeed on education opportunities for the disadvantage?

Even given this treatment, the prognosis is that I will die before my wife, Dorothy, who is in a nursing home with dementia. How much time should I give to her? Can I justify going to my son in Canberra for Christmas leaving Dorothy behind in the nursing home, or going off the WA Kimberlies for that trip I always wanted to do? I don’t have a God I believe in whom I might ask. I have no faith in supernatural interference on my behalf. I have to fall back on my own ethical standards and values.

We all have to die. That is one of the outcomes of living. So much chance has led to our birth as humans on this remarkable planet, one of a hundred million or more in the Universe. I believe we have no status in this Cosmic system, no rights to immortality — not for us, not for our species, not for our Earth, not for our solar system. Existence itself is an absurd phenomenon — not guaranteed, just a strange occurrence in the space-time journey.

I must put aside this metaphysical musing. The immediacy of my life is with me. It dominates my everyday thoughts and all my current decision making. What to do first, what next? Do I keep eating, do I keep active in orienteering or bushwalking , do I sell my push bike, do I keep driving myself, and then what help do I need in the home? There are no right or wrong answers, simply conundrums. Teasers. It is tiring.

And what is more macabre in all this, should I plan my own funeral?

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Landscape Aesthetics – West MacDonnell Ranges

The Larapinta Trail wanders through the West MacDonnell Ranges in Central Australia where the desert colours, spectacular landforms, and surprise features add scenic delights to the natural wilderness.

What is it that makes this area one of Australia’s scenic treasures?

I will first suggest the Majesty of the landscape. Those element of sheer size like the deep slot canyon cut through the range known as Stanley Chasm,  or the specatular broad sweep of Ormiston Pound, or the view over the Finke River catchment from the trail up Mt. Sonder.











The second quality is Atmosphere or more correctly the ambience of a place. This is how it fells homely or inviting — creating a sense that says, ‘Look at Me’, aren’t I beautiful, inviting, here to be enjoyed.



A third quality that makes landscape memorable is the Serendipity experience when you come across a feature that catches you by surprise, like a waterhole in a desert, rare cycads in a remote gorge, or a strange rib of ancient rock advancing across the spinifex adorned hills with the clouds above echoing the same shapes. Such delights are often the ones you remember the most.















And finally, putting it all together, is the Artistic Quality, captured in the framing of the landscape in the lens, where you trap  those delights of light and colour, contrast and form, perhaps enhanced with the reflection in a river pool, or the soft mood of the later afternoon.









You should go to the Larapinta, West MacDonnells, while you can. It was on my ‘bucket list’ and I managed to walk a lot of the trails while the asthma was taking my breath away and the Prostate Cancer was beginning to attack my bones. Such a joy!













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