Tag Archives: willow

A moment observed

I can forgive myself for not recalling Edward Thomas in the small hours last night, but here he is, a century ago in Adlestrop, with blackbirds in the foreground and way away into the background. The birds’ greeting to the sun when the new dawn breaks here in Kent will be echoed, some 8 minutes later, by all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, as the sun’s rays reach out to them.

Edward Thomas’s Adlestrop

Yes, I remember Adlestrop —
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop — only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Willow, willow, willow

The self-sown willow in Mrs O’s garden is growing on the boundary. this time last year it was inaccessible behind waves of rampant brambles. I have cleared them over the months, although I see a new purple shoot every time I visit as the roots send buds to seek the sun and reclaim the land in leaf and thorn. But what about the willow?

i left it unpruned over the Winter to allow its early Spring flowering. The stems bearing pussy catkins were all too high up to contribute  to the display in Mrs O’s garden or her neighbours’, though they formed part of Mrs T’s Valentine’s bouquet, made up our family Easter Tree and graced the Paschal Candle and Baptismal Water at the Easter Vigil.

Willows, of course, are still exploited for making baskets and hurdles, Last May when I tackled the fallen willow in Wales, (See my post Si vis pacem, pare hortum) the new shoots were already evident, thrusting upwards like Mrs O’s brambles; they helped me determine where to make my cuts.

willow

No such work had ever been done here, so I brought all stems down to eye level, about six feet high.That was on Good Friday, and now, four weeks later, there are shoots appearing up and down the stems, and all reaching for the sky.

willow2willow1.

Seeing such abundance, I almost regret not cutting lower down, but we’ll wait and see the year out as we are. As it happens, my pruning saw is at Miss Turnstone’s new house, where it has plenty to get its teeth into.

And maybe I should investigate basket weaving.

Far behind : 4

The pussy willow brought indoors as part of Mrs T’s Valentine’s tribute has begun bursting enthusiastically. As I was pruning this afternoon, I found many buds showing green but also disturbed a tan coloured moth which flew a couple of yards to cover. The snails I found seemed still crusted into their shells, so it must be ground-burrowing slugs that are dining already.

Everything has its moment

 

Everything has its moment

‘Everything has its moment’, said Mrs T.
We had just noticed the long orange stems of the willow by the duck pond, glowing through the morning mist. There are also still plenty of golden leaves on the trees, even some green on the birch, but it’s the gold of autumn that draws the eye to a seedling chestnut. Neither the god-daughters nor the squirrels spotted that nut last autumn – or maybe one of the squirrels buried it and forgot about it.
Everything has its moment. May we be ready for ours!
The Donkey
G. K. Chesterton
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

Si vis pacem pare hortum

willow

shoots aiming for the sky from a fallen willow.

Higher and further into Wales: from Laugharne to the Brecon Beacons, to stop and stare and absorb the tranquillity at a friend’s place: marjoram with meadowsweet; the herb colonising the paths above the damp land, where meadowsweet shelters the pheasant family from kite and buzzard if not weasel or cat.

Tranquillity has been carefully nurtured: planting a tree here, a day lily there, giving the Mermaid rose room to spread herself into the trees around.

Robert Frost wrote of good fences, and wondered

“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it

Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

                                                          What I was walling in or walling out,

                                                          And to whom I was like to give offence.

Here, sometimes, there are Hereford cows, though this day the fence and hedge were holding back a mixed flock of sheep – the valley sheep are fatter, and would be fatter still were they able to chew the cud on spinach, beans and garden flowers. Not maintaining this fence would cause offence and distress. Distress and offence had already been caused in February.

Our friend’s Eastern boundary once had a hedge and ditch on the other side of the line. A good hedge provides a home for insects, birds and small mammals; its roots protect the soil on either side from being washed away. The old hedge had been grubbed up, the ditch levelled, in the name of efficiency, today’s acceptable euphemism for laziness and greed. Cropped to the edge with spring-sown maize, year upon year, when the late winter storms came nothing could hold the top layer of soil from being scoured, and a stream formed around the little willow, undermining it. This tree was part of the informal hedging our friend had planted below the field edge, six feet on her side of the fence.

Now the willow lay across the bench that commands a view across lawns, trees, bushes and beds, bulbs in season, and always the birds. This tree had grown from an osier thrust into the ground and now had half a dozen stems, twelve feet tall and more. Only one was near vertical, the one that before the landslide had leant towards the field. I set myself to rescue the bench by cutting back each leaning trunk to a vigorous vertical shoot while leaving that one upright trunk to point the way.

There were plenty of shoots to choose from, some of them six feet high already. Unchecked, the weight of this vegetation would have brought the willow right down onto the bench and maybe have broken it.

I would have enjoyed having Dermot with me, with his love of trees and quirky insights, but had to commune with myself and Whoever might be listening. And I had to listen to the tree: where do you want to grow? How can I get you back to a pleasing shape? And my apologies for tearing a strip off your bark, misjudging that first cut across the front of the stem.

Squirrels had barked the tree before me: did they use it as a painkiller? A few days later, Dermot didn’t think so; he says they’ll go for any bark, just to be destructive. Dermot doesn’t like squirrels.

Job done as the ladies returned from the village; logs, pea-sticks and rubbish sorted. ‘Wait’, our friend said, as the barrow was laden with bonfire fodder. She took a handful of vigorous twigs and thrust them into the soil nearby. ‘You never know!’

I wonder: the next time we come, perhaps they will be six feet and we will know they have taken.