We have a grapefruit tree in our backyard that is ancient and diseased and bears ugly fruit and is under constant threat of the chainsaw.
Our three children climb up into the tree’s canopy and hide, then swing off its branches onto the grass below, and they find new climbing routes up its gangly limbs.
When I was a kid, I recall being angry with my Dad for not consulting me about changes to our backyard. When I was seven, living in Hamiltion, our macrocarpa hedge had grown a limb that extended over the grass in a gesture that asked us to a game of see-saw. It wasn’t so much a tree as a character in our games, morphing from a horse to an aeroplane back to a see-saw. One day Dad gave it the chop and I protested, then moped.
A few years later we had moved to Auckland and our house had a big section with a long curved gravel drive running through it. One day the concrete trucks arrived, and there was no satisfying crunch underfoot, or gravelly sound underwheel. It felt like our sanctuary had been infiltrated by the busy road at the top of the drive. The city had come to our house.
Whenever I catch the bus to work, along a busy main Auckland road, I ponder a future for my family in regional New Zealand. I wonder how many people on the bus think about moving out of the city. We could buy a bigger house outside of the city, rather than rennovate what we have now. Scrolling through the real estate listings in neighbouring provinces is a regular passtime. A pool! A paddock! Four bedrooms! But I like Auckland. I’d miss the dumplings and bao and I’m rarely on the motorway so there’s not much to complain about except house prices.
When look out on our urban Auckland backyard, at the grapefruit tree smack middle in the yard, and the rocky volcanic outcrop which is a wonderland for our children, I wonder how they’ll feel one day if a digger turns up and we extend our house. The grapefruit tree has earned a place in my children’s childhood. It’s living and changing with them over the years, small branches growing bigger and stronger.
My husband recently felled our underperforming mandarin tree, three caterpillar-infested feijoas and a diseased karo. Then he revved the chainsaw and eyed up the grapefruit tree. The leaves at the top were shaking, and our youngest son was balancing on some branches at the top watching the back fence emerge from a decade under foliage. I shook my head.