The Guardian Weekly - - Diversions -

The twin-trunked ash tree stands just out of the hedge on its me­dieval bank. It catches the last rays of the sun tip­ping over Wen­lock Edge, the western rise of Corve Dale. The tree is a vet­eran, head­ing to­wards what the poet John Clare would call an “old, huge, ash­dot­terel”. It may have been a bound­ary marker, to do with small­hold­ings,

quar­ries, lime kilns, char­coal burn­ing, parish edges – a fixed point in a world turn­ing in and out of its own past.

This is ash wood­land coun­try but there are many places con­nected with this kind of in­dus­try and set­tle­ment that are marked in some, as yet mys­te­ri­ous, way by big old ash – Æsc in Old English – open grown, cleared around so their in­di­vid­ual char­ac­ter can be seen from a dis­tance. This tree’s point is di­vided, cloven: two huge trunks, like legs stick­ing out of the ground, rise to then drop cas­cades of rat­t­ley, stiff, black-bud­ded branches; a split ash, per­haps stepped through to cure her­nias, rick­ets, im­po­tence; per­haps a shrew ash in which a shrew (feared for curs­ing cat­tle) was walled up in a hole and the tree ven­er­ated; a two-headed tree, north and south, both fac­ing west.

The way the sun­set spot­lights this par­tic­u­lar tree, among the long shad­owy miles of the dale, is un­canny. The strange light­ing il­lu­mi­nates what has been there don­key’s years, no­ticed by very few.

Win­ter trees of­fer so much more char­ac­ter with­out their leaves, which in ash ar­rive late and leave early. And this “old ash-dot­terel” is glow­ing. Paul Evans

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