Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A tree for all seasons

Living as we do, high in the hills of Mid-Wales and with no near neighbours, frosted glass in our bathroom window is, thankfully, unnecessary.  I say thankfully because the view from the bathroom window is one of the best in the house and it would be such a shame to waste it. Whatever the time of year or the weather, it does the soul good to stand there every morning, cleaning your teeth and gazing at the majestic ash tree just below the house and at the fields and hills beyond.

The tree was a fair size when we first moved here and the intervening thirty-eight years have seen it grow into a very big tree indeed. It isn’t the only ash tree around, or even the biggest, but its distinctive shape and dominant position mean that it will always be the ash tree to us.

Luckily its main branches are widely spaced, so that it is only in the height of summer, when the its leaves are fully out, that the view is largely blocked. At other times of year we can at least glimpse the hills and fields through its gracefully drooping twigs and when these are completely leafless, as now, the view beyond is lovely.

In spring we wait eagerly to see when it will start to break into leaf, always remembering the old weather saying:

“If the oak before the ash,
Then we'll only have a splash.
If the ash before the oak,
Then we'll surely have a soak!

The problem has always been that by the time summer finally arrives, none of us can actually remember which came into leaf first. Sadly it seems that global warming may be altering the pattern to the advantage of the oak, but we still like to think our old ash tree can predict our summer weather.

In autumn our ash tree is generous. It doesn’t just drop its leaves to nourish the earth, but many of its twigs as well. My mother, a keen and talented gardener, always called the ash a messy tree, far too ready to shed its twigs and even branches when the autumn gales roar in from the south-west. I’ve lost count of the hours I’ve spent sweeping up its leaves and other debris, that carpet the yard or pile up against the house wall after a gale has blown itself out.

In many ways it is winter that best highlights the strength and grace of our ash tree, especially the hard winters we’ve been having recently. The sight of such a large tree after a heavy snowfall, with even the tiniest twig bearing its ethereal burden of snow, is magical, while its sturdy trunk and branches, outlined by the driven snow, have an abstract beauty all their own.

No wonder I waste so much time cleaning my teeth and brushing my hair every morning. With all that subtle and constantly-changing beauty to distract you, wouldn’t you?


  1. Let me just say to all those kind people, who took the trouble to comment on the new format of my blog, that for its own sweet reasons Blogger appears to have decided to put the font back to the size I originally chose! I give up - at least for the moment....

  2. I have found that for me certain trees represent God -- I suppose because they are the largest and longest living things and I have found certain special trees very comforting. Your ash seems to be a tree like that. The pictures are wonderful as they charge through the season beautiful and enduring...

  3. I never tire of it, Broad, and it speaks very clearly of us and nature as created.

  4. What a pleasure to have discovered your blog through your comments on my own. Trees, books, wilderness and spirituality - many bells chiming!

    I love your photos of the ash through changing seasons. The first snowy picture is especially atmospheric. I agree with your mother, the ash is indeed a 'messy' tree - but wise and strange and endlessly beautiful too.

  5. How nice of your to visit, dancingbeastie, and I'm enjoying your blog very much too. It's such fun to encounter like-minded people.

    The first snowy picture gave me my only claim to wider publishing fame when it appeared on the BBC website for our area after a particularly heavy snowfall last year :-)

  6. I've just got back from two weeks' holiday and it's a joy to find your lovely pictures.

    My mother too used to complain about their ash tree and Dad was always worrying that it might drop huge branches on the car that had to be parked underneath...........I don't think it ever did

  7. Hope you had a great holiday, Rosie, and glad you like the pictures. We've taken so many of our tree over the years that it was hard to choose :-) Messy it may be, but it's never dropped anything bigger than a very, very small branch on us.

  8. I found that series of photographs super...
    Wasn't the ash the tree linking the underworld with earth and the heavens in Welsh mythology...or am I mixing it up with something else?

    Your ash certainly looks worthy to be a World Tree.

  9. Thanks, Fly. I had to do a quick Google check on the mytholgy question, my memory not being what it once was.

    Apparently it was the World Tree in Norse mythology, as it linked heaven, earth and the underworld. In Celtic mythology it was known as the tree of enchantment, and its wood was said to be used for wands.

    More practically we like it because we can use its self-sown offspring as excellent firewood, both green and dry.

  10. Lovely to see such a beautiful tree in different seasons. I like it best in the photo of 20.10.2010!

    Yggdrasil was indeed the World Tree in Norse mythology and it is believed to be an ash.

    Thank you for your kind comments on my blog. Ax

  11. Annie, glad you like it too. I love it in summer, but DH likes it best in winter with bare branches.

    Thanks for the confirmation about the mythological significance of the ash. I'll be looking at our tree with new eyes from now on.

  12. Love the seasonal pictures! What a lovely tree! Thank you so much.

  13. Gorgeous, isn't it, Kathy? Today the branches are outlined against the palest of blue skies and the hills beyond are hazy. Always different and always worth seeing.

  14. Thanks for visiting, "Sir". Yes, it's a wonderful view and after nearly 40 years I never take it for granted.

  15. Thank you for directing me back to this post, Perpetua. How beautiful it all is and what a wonderful specimen that ash is. I would be looking at its beauty all the time, I'm afraid, not getting a whit of work done.

    1. Thanks, Penny. It's a view which is now embedded deep in our hearts - both the tree and the fields and hills beyond - and which we never tire of. I would miss it more than anything else if we ever moved away from this house permanently.


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