Outlook 23
News and Views from St. Mary's Woodbridge
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Versatile ash
The name Ash is believed to have its origins in the Anglo-Saxon word aesc, a poetic word for spear. ‘It serves the soldier … carpenter, wheelwright, cooper, turner and thatcher… from spear and bow, to the plough; in peace and war’, such are the uses and versatility of the Ash tree, as commented upon by John Evelyn (Sylva – 1664). But the Ash tree native to these Isles – graceful, with silver-grey bark and black alternate buds and pointed compound leaf – is in danger. Culturally, ecologically, Ash is an important and widespread tree which is being threatened by an invasion of a fungus – Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, more commonly known as ‘ash die-back.’ This fungus blocks the transport system carrying water through the Ash tree, causing leaf loss and lesions on the bark and in the wood, and eventually die-back of the tree’s crown. It is thought to be due to importing infected trees from Europe. Fallen giants The Ash features in both culture and practical living. Listen to the Welsh harpist playing ‘Llwyn Onn’ (The Ash Grove). Read the sad poem with the same name, written by Edward Thomas in 1916. Poet Wilfred Childe states: ‘The ash tree towers; ancient and friendly arms stretch out.’ The Revd Francis Kilvert, writing in his diary (26 March 1872) laments the hauling away of the fallen giants: ‘great ash trees, and the shouts of the timber hauliers were ringing hollow, and echoing …’ Place names include Ashurst, Ashling, Ashdown Forest. As children we made whistles from ash twigs, carefully loosening the bark to vary the pitch. And we carried ash walking-sticks, pulled from the earth, the roots making distinctive handles. Old age insists that I repeat this seventy years later! And ‘Ash logs, green or dry’ – burning such has become a lifetime’s habit. It is a timber used by those who carve and whittle. Ash is the traditional wood for making shepherd’s crooks – and for constructing sheepfolds, using ash hurdles to protect and guard sheep, as the Good Shepherd protects and guards his sheep... Michael H Stagg