The Tuesday tree: ash trees between two worlds
While walking along the beach at Kenmore the other day, I noticed two extraordinary trees. Or rather, I noticed their roots. These modestly sized ash trees are growing on the beach itself. They must have endured flood and ice and scouring winds, standing as they do within reach of the waters of Loch Tay; yet still they flourish. Looking at their tortured, exposed root systems, though, you wonder how they manage it.
The first one to catch my eye was this:
It seems to be poised like a tripod on the shifting surface of the beach. The slightest nudge might topple it over. But no, it is strong and firm: its roots must reach deep. I was reminded of something, but I couldn’t think what…until I saw the second tree.
Even in summer sunshine, this small tree looks to me like something grotesque, almost mythical. It’s almost as if a great snake is contorted around its base. Then I realised what the two trees made me think of. An ash, poised on three deep roots, enfolded at its base by a giant worm: that would be Yggdrasil, the World Tree of Norse mythology. According to myth, the three roots of Yggdrasil each reached into a sacred well, one of which, Hvergelmir, was the source of all the rivers of the world. These little ash trees on the beach are between the land and the water of Loch Tay, source of the great River Tay. While the second tree has roots like strangling serpents, the roots of Yggdrasil were constantly gnawed by the terrible worm or dragon Níðhöggr or Nidhogg. These trees stand on a liminal space, between earth and water: Yggdrasil reached through water, earth and air, from hell to heaven, encompassing and supporting all worlds. Comparing two little ash trees on a beach to the central myth of an entire belief system has a certain amount of bathos, to be sure: but the parallels please me.
Meanwhile, far above all this contorted mythology, the little ash trees beside Loch Tay are in the full flush of midsummer, stretching their green branches into the blue summer sky.
There is a little more about the ash and its mythology, with useful links, in A scion of the World Tree.
For a short meditation on the significance of liminal spaces, see The lure of the liminal.