Saturday, 18 January 2014


Blogger was due to post this yesterday, while I was away in Inverness leading a creative writing workshop about holly, but it failed to do so. So, better late than never, here's the last letter of the tree alphabet.

It is no accident that the final letter of the tree alphabet is yew. It is the archetypical tree of death, but also of resurrection, and is found throughout the celtic world as a guardian of graves. Sacred yew groves, or sites where individual old yew trees grew, were often taken over as churchyards, so there are many yews that pre-date the church built beside them. The most venerable yew in the country, in Fortingall, may be 4000 years old. Yet it is not a bleak tree - it offers comfort and shelter to grieving people and it absorbs the flesh of corpses, producing blood-red berries that are loved by blackbirds, which sing the spirits of the dead back out into the world.

Don't eat yew - every part of the tree, except the red flesh around the toxic seeds, is poisonous. Yet, yew leaves contain taxol, a drug that is proving effective, and is commercially harvested, to counter breast cancer.

In death there is life.

Friday, 17 January 2014


The penultimate letter of the tree alphabet is aspen, a glorious tree with its muscular bark and fluttering leaves. It is the odd one out of the five vowels, being deciduous while the others (pine, gorse, heather and yew) are all evergreen, but there it is. Beavers love it, and so do I.

Thursday, 16 January 2014


Another windy day saw me making this picture of the diminutive 16th letter of the tree alphabet.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014


or whin, or furze, depending on where you are, is the 15th letter of the tree ogham. It's more of a bush than a tree, granted, but it earns its place by being in flower whenever kissing is in season, in other words, all year round! I make this bit of natural calligraphy on an extremely windy day, and I got extremely well scratched trying to keep all the prickly bits from blowing away. It's a member of the pea family, hence its beany seeds.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014


We're into the vowels, now, the last five letters of the Gaelic Tree Alphabet, starting with A - Ailm, which is the old word for Pine.

Monday, 13 January 2014


If you want to cut down an elder you should say, 'Elder mother, elder mother, elder mother, please give me some wood, please give me some wood, please give me some wood, and I’ll give you some of mine, and I’ll give you some of mine, and I’ll give you some of mine, when I grow into a tree, when I grow into a tree, when I grow into a tree’. I shall be putting this into practice soon, as I planted an elder cutting several years ago in my veggie garden and it has taken over...

Meanwhile, here's some more natural calligraphy for the 13th letter of the tree alphabet.

Sunday, 12 January 2014


Here's letter number 12 in the tree alphabet. This one was done in autumn, hence the shiny sloe berries. It takes the shape of the ogham character - three diagonal lines crossing the vertical.

Saturday, 11 January 2014


Letter number 11 in the tree alphabet is ivy. It's a dependent kind of tree, using others for support, but it surely more than makes up for this by the benefits it provides to other species (shelter and a late-in-the-year food supply). There's nothing quite like a big ivy in full flower in autumn, buzzing with happy bees, who have so little else to feed on at that time of year.

So, here's my picture, complete with flowers (the Y), which are such beautiful subtle structures and go largely unnoticed because of how late they bloom.

Friday, 10 January 2014


I know it looks like ice-cream, but I promise it isn't! Letter number 10 in the tree alphabet is bramble.

Thursday, 9 January 2014


My mum's called Hazel and I've just arranged to go and see her for her birthday. Happy hazel day! Hazel's the ninth letter of the alphabet and here's today's 'natural calligraphy', a phrase someone used in a tweet about these, which I like, so I am stealing it!  Again, I've managed to use lots of the parts of the plants - green and autumnal leaves, nuts, catkins and twigs. I wonder if these are any use as tree identification guides?

Wednesday, 8 January 2014


The eighth letter of the tree alphabet is holly. Holly is lord of the forest during the winter months, guardian through the dark time. It is resilient and beautiful, and a symbol of survival through hardship.

On January 18th, I'm going to be doing a writing workshop in Inverness, as part of a Lapidus event called 'Words for Wellbeing'. My session will use holly as a jumping off point for creativity. Please come if you're interested and spread the word to others who may like to come. See more and get an application form on Lapidus's website.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014


With a little help from a lovely hairy highland cow, here's the seventh letter of the tree alphabet.

Monday, 6 January 2014


It was autumn, so this picture of hawthorn (6th letter of the Gaelic Tree Alphabet) has lots of haws in it, as well as some leaves and thorns, and it takes the shape of the ogham character - the first of the group of letters that involve sloping 'twigs' off to the left of the vertical 'branch'.

Sunday, 5 January 2014


The fifth letter of the tree alphabet. I made this when I was on writing retreat at Cove Park, on the path between the pods and cubes where the residents hide out and the main building. It was interesting to see how many people spotted it, and who just walked over it, even while it was quite legible. Note the ogham character on the bottom curve of the S.
Here's hoping the ash dieback disease does not spread too widely. They are such lovely trees, and the loss of Yggdrasil, the World Tree, would not be a good omen.

Saturday, 4 January 2014


The fourth letter of the tree alphabet...

Friday, 3 January 2014


Here's the third letter of the tree alphabet. Alder is the tree of time - some of its branches carry the past, the present and the future - last year's cones (the letter L), this year's cones (the letter D) and next year's catkins (the letter E). The Ogham character is above it. 

Thursday, 2 January 2014


Here's the second alphabet photopoem, the letters arranged symbolically into the form of the second letter of the Ogham alphabet - a vertical line with two horizontal 'twigs'.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014


Happy New Year! I have resolved this year to get more of my poetry and related stuff up online. Regular readers of this blog will know that I have been obsessing over the tree alphabet for the past few years. One of the things I did in celebration/exploration of it was a series of things like this. I'm pretty sure it's not a poem, but I think it might just about get away with being described as writing...