About the Ash Tree by Unknown
Some of our well-known trees have a long and curious history belonging
to them: the Oak, Elder, and Willow are good examples, but perhaps the
Ash excels all others in its remarkable history. It is a tree often
found growing on a ridge or hill by itself, and therefore exposed to
storms, which it withstands wonderfully. Though in former days it was
held to be a sacred or lucky tree, people believed that it attracted the
lightning—no doubt a solitary ash has been sometimes struck. The wood
is valuable for its toughness; it seldom splinters, and will bear a
greater weight than the wood of most other trees. In the olden time, the
Romans made from it spears and ploughs, and the Greeks also used it for
several purposes. Hop-poles are chiefly manufactured from ash saplings
in England; tables and pails of ash are also fairly common.
In some years much harm is done to ash-trees by a caterpillar which
bores into the wood; when full-grown, the insect turns into a handsomely
spotted moth, which is called the Leopard, from its markings. To Eastern
folk the ash was a notable tree, because of a legend that it was the
first tree under which Adam, the father of mankind, sat. Our northern
ancestors also thought much of this tree, because it would thrive in
exposed places, where few others could make progress. An old woodcut
shows women working along the fields, while their babies or young
children were hanging in baskets upon the branches of an ash. The reason
for this was that the tree had the fame of keeping off snakes, and also
of protecting persons from witches. About the thorpes and granges of the
old Anglo-Saxons the ash was common, the tree being sacred and a
favourite. Even now we see many a group of knotted ash-trees on
Hampshire hills and Devonshire moors.
About some parts of the West of England they burn ash foggots at
Christmas, to keep in memory, it is said, a cold winter when King Alfred
and his soldiers were marching through the country and had to warm
themselves by fires of ash-wood.
Some people used to wear the flowers of the ash, commonly called 'kegs,'
in their hats or coats, owing to a belief that they kept away diseases,
and a medicine was prepared from them by the old herbalists. Evelyn, who
lived in the seventeenth century, says that some people pickled them for
salad. Search used to be made upon the twigs for a double leaf, for if
one was discovered it was supposed to bring good luck to the finder.
Sometimes, when a child had a painful illness, people split a pollard
ash down the middle, the two parts were held back, the child was passed
through the opening, and then the tree was tied up again. Ash-trees that
have been cut in this way to get a cure are still to be seen here and
there about the country. There are also noticeable shrew-trees, as they
are called, in which a hole had been cut to receive a shrew mouse, owing
to an old notion that, by being hidden there, this little animal cured
the sick cows.
'If the oak is out before the ash,
'Twill be a summer of wet and splash;
But if the ash is before the oak,
'Twill be a summer of fire and smoke.'
The summer of 1903, for instance, was certainly one of 'wet and splash,'
with little of the heat implied by the 'fire and smoke;' but was the oak
first, then, to put forth new leaves? It is said that the two trees
leafed at nearly the same time, both being backward owing to the cold
spring. But there is another version of the rhyme which gives the last
three words as 'souse and soak.'
Reading is the cheapest of all amusements, and the most lasting.