Thursday, February 7, 2008

Pondering ashes

The oak I know, the beech I know, the fragrant, resinous pine I know.

The maple, the sycamore, the walnut, the hickory -- I have pictures in my mind as I write each of these words.

But I do not know the ash.

Here in the US, they make baseball bats from it and kids in bygone days loved to hang their tree swings from its sturdy but flexible branches.

In Europe, this member of the olive family -- another tree venerated since the dawn of man -- was long held to be that plant from which the first man sprung, the Yggdrasil or tree of life. The belief was held from Scandinavia to Greece.

What I don't know is why this tree? It produces no nourishing fruit like its sibling the olive or the familiar favorites in the rose family, not even an acorn like the oak. It produces no sweet sap like the maple, no useful tannins, no bark from which to make books. It has not the shimmering display of an aspen nor the gravitas of a beech.

Even I, who love trees and try to know them, cannot recall in all my life ever seeing one except in the pages of a book, though surely I have.

Why in English do we even call it an ash tree? What's the etymology?


leslie said...

eastcoastdweller said...

Thanks, Leslie!