You know that something is wrong with the world when…

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.

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6 Responses to You know that something is wrong with the world when…

  1. Clara says:

    Did you ever hear the story about the lemon tree at our common former ‘time-share’? Our good host initially had a lemon tree and a lime tree near the downstairs door of the said ‘time-share’, but they were struggling – the lime was removed and on our next visit our host was pleased that his green thumb was developing as the lemon tree looked very healthy. Alas, one day towards the end of our stay the downstairs bathroom floor was flooded and there was a puddle near the back door. I alerted Alison to this and she called in the plumber . . . blocked sewage . . . but nice lemons!!!!

  2. So, you too lived in an ‘old manse’, David?

    You have my sympathies in your plight as a renter. Being what seems to most people I know to be an odd combination of a social progressive and a theological conservative, I can’t help but think that Australian states need to reform their tenancy laws so as to give tenants more stability and security. At present, everything seems weighted in the direction of those who seek to profit from the need of others for accomodation. A better balance of rights and responsibilities must be achievable. When New York has laws more favourable to tenants than Melbourne, we know something is wrong with our world – another woe to add to the lemon tree’s plight!

  3. Tony says:

    I dunno David, I think Leunig is just having a ‘grumpy old man day’.

    On another day may he have spoken to the folks who keep bringing the dead tree out and unearthed (pun intended) a tender story of what the tree meant to them and how they don’t have the heart to chuck it in the dump.

    Maybe it was a tree they dragged from rental to rental?

    As much as I like Leunig, I think he’s doing what I find many priests and bishops do when they come out with observations about life. This extract illustrates my point:

    Sometimes I wonder if the semi-conscious agenda of media is to get between people and their souls.

    This is a point of view that the ‘media’ is ‘them’ and ‘they’ are up to no good. BUT he is them and we, who take part in modern media, are them too. He goes on:

    … so clamorous and hyperactive are media presenters in telling us to drop everything and “have your say” or “join in the conversation”. I thought conversation only happened when you could see into each other’s eyes.

    He seems to biting the hand that feeds him and, if we agree with the sentiment, it’s probably time we turned off the modem!

  4. Louise says:

    I’m a bit allergic to Leunig, in all honesty, but I appreciate your lemon tree story, David.

    It is my firm conviction that every family ought to have the means to own their own home if they desire it.

    Then they can plant their lemon tree in the garden.

  5. Schütz says:

    You know what? That bloody possum has now taken to eating my newly planted out climbing rose. “Thanks for the ladder – I couldn’t reach those nice new growth bits” seems to be his attitude to the new arrangement with the lattice-work…

  6. Son of Trypho says:

    There is definitely something wrong with the world – last week a Catholic school student set up a “kill hookers” website, this week a Catholic student gets stabbed to death in a school fight
    Terrible – what is going on in our Catholic education system nowadays?

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