Tale of an Ash Tree
My work often comes from trees where I know some of the story behind the wood. None more so than one particular Ash tree. There are so many different threads of different stories that I see when I look at a piece from this tree.
Once upon a time an Ash seed rooted itself in just the wrong place, on a river bank where there was almost no soil and under a cliff so there was almost no sun either. For a hundred and fifty years and more the Ash tree grew tall and thin as she stretched to reach more light, developing a buttress on one side to hold herself upright. But eventually a storm was just too much and she fell over, her roots wrapped round stones.This Ash tree fell right across the river, over a beautiful deep pool that was a favoured fishing site, making this pool useless for the fisherman who lived in a cottage just upstream.
Totally unconnected Huw had gone to see a neighbouring farmer about a repair job on an agricultural machine (Huw is a precision engineer) and bought a beautiful curved Oak trunk, suitable for lintels. The farmer had offered this little Ash tree to him as well. So they winched it over the river, sawing it every seven foot. After sawing the last bit the base, with the roots and stones still attached, had bounced back upright in the middle of the pool still spoiling the fishing. The neighbouring fisherman returned home, donned his chest waders and retied the winch wire to pull it out.
I only heard about all this but it was obvious everyone had had fun. At that time we were looking after Huw’s mother with dementia and she couldn’t be left so we took it in turns to work. When we next had someone in for a few hours of respite Huw took me to see his treasures. The Oak didn’t move me but I loved this valiant little Ash tree right from the start. The marks on the bark showed there was ripple and the buttress was interesting. We took the planking chainsaw with us and planked one of the sections and brought it back straight away in the van, the rest coming later in a more substantial vehicle, probably the lorry Jim next door had at the time.
The tree also had meaning for me as it grew within half a mile from my birthplace. The fisherman it turned out knew my mother quite well too. And, rather more poignantly, within shouting distance of the tree is the main road where a dearly beloved friend was killed in a car accident.
The trunk was only about 18” diameter whereas I also had an Ash tree about the same age that was 4’ diameter as seen on the right. The close up of a bowl here clearly shows how slowly the tree grew. But what happened on that one year?
The photo in my profile in Good Woodworking (the third page on the left) shows the remaining three sections of the tree. Though I had been so pleased about getting this tree it had not felt essential to plank it straight away. Getting time together to plank became more and more difficult as Huw’s mother became frailer and we became more exhausted by the situation. I think this tree deteriorated more quickly too because of its unusual growth pattern, it was a very soft wood even when fresh. So most of it was too far gone when we managed to get to it. I was so pleased the first section had been planked straight away.
I can even remember where several pieces of it went as well. There is my coffee table shown above which I never sold as I wasn’t happy with the legs. Next door had a coffee table. I made a loving cup with two captive rings for a friend’s wedding. There is even still one bowl in my Ash collection in Origin at the moment. And somewhere in my stash of wood I think there may, just may, be one plank left…