Yggdrasil, the ash tree
This pic of an ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior, 'frêne élevé' in French) was taken in Boulonnais (northern France) last April. Fiona Stafford, Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University, published an acclaimed book last year, 'The Long, Long Life of Trees', a tribute to the diversity of trees. One chapter was devoted to the ash tree, ‘the Venus of the woods’, the second commonest native tree in the UK after oak. She describes it in a way that I find especially moving: 'In winter their silhouettes stencil clear skies like a row of unframed stained glass windows. The ebullient black buds stand proud, as if impatient for the spring, but in fact the ash is usually the last to come into leaf and the first to shed its seasonal foliage. The uncovered form of the ash, though, is just as compelling as the full-dress splendor of more eye-catching trees.’ She recalls that Yggdrasil, the World Tree in Viking mythology, was an ash. It grew on an island surrounded by the ocean. Its trunk reached up to the heavens, and its boughs spread out over all the countries of the Earth, whereas its roots reached down into the Underworld. It was not alone but hosted all sorts of animals: A squirrel was running up and down the tree carrying messages from the serpent gnawing at the roots to the eagle in the canopy, whereas a deer was feeding on the ash leaves and from its antlers flowed the great rivers of the world. Nice for a tree scientist like me to see that the central role of trees is acknowledged in mythology and that trees remain an inspiration for literature!