Do we have control in life?

March 23, 2018

A favourite tree - bird-bashed and burnt, but still standing.

The next best thing to living by the sea is living with trees.

On a still day, trees stand breathing like tired old friends coming to terms with the slow knowledge they will always be the perch of stroppy birds who eat, screech and crap across their feet.

Sometimes it can be embarrassing and undignified to be a tree.

But on windy days trees roll and crash like waves on a wild ocean beach.

On these days the trees have revenge on birds keen to use them, like bogan tenants trashing the furniture, or bragging gardeners who want to control and order them into silent sirens of lovely green and executive suburbia.

On windy days, trees cough and spit out birds like cherry pips.

The cockies circle and shout obscenities at their landlords who had the gumption to call time on their noisy antics.

Sometimes a branch snaps and falls on the lawn.

If it’s a thin whispery branch, it spins and catches sunlight like a fishing lure through water on its way to earth in a flutter of leaves to remind us that death can be gentle.

If it’s a big branch, it cracks like an arm in a three-way ruck and thuds crashing into the ground, leaving leaf and wood debris scattered like Syrian bomb concrete.

Sometimes I lie awake at night listening to the swaying trees as they crash onto the shore, bringing jewels and monsters.

And I think about the way we are all subject to the chaos of life — the Florida school shooting, the young policeman on his way to work, the politician’s first ruinous gaze into the eye of his young lover-to-be — and I wonder do we ever, really have any control of our lives?

The data miners and the priest would say if we trust in numbers or in God, then we can shape our destiny.

These people say we are not plants or animals.

We can make rational choices that take precedence over the natural causes that govern the rest of the universe.

But nature, and the frailty of people denies this.

Stuff happens, and keeps on happening, in a roll-call of randomness that washes over us.

Some people take to addiction or their armchair to deal with it.

Others go running or cycling, determined to control the arbitrary madness of the world.

Diet, disease, climate change, Cambridge Analytica, bushfire and footy fever — they are all coming at ya.

The poet Louis Macneice called it ‘‘The drunkenness of things being various’’.

High winds a couple of weeks ago brought down a tree branch in my backyard.

At the same time, my chainsaw packed up.

That is an example of annoying randomness.

The branch still lies balanced on my fence, stretching like a finger from the chaotic, dark bush into my ordered lawn-mower world.

But this weekend it is time to wrest back control from this cocky-crazy universe.

I am buying a new chainsaw and I am going to chop up the branch, store the wood for winter and clear my tiny corner from any more arboreal madness.

But only for a while.

Because chaos is life — while order is death.

John Lewis is chief of staff at The News.

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