Ned had a thing for trees. Not just any tree; that was too broad an approach. What fascinated him were the exotic trees that he found amidst the usual assortment of eucalyptus, wattle and tea trees that populated much of the bush. It was their origin that intrigued him. Usually, if it was just one tree that stood apart from the local counterparts, it could be attributed to a random seed deposited by a passing bird or animal. But sometimes there were clusters of trees, like oaks, jacarandas and weeping willows, that indicated a different kind of beginning. He liked to scout around, searching for signs to help piece together the story of the trees.

His mates were usually good-humoured when he went off on one of his tree trips, as they called them. He’d tried to explain his fascination for these misplaced trees, usually only seen on large estates or in botanic gardens, but words couldn’t quite convey the emotional draw these outcasts held for him.

They’d pulled over at Twenty Mile Hollow for a rest stop on the way back to Sydney. Ned was relieved to get out and stretch his legs, and had wandered off towards the trees edging the reserve, recalling a memory from a school trip where the bus had dislodged a restless crowd of kids to roam free for a few minutes. Some of the kids had gathered around, telling stories about how the place was haunted by the ghosts of convicts who’d been flogged here while building the road across the mountains.

Out of habit, Ned scanned the trees around him, then spotted one that was clearly a ring-in. He walked towards it, pushing aside the low scrubby growth with a distracted hand. It took longer than he expected to reach the base of the tree, which was enormous. With reverence, Ned walked around the trunk, his hand feeling the scored growth of the bark. He looked up slowly, taking in the magnificence of this tree, so different to those that surrounded it.

‘How did you get here?’

Ned sometimes talked to the trees. It helped him to think through how they may have ended up in diverse locations.

‘You’re a long way from home.’ He circled the trunk again, then pulled his phone out to take a few photos. The phone vibrated with a message, but Ned flicked the screen back to the photo app, intent on capturing the way the branches reached outwards and up towards the sun.

There had been two carloads travelling back from a weekend spent fishing in the country. One group had already headed off, keen to return to Sydney. There had been some speculation as to whether Ned had gone back with the first group. Then they’d messaged him, and called him, but there was no response.

By the time Ned made his way back to the car park area, there were plenty of vehicles but none that he recognised.

This piece was written to a prompt on the Writer’s Digest website. Left Behind: write about someone being left behind. You can read more about 20 Mile Hollow here. There is a National Register of Big Trees which has some amazing native and exotic trees.

Photo: Giant Redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum) at the Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens in Hobart.