The Fall strips the trees of foliage and reveals form. And skeleton. They grimace and howl, their branches bend earthwards, despondent- so Monica thinks. We have history with talking trees, she and I. It happened one gloomy November day when we walked the Coffin Route, from Rydal Mount and she drew me over the threshold into a vision of trees. In winter sunshine, long shadows create strange woodland creatures.
She did not know that Dorothy Wordsworth's encounter with ancient ash trees was fresh in my mind from rereading her journals. Ash pollards occur not far from farmsteads, once a source of fodder for sheep and cattle. Pollarding regenerates them, gives them new life even as the trunk splits and hollows out. They remind me of Eduard Munch's The Scream: protesting at having their heads chopped off.
They're hiding places, these ancient hollow ash trees. Home for owls and woodpeckers.
The writer Juliet Barker tells of an armed knight who escaped from a 15th century battle, wounded perhaps, and sought safety by hiding within the hollow of a tree. And there he died of his wounds. Or perhaps his armour became locked in the clutches of the tree's skeleton and he could not escape, his body slowly absorbed into the tree. Centuries later, his armour and skeleton was discovered. You never know what might be hidden in these ancient pollards.