The old ash tree stood beside the fence, its squat and wrinkled bole covered in lumps like giant warts. No doubt it had been slender and lithe when it was young, but now it hunkered down close to the hedge, even its branches seeming fixed and unmoving with age.
When I was young, I often wondered what it had seen in all its long years from its place beside the lane and beck. I’d no idea then how old an ash could be, and my lively imagination insisted it could have seen the Normans marching up the Vale of Lorton on their way to doom and destruction in Rannerdale!
Gnarled and bent, it could hardly be described as beautiful, but that didn’t matter to me. Strength, patience and perseverance were the qualities I felt when I sat on its moss covered roots, or climbed up into my special hiding place, the hollow from which its branches grew, where I hid a few precious treasures I didn’t want anyone else to find.
Some branches drooped downwards under their own weight, almost as if it was tired, and could no longer manage to hold them high. But others still stretched up towards the sky. All its life it had watched over the Vale, and it would continue to keep guard as long as its remaining strength permitted.
It basked in the Spring sunshine; bent (as far as it could) before the Autumn winds blowing down from the heights of Grasmoor; stood patiently beneath the Winter snow; let the Summer rain run down its trunk and drip from every leaf and twig; and all year round listened to the music of the beck sliding beneath the bridge and running cheerily down towards the river.
Sitting on the bank, or curled up in my hidden hollow, I often listened to that music, and the birdsong from the trees and thickets on the further bank. I don’t remember the cattle or sheep which must have been in the ash tree’s meadow, but I do remember long laneside grasses starred with wildflowers in the Summer, and how the hedgerows were covered with wild roses and sweet honeysuckle.
When I returned to the Vale over forty years after I’d left, I hardly thought to find my old friend still there, but although one or two of his branches had fallen, to my great joy there he was, standing sturdily beside the lane and beck. However I didn’t try to climb into the hollow – like the old ash tree, I’m not as lithe as I was when I was eleven!