Monday, 10 March 2014

I'm following a tree

Encouraged by Lucy from Loose and Leafy I am joining in with a group of people following a tree for a year. Now I have to be honest and admit that I started this last year but somehow lost interest quite quickly. Shameful I know.  Last year's tree was a horse chestnut and while it excited me mightily in spring, it then spent a lot of time in the summer looking pretty much the same.  I suspect this assessment is more to do with my failing to look closely enough at what was going on than with any lack on the part of the tree.

This year I wandered about looking at trees and waiting for one to choose me.  I love the really big trees by the house.


I considered both of these, the sycamore by the drive and the yew by the house.  Somehow they were just too big.  I felt I was not up to the challenge of doing them justice and also they are so damn high.  There would be worlds of life up there that I wouldn't know anything about, however carefully I photographed them every month from the ground.

I wondered about the Howgate Wonder apple tree in the field which has a lovely spreading shape and an astonishing yearly crop of huge round apples.  I contemplated a walnut (too late coming into leaf if I wanted my readers to keep awake), a crab apple (new and beautiful but very small) and a blackthorn (might get cut to shreds by the thorns if I got too close).

Walking around the field it struck me that the rowan in the boundary hedge next to the shepherd's hut would be perfect.  Not too big, right outside the window when I am working in there so not easy to forget or ignore and I knew the tree was full of bird life because I watch chaffinches and sparrows and a little wren come and go when I am at my desk.


So here is my tree.  She is multistemmed and graceful.  The little path you see to her left, disappearing towards the fence, is the badger track where they come in at night from the neighbouring field.


Right behind the tree the animal track dips beneath the fence, just large enough for a small dog or a badger to get through.


You can see where Ian took one or two of the lower branches off the tree so that they would not scrape against the shepherd's hut.  You can also see that the tree shares this corner of the field with a tiny self sown yew tree and, on the other side of the chestnut palings, a three big holly trees.  Interestingly all of these trees are associated in folklore with protection.  Holly trees in fields and near houses were said to protect against lightning strikes and when a branch was cut and brought into the house it protected against malevolent fairies, or at the very least helped humans and fairies to rub along together without the humans inadvertently causing offence.  In most parts of the country farmers did not uproot holly trees and indeed our neighbouring farmers here in North Wales leave them and generally do not cut the hollies when the rest of the hedges are trimmed. Yew trees were symbolic of death and regeneration in Celtic myth, presumably owing to their incredible longevity, and churches were built in places where yew trees were already growing as the Christian church appropriated that symbolism for its own purposes.  Rowans were believed to be protective against witchcraft, a belief found throughout England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland.  The Welsh for a rowan tree is cerddinen, pronounced ker-thin-nen, and it is a feminine noun, as most tree names are in Welsh.  I had never noticed before how the trees which curve around the hut protect us from all sorts of harm.  The hollies certainly protect from wind when it is in the North.



The bark is mottled with lichens and has a faint sheen to it.


There are no buds yet on the bare branches.  Rowan does not come into leaf early. Around here it is usually after the elder, hawthorn and horse chestnut but before the oak and the ash so I would expect it to leaf some time in mid to late April.  I am really looking forward to seeing the tree change with the seasons and to reading about others' trees.  How poor the world would be without trees in it.

48 comments:

  1. Oh wonderful choice, I love that you have a protective Rowan next to your hut, and such a graceful rowan too. I didn't know that about holly, very intriguing. And you have lichen, and a badger track! I shall enjoy watching your rowan, I have just planted one (a non-native ornamental) but it will be good to watch a proper grown-up strutting its stuff. Wonder if I should plant some holly somewhere...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Definitely have some holly! It will live very happily with your hawthorn.

      Delete
  2. Rowans are lovely trees, so a good choice and protection against witches too. What more can you ask? Do you ever get to see your badgers?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We have some pictures taken with a wildlife camera but we haven't ever managed to stay awake long enough to see them! Hopeless I know.

      Delete
    2. That bit about witches... they got it wrong. They protect witches! (Which is why I planted one in my garden.) 8-)

      The Rowan tree is one of the most sacred trees in Scottish folk tradition. ‘Scottish tradition does not allow the use of the tree’s timber, bark, leaves or flowers, nor the cutting of these, except for sacred purposes under special conditions.’ (Fife)

      Rowan is one of the trees associated with Saint Brighid, the Celtic patroness of the arts, healing, smithing, spinning and weaving. Spindles and spinning wheels were traditionally made of Rowan in Scotland and Ireland. Rowan trees planted near stone circles in Scotland were especially powerful. Scottish Fairies were said to hold their celebrations within stone circles protected by Rowan trees. Modern interpretations of the Celtic Ogham place Rowan, called Luis, as the sacred tree of February.

      Rowan twigs were placed above doorways and barns to protect the inhabitants against misfortune and evil spirits. It was one of the trees sacred to Druids and used for protection against sorcery and evil spirits. The Druids burnt Rowan on funeral pyres, for it also symbolized death and rebirth. The Druid Ovates and Seers burnt Rowan in rites of divination and to invoke spirits, and Druids used Rowan wood in rites of purification. Ancient Bards considered the Rowan the ‘Tree of Bards’, bringing the gift of inspiration. Rowan is one of the nine sacred woods burnt in the Druids’ Beltaine fire. Rowan is also associated with dragons and serpents - sacred Rowans were once guarded by dragons.

      In America, the Rowan is usually referred to as Mountain Ash. Most sources maintain that the word ‘Rowan’ is derived from the Norse word rune, which means charm or secret, and runa, which is Sanskrit for magician. However according to Elizabeth Pepper, Rowan is a Scottish word, derived from the Gaelic rudha-an, which means ‘the red one’.

      Rune staves were often cut from the rowan tree for amulets by the Norse people who invaded Scotland. In the Christian era, the twigs have been used for protection against witches, sorcery, negative magic and the Evil Eye. Twigs tied in a cross with red thread are affixed to doors and barns to keep the inhabitants and livestock from being enchanted, saying this charm, ‘Rowan tree and red thread, will put witches to their speed’ . Walking sticks made of rowan are used to protect the user from the spirits of the woods.

      Rowan is also called the Witch Tree, or Wicken Tree, and can be used for divining precious metals, just as hazel can divine water. Witches used Rowan to increase their psychic powers, for spells of healing, success, protection, and often used the wood for their magic wands.

      History

      Practicing folk magic was a sign of witchcraft to the 17th Century Scots. Margaret Barclay was brought to trial for witchcraft in Ayrshire, Scotland, in 1618. The damning evidence found in her possession was a Rowan charm – a Rowan twig tied with red thread for protection. (Pepper)

      Delete
  3. It's a lovely tree - graceful, accessible, un-overwhelming, interesting (lichens . . . badgers . . .) and, when the berries come - cheerful. I think it's good to that you have a tree you will be by often in your ordinary way of things. You'll probably notice subtle changes that you might miss if you had to make a special expedition to visit 'your' tree. I think if I had an amble round your garden - I might well have chosen this tree too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope you are right Lucy. I would like to redeem myself after my pathetic effort last year!

      Delete
    2. imagine - a path made by a badger - in the garden. The badgers are not a problem to you? Another blogger was doing frantic battle with badgers. Such a trim determined path it is.

      Delete
    3. They don't generally trouble us Diana. If the winters are really hard they dig up grubs from the lawn, if you can dignify it by that name. Not that often!

      Delete
  4. I had never heard of rowan trees, so checked Wikipedia and discovered they're members of the genus we call "mountain ash" in the western USA -- Sorbus. Interesting. Rowans certainly have much more folklore than our mountain ashes do.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They are sometimes called mountain ash here too. I wonder if there is any tradition of tree lore in the native american cultures?

      Delete
  5. What a lovely tree. Rowans always remind me of Welsh mountains. How wonderful to have a badger track running past it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They are very happy up here, although we are hills more than mountains here in the Clwydians. Silver birch thrive too!

      Delete
  6. Once upon a time, back in the last century, I knew that Rowan was the name of a favorite yarn company, but had not ever knowingly seen a rowan tree.

    And so, Elizabeth, having seen some beautiful rowan trees on October 2013 UK visit, I am really looking forward to learning all that you will be showing us about this beautiful tree. I am so glad that you've chosen the rowan, and really loved this introduction to your tree and its neighbors.

    xo

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yes, I have used Rowan yarn too Frances. It is a lovely name isn't it?

      Delete
  7. What a lovely post! And interesting that you picked a Rowan - my favourite type of tree. I am inspired now to follow a tree too - my thinking cap is on!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well do hope you follow a tree too. The more the better!

      Delete
  8. Mine too - I've had a rough time with some of my trees recently, including my poor rowan which had to come down after storm damage, so it would be good to celebrate one. I shall join in as well (but first I have to choose my tree….)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Must see what you chose! You have a number of interesting contenders in your garden.

      Delete
  9. What a lovely tree to pick, in interesting post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. I must acquire more knowledge about the Rowan!

      Delete
  10. So you are now also a tree hugger :-). Secretly, I have every year one tree chosen in our area, often in the far field which still belongs to the farm. I always have to smile about the fact that in English, a tree is a 'she'. In any other language I know, a tree is male.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think probably in English a tree is neither male nor female but in welsh they are generally female!

      Delete
  11. I love the Rowan tree. I don't have any here and I have always thought of planting one. I really must do so. I am fascinated by the folklore around trees, too. Because of this, I do feel that our ancestors would have thought about the individual trees around them so much more than we do today.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree Wendy. Trees must have been a vital part of life for thousands of years and our understanding of them, their uses and the meanings we ascribed to them must have been an important element of the way we made sense of the world.

      Delete
  12. When I started doing this in January, I thought I'd be concentrating on the changes to the tree itself, but the interesting thing for me, is that I've actually become much more aware of changes in the weather, the sky and the quality of light. Oh yes, and I seem to be paying more attention to a few other trees now too - such a lovely project, glad you're doing it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is good isn't it for making you look.

      Delete
  13. am already bewitched by your Rowan, not least because of your magical writing. Hope we can both keep up with the tree following this year!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Must have a look at yours too, and thank you!

      Delete
  14. Your rowan will protect you from witches as you write in your shepherd`s hut. I wonder if it has been pollarded in its youth to have so many stems?

    I love the badger path ( such secretive creatures).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am not sure about the rowan. We planted another further down the field which is behaving in the same way and which has not been pollarded so maybe it is common. Must find out!

      Delete
  15. I am considering following a tree too - and the tree nearest my window is a rowan - never thought of it as a she though! I may choose a Scots pine - at the moment pheasants roost in it every night and there is a tree creeper investigating the nest box- so plenty going on.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Choosing a tree with a nest in it is a very good idea. will be interested to see.

      Delete
  16. I am beginning to feel left out of this tree following lark but I have vaguely thought about it and may join in in due course. Thanks for the Welsh focussed background on tree folklore - I have a little book to dip into which has similar intriguing info. Reassuring that you are well protected in your shepherd's hut!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Between having a son named Rowan, loving Rowan yarns, and having (shhh) removed what we call a mountain ash (for fear of distressing the fairies) from our front yard, I heartily applaud your choice of tree. I our area they are invasive, so we took ours out without too much regret, but I did like the tree.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hard to think of the rowan as an invasive tree. It shows how important it is to grow what is meant for your landscape.

      Delete
  18. Such a beautiful thing to do! And your choice is perfect too. Yes, what would the world be without trees indeed!? How I wish I could follow a tree too but spotting one in a concrete jungle is a tad difficult, you see. :-)
    Looking forward to the rowan's seasonal journey.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe you could make it a bonsai and follow a tree in a pot? that would be interesting too.

      Delete
  19. Following a tree over the seasons is a fun idea, and I enjoyed hearing the history of the Rowan.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. thanks Sarah. Now you come from the land of trees over there in New England!

      Delete
  20. Good luck to your project and may the Rowan tree protect against peacocks and shelter shepherds and their huts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not sure I want protection from peacocks Fennie. it would be rather nice to have ours back again.

      Delete
  21. I do so love a Rowan tree. What a perfect choice. There is so much to know about these beauties, and you'll even be able to make Rowan Berry Jelly come the autumn :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have made all sorts of jellies but never rowan. Must remedy that.

      Delete
  22. We have a Rowan! I know, here on Long Island - but we do! We bought it specifically because of its druidic connections, and as a protective spirit to guard our cottage.

    As for following a tree, I have been following an apple tree in a nearby schoolyard for years now. My plan is to take a photo of it from the exact same spot all through the seasons, and then create a moving image of it by compiling all the photos together. I have a great camera and could easily take the photos, but I don't know how to put them together into the moving thingie yet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a fab idea about the apple tree! Would really love to see your compilation when you crack how to do it.

      Delete
  23. Hello, I've just discovered your marvelous blog and look forward to reading your past posts. I had no idea Yew trees were associated with death. I have three tall ones in my garden here in San Francisco.

    I look forward to reading more of your musings.

    ReplyDelete

Comments are great. Thank you for taking the time!