Or What to expect when removing a tree in Melbourne or some creepy crawlies and the canopial clown car.
Although this title sounds like some wacky 80’s (Australian) sitcom, it’s no laughing matter. Well, maybe a bit of a laughing matter. I’ve spoken before about my escapades in the forest, yet most of my time lately has been composed of doing urban tree work (climbing to prune and remove trees, consulting, and planting). Sometimes it’s the same (moderately dangerous) run-of-the-mill climbing trees with chainsaws type of work I’m used to back home, but with an Australian twist. The tree species are different. Like I’ve said before, some of these species were enough to draw me here, like the Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans). Others, I never expected, and have led to some interesting experiences. Enter the Paperbark Tree (Meleleuca ericifolia).
Some of you may know Meleleuca from it’s other name, Tea Tree, as it’s famous for Tea Tree Oil, the skin care product pimply faced teenagers are crawling over each other to apply to their bacteira infested faces (gross but true). Tea tree oil is antibiotic, and thus, is great for dealing with wounds, and skin care issues. Now, Tea tree oil may be good at killing bacteria, but the trees themselves cultivate microlife and mature trees are little ecosystems unto themselves. The tree grows in a naturally multi-stemmed form, making for tight unions, leading to major soil buildup, and the bark peels off in these very thick mats of paper (thus the name), both of these factors make great habitats for invertebrates and the things that eat them.
 Bushcraft note – The bark is great tinder. Not as good as Birch bark though.
This is important as it builds the foundation for a story about animals in trees. On a cloudy June day, our crew of three arrives at site. Our job is to remove one of those very Tea Trees. As usual, it is large, multi-stemmed, and over a shed, a fence and tree house. It is a little over 1m at the base.
As I begin my ascent up the tree, digging my spurs in through the thick soft, papery bark, I climb past the usual Huntsman. These are the largest spiders in Australia, very docile, and very fast. With legs included they are as large as a dinner plate, the first look of them is, well, intimidating. In fact, they’re quite docile and can be handled by anyone who is relaxed enough. The arborists here call them ninja stars because if you through them, they stick out there legs while they spin through the air. Upon contact with anything, they grab on tight. It’s delightful to throw them at unsuspecting groundsman.
Climbing past the huntsman, I come across a mouse spider (Missulena spp), our second friend. They’re called this because of their size, or so I assume. As with the huntsman this spider is very docile and okay with being handled. Unfortunately they aren’t as fun as the huntsmans though, and don’t take kindly to being thrown, so as per usual Kyle protocol, I pick it up and guide it out of the tree. I like spiders. Especially ones that can’t kill me.
Shortly before reaching the canopy I remove a collection of bark from a union above me. Remember, how I said these unions gather debris and that the tree is an ecosystem unto itself? As I pull the handful of bark out, I am showered by an insect I was happily unfamiliar with before coming to Australia: the cockroach. Yes, there are many species of roaches in Australia. Fortunately in Canada there is only one type of roach I’m familiar with, and although smelly, they aren’t often found in trees, and are generally non-motile. The Australian variety however were very unimpressed with my disturbance of their lair. I knock them off, and before freaking out (which is what my every bone in my body wanted to do) I decided to face what has been a long standing fear since my first viewing of Men in Black (remember the roach guy?). They don’t bite, they don’t hiss (at least these ones) and they don’t smell. All these ones do is creep folks out. Coming across them in the tree is just a normal part of working in Aus, so they’re far from an issue. Though, if they were in my house, I’m sure I’d have something different to say.
About ten minutes after beginning my climb, and the standard Tea Tree mini zoological adventure I reach the canopy and see what is unmistakably a nest. I call down to the boss, asking for some insight in this new habitat.
‘Yeah, that’s a possum’s nest’ Captain Chris says. He’s the owner of the company and a seasoned Aussie arborist. He knows these trees and the possums that call this urban forest home.
‘Do I need to worry about it? Are they in there?’ I ask looking at the mess of small broken branches. It looks like a skeleton of a squirrel nest. Except, squirrels don’t live in Australia. A good thing, because squirrels are fast, and mothers have a very in-your-face attitude towards arborists.
‘Nah mate, if they were in there, they’d have come out already. Usually they climb to the top of the tree, and watch as you remove the tree, until theres nothing left and the pee on you before jumping out.
‘Oh, awesome. So, there’s none in this nest?’
‘Nope, long gone’
I somehow don’t believe him, but happily continue on removing the tree over the shed and tree house. Of course, this is the last pearl of wisdom the boss leaves me with before hitting the road to take care of quoting jobs around the city.
I begin taking pieces of the limbs surrounding the nest thinking nothing of it. A handsaw here, a chainsaw there. An awful racket everywhere.
Eventually we near the end of the day, the winter rain has not dampened our spirits, but thanks to the weather we’re ready to wrap up. Plus taking any more of the tree may lead to balance issues over night. Just a couple precarious limbs to remove on the tree before wrapping it up. I attach the rigging line to the next branch, and have a thought. Now, I’m not a gambling man but this seemed like a bet worth making. I call out to Uber Chris my trusty partner on the ground.
‘Hey Uber, what do you think, possums in here or not?’
‘No vay, they’d have come out viz all ze activity.’ He says in his unique german-Australian accent.
‘Alright, I bet you a coffee there’s one in there’ I was going with my gut, as the small nest was so thick there was no chance of seeing inside.
I notch the limb and make my back cut as the piece swings effortlessly over the shed and onto the ground. I have lost my bet. No movement, no animals. And then, Uber Chris exclaims from the ground.
‘Oh my gosh! There iz a possum in heah!’
Just then a ringtail possum (Pseudocherius peregrinus) the size of a Corgi explodes out of the nest. Chris jumps back to give it space, and in the commotion, the creature looks up at me vindictively as if to say ‘Well where am I gonna live now?!’ Sorry buddy.
 He doesn’t know them personally, but figuratively.
 Warning tree nerd speak: Removing too much of a tree can lead to stability issues as the trunk is exposed to different exertional forces that didn’t exist previously. Best case scenario is to entirely brush out a tree by the end of the day. Second best is to leave enough of the canopy that the tree can still buffet winds.
 Well, except for my safety, and long term financial well being…
 We call him Uber Chris in homage to his homeland.
Then a second, then a third (!) jumps out of a space that seemingly couldn’t have fit a squirrel only moments ago. I am amazed. I go from totally cool and collected chainsaw-wielding-arborist to screaming Justin Bieber fan in an instant. Take a photo take a photo!!! OMG!!! Meanwhile, the little ones soldier on and begin their work scouting the neighbourhood for a new flat. Perhaps they’ve been contemplating moving for sometime, discussing it regularly at house meetings and over dinner during possum holidays but never had the impetus to actually begin looking for a new place, they were too comfortable in this tea tree, lazy even. Perhaps this was the kick in the butt they needed.
Back in the human world, work has gone out the window, I am just amazed at the capacity of these creatures to fit into such a small space (plus they're adorable). It’s been a while since I’ve thought of a clown car, but this brought memories flooding back. After cleaning up my cuts and removing the rigging line I descend out of the tree, excited, but with the usual duties of cleaning the ground and packing the truck, a forty five minute job in the rain, though I’ve got the episode with our possum friends to entertain my thoughts.
After wrapping it all up, before jumping into the truck soggy and tired, I remind my partner the best part of the whole ordeal ‘Oh waitaminute Uber Chris! That means you owe me a coffee now, doesn’t it? Far out!’
 He’s still popular right?
 ‘Do we really need to go anywhere? We’re so close to the cockroach store!’ ‘Honey we’ve discussed this, I want to get out and meet the neighbours! This urban forest is so big, and there’s garbage cans we haven’t eaten at yet’