Lady of the Mountain

Posted on August 24, 2012


O ROWAN tree, O rowan tree!

thou’lt aye be dear to me!

Intwined thou art wi’ mony ties

o’ hame and infancy.

Thy leaves were aye the first o’ spring,

thy flowers the simmer’s pride;

There was na sic a bonnie tree

in a’ the country side.

Carolina Oliphant

It is late August on Dartmoor and the summer that never was is whittled down to nothing more than a Rowan tree. It is hard to miss them at this time of year. The Rowan’s vivid clusters of red berries transfixing your eye as you walk over the moorlands.

This colourful tree captivates you and once trapped your world shrinks down to nothing more than that singular tree. This is good as sometimes it is important to stand still and focus on one thing at a time. To stand and wait and really think about what you are looking at. To go home and discover more, return, and look again with new eyes. So it is with the Rowan.

I discover that the Rowan has at least four names names. Its own of course, Mountain Ash, the latin Sorbus aucuparia, and an old celtic name ‘fid na ndruad’ which means the wizards tree.

Of these, Mountain Ash is a complete misnomer, gained by the Rowan for its love of heights and its leaves similarity with those of the Ash. As with most things in life latin explains things better. For Sorbus shows the Rowan is a member of the apple family. Aucuparia, however, requires further contemplation and this is why it is good to stand and wait and thin your world down to one tree on one path. For you never know where it may lead you.

Aucuparia, I learn, comes from the latin auceps, meaning a fowler or bird catcher. A title not earned for the fact that Redwings, Fieldfares, Blackbirds, Mistle Thrushes and Waxwings like to eat its berries, but because those berries were once crushed and mixed with the sap of birch trees to make bird lime, used to catch small birds eaten by our ancestors.

Learning of the bird catcher shifts my mind to my own book, Isaac and Mary Ann, in which two star-crossed lovers find each other at a bat fold. An ancient game in which young people capture birds to sell them for their songs. A neat synchronicity with the latin name of Rowan you have to agree.

This does not surprise me anymore, as over time I have learnt that your life changes when you write a book. That gradually you become part of the world of your characters, and that in time you start to see the world through their eyes.

This is true of many things right now, and it is why I stand and look at the Rowan and think not only of the facts; the smooth silvery bark, the fifteen pinnate leaves, the white blossoms of five petals in May and the red berries of late summer, but also of Isaac and Mary Ann and of what would they would say of this tree?

And so I fetch them out of my pocket and set them down beside me on the path and I ask them.

“What do you see, Isaac and Mary Ann?” I ask,

“Tell me, what do you see?”

‘I see the passion of the scarlet berries’ replies Mary Ann, her hand already reaching out to take one.

‘How they burn like a fire across the green of the land. As rich as the rubies in the Queen’s jewels’

Isaac takes a moment before replying. Being a Romani, he knows that the natural world stretches out far further than what we see before our eyes. Isaac looks at the Rowan, and he rests the palm of his hand on its trunk. Breathing with it. The land rising and falling with each new breath.

Isaac could tell me many things of the Rowan. He could share how the trees’s true name derives from the Norse word rogn, the root of rune, which means a charm. He could tell me I should carry a small piece of the it with me, to protect me from witchcraft, or, of how each berry is marked through with a five pointed star. That although bitter to taste, I could make a fine country wine from those red berries.

He could say all of these things but he does not. Instead Isaac stands on the path, with me and Mary Ann, and he closes his eyes.

‘The Rowan, she is more than a tree’ he says at last.

‘She is a part of All’s things. We all are’

I have learned many things from Isaac, and the Romani creed of All’s things is one of the best. A scared covenant with not only God, but all the living things of earth. It is simple really. God created all of the world and into that world he put all of the things that live here.

To Isaac and his kin, this means that it all belongs to god, and that being the case every living thing, from the smallest ant to the tallest tree, man included, only borrows for a time the world that we live in.

It is a creed that had worked well ever since the start of time, until lately, when man decided he was somehow better than all the rest and started to go against the natural laws. The ones that said every living thing held an equal share in this world, so that you never took more than what you needed, for that was greed, and you gave back to the world that which you did not, for that was fair.

All’s things, put here on earth, for all things.

The three of us go on looking at old rowan red berries a while, and I know in my heart what both of them mean. I feel Mary Ann’s passion for this world and Isaac’s love for All’s things. Each of us thinking on the tree, and each other, for some time. For nothing else really matters so much in this world when you have a Rowan to look at.

Then the rain, as it does, comes sweeping down once more from the high moors and I put Isaac and Mary Ann back in to my pocket , and we go on like this day after day. The three of us exploring our twin worlds together. The one of the written page and the one out here in the real world. Each of us but a small part in this beautiful land of rain, and Rowans, and All’s things.