Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Ash die-back

In case you haven't heard, there is a nasty disease spreading through ash groves around the UK, called chalara dieback (see the Forestry Commission's site for details). We may, unfortunately, be about to experience the massive loss of ash trees that Denmark has been suffering in recent years (see here for more about that).

I can't help reflecting on what this all means. Ash has always been a hugely valuable tree, because not only is it the best firewood but it's also a useful timber, so valuable in fact that in times gone by people caught cutting ash trees without permission could even be hung. However, the significance of ash is not just economic; many cultures including the ancient Greeks and Celts revered the ash as a symbol of one powerful god or another (see here).

No culture gave greater importance to the ash than the Norse people, to whom the ash was (and from the reports from Denmark perhaps still is) the tree of life. Vikings called themselves ‘Aesling’, which means Men of Ash. They believed the first man came from an ash tree (and his wife came from a rowan, sometimes called mountain ash).

One ash tree in particular, Yggdrasil, was the sacred Norse World Tree, the axis of the world, around which the universe achieved harmony. Yggdrasil was believed to hold the earth in its roots and the gods’ houses in its upper branches. Idun, the Norse goddess of life, lived in the tree.

The legend says that when the ash tree dies, so dies the world. Perhaps it is not surprising so many people are grief-stricken at the tragedy of withering ash trees.

1 comment:

  1. We've got so many beautiful ashes down here (Dumfries and Galloway) that the landscape will be almost unimaginably altered. I so love those deer hoof buds.

    The fact that it was possibly avoidable makes it all the more lamentable. Thanks for the post.