And the boss never knew

A short story by Bob Collins (Stumpy)

The clear felling of the native forest marched the bush-edge always backward. This allowed the corresponding march forward of waste land. Some tiling had to be done to bring this ever increasing area of waste land back into production. The forestry men of the day began planting introduced species of trees as and where they could – without any treatment of the land – in an attempt to improve its carrying capacity.

This slapdash way of establishing a forest began in 1948 and continued for ten years. During that time the forest nurseries which supplied the young trees were fully committed to supplying the great, growing, exotic forests – Kaingaroa, Rotoehu, and Whakarewarewa. Only the remnants of the seedling supply – the species that nobody else required or wanted – were available to plant in the native cutovers. Nobody had any faith in the success of the enterprise anyhow.

Many of these plantings failed, and those that did survive were brave little clumps of trees of unusual species, fighting scrub and fern regrowth, wind, and snow, to survive. They grew but slowly, wind twisted and malformed, with heavy branching. They would never be of use or ornament.

After 1958 a new vigour took over the administration of the forest. Cutover wasteland was cleared by machine or fire – seed was sown in the nurseries exclusively for that forest – establishment of a new forest over the wasteland became a reality.

Soon all the untouched wasteland was forested, a good crop growing and only the wasteland carrying the early, failed plantings remained. The Boss (who had supervised the early plantings – now so ugly and useless) had a nostalgic affection for them, so decreed that although the new afforestation methods could advance upon them, they must remain untouched.

Stumpy and his leading supervisor were disgusted! They wanted to make a clean sweep and start the forest anew. But the old fellow was The Boss. He may be wrong, but he was still the boss, so had to be obeyed.

In 1962 Stumpy and the men had prepared a burn of more than two hundred acres for planting in the coming winter. Smack in the middle of this burn was one of the remnant early plantings, a group of poorly, ugly, southern pines huddled together. To obey the Boss and protect this island of trees, Stumpy had had the nuisance clump of trees well fire-breaked on all sides. The Boss inspected the job and was satisfied with the precautions

The day of the burn arrived and the fire was lit. As the heavy oily black clouds of smoke rolled over the land engulfing the unwanted group of trees, Stumpy had a brainwave! What, was to stop him from hiding in that heavy coiling smoke and dropping a match into that damned bunch of trees, then we could start the new forest afresh, with productive trees.

Nobody would see him in that thick smoke and the fire would be blamed for jumping the firebreak. That’s what he would do! Stumpy was furtively sneaking along the firebreak in dark, tear—jerking smoke, dropping matches where he had no business to when out of the heat and the haze a sneaking figure appeared approaching him, doing as he was, dropping matches into the wrong side of the firebreak. It was Stumpy’s subordinate supervisor!

They passed within feet of each other, ignored each other, failed to even acknowledge the other’s presence. Each simply continued on his way.

It was ten years before they ever mentioned that accidental meeting to each other, and by then the old Boss had long gone, while in the place of those scrubby southern pines a new and vigorous productive forest was growing.

Stumpy and the Supervisor are both very proud of that piece of forest – each claims the credit! And the old Boss never knew!