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.'


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