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A Prophetic Tree

After the apocalypse on 21 December I hoped my surviving little bird (see video) would take me somewhere new, beautiful and fresh, but it seems I am still on the apocalyptic hill!  I feel compelled to make a piece of art about an issue that is very close to home but goes back in history a long way.

It’s a problem that first came about in Poland, found it’s way over to the Netherlands and has now spread to the UK. It is a big threat, maybe bigger than the way in which it presents itself.

This threat is a fungal disease called “Chalara fraxinea” (asexual stage) or “Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus” (sexual stage) that kills ash trees.There is some evidence to suggest the disease  originally came from Asia although the ash trees in Asia have become immune to it. So far 339 woodland sites where ash trees are found in the UK have been found to have the disease. Where there is an outbreak of the disease, the trees have to be felled and burnt to stop it spreading, so you can imagine the devastation it causes. Not only is there a loss of a beautiful tree but also to the animal and insect inhabitants.

The trees where I live are predominantly ash and oak. Even the hedges are full of ash saplings.

On this rare occasion of snow here, I snapped some photos of ash hedges and trees. I love the way the world becomes black and white, like drawings, and how in winter the skeletons of the trees show off the shape so well. When the ash tree is young it grows smooth and straight up into the sky and as it gets older the branches begin to drop becoming gnarled and “squiggley”.

hedge with ash saplings
hedge with ash saplings

The ash trees here look healthy and I really hope they stay like it. The landscape would be bare without them, it will be a very sad day if they have to be destroyed.

Ash tree with keys
Ash tree with keys
Ash tree in "Swing field"
Ash tree in “Swing field”

My family has quite an attachment to ash trees, the tree in the photo above used to have a rope swing on one of the branches and we would take turns to swing on it. Hence the name of the field the “Swing field”. One day we went to the field and the branch had been broken off. We think the swing had got caught in a passing tractor. We now use an oak tree for our swing instead!

The ash tree is a very special tree with a past steeped in magic and mythology. It has become known as the World Tree and it is believed that once the ash tree is gone, the whole world will be destroyed.

I wanted to make a sculpture to remember the ash tree and it’s mythical past.

It’s story lies in old Norse mythology of the Viking age when it was called “Yggdrasill “:

Yggdrasill holds the universe together. It’s branches hold up the sky while it’s three roots sink down into Asgard, Jotunheim and Niflheim; the three realms of the Norsemen. Also known as the Guardian tree, it nourishes and suffers from the animals that feed from it. The gods meet to hold counsel under the tree. In the myth “Havamal”, Odin, the god of poetry, battle and death, hangs himself for 9 nights from Yggdrasill to learn the wisdom of the dead. He learns 9 songs from the runes which he finds under the roots. In another story, to gain insight he gives an eye for a drink of the spring water guarded by the wise Mimir under the root in Jotunheim.

And there are other stories about Yggdrasill including the final tale of “Ragnarok” which I will tell you about as I share with you the progress of my sculpture over the next few weeks.

For now here is the beginning.

I wanted to make the sculpture big and strong enough to sit on as it will be exhibited in  Delamore House sculpture garden in May. It is as if the ash tree has been cut down, only the trunk remains.

Wooden slats and cement board were screwed onto the framework.

And I’m ready to go!

Come back soon to see my work in progress and more about Yggdrasill!


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  1. Kate, we have lost many ash trees here, also. But because of an insect that is spreading, because of climate change…poor trees.
    Your winter photographs are gorgeous!

    1. Yes Karen, I have seen pictures of the insect that bores into the tree trunk and kills it. Very sad, especially as the patterns it makes are so beautiful!

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