Oak before Ash, we shall have a splash.
Ash before Oak, we shall have a soak.
This, according to country lore, dictates whether the British summer will be a time of scattered showers or torrential downpours. If there were any truth in it, we are about to experience a phenomenally dry few months. I have known years when the oak and ash were running neck and neck, though the oak invariably won by half a leaf, but this year there’s no contest. We are into the second week of May and the ash leaves are just beginning to sprout from their black buds. The oak trees were already greening up a month ago and most are now in full leaf.
Gabriel Oak, in my lane, is a solitary green beacon amidst the sullen bare branches of Adam, Eve and Methuselah Ash. The forest across the valley looks like an incomplete jigsaw. I don’t know what it is that makes the ash trees hang back so stubbornly. Maybe they’ve all got a good book to read and can’t be bothered to get going. Or maybe it’s ash die-back, making them nervous. The huge old trees seem to have survived it (so far), but they are determined not to flaunt their survival.
Of course the saying isn’t true. Trees are wise beyond measure, I am sure, but they can’t see into the future. They respond to conditions now or in the previous year, so whatever it was that oak trees liked about 2021 (glad someone liked it), it obviously prompted them to burst into summer a month early in 2022. Whereas nothing will ever prompt ash trees to do anything in a hurry, this side of the summer solstice. They are always the last to leaf up. Past June 21st, it’s another matter. They can’t wait for it to be winter again. They’ll start dropping their leaves at the first hint of high winds in August.
I have lived in Wales for nearly forty years now, which is quite enough time to learn the ways of the oak and the ash and the bonny ivy tree, which gets everywhere, but I still hanker sometimes after the entirely different woodlands of the Chilterns where I grew up, acres of thin chalky soil with stands of shivering silver birch, interspersed among cathedrals of tall grey-green beech trees, hushed under a canopy of brilliant green that, despite being 95% sunlight, is so dense the ground between the trunks is virtually bare, except for straggling holly and copper heaps of dead leaves.
Everything is earlier there. Travelling east sometimes feels like leaping forward a month and the coming weather has nothing to do with it. So I don’t really credit the saying about oak and ash, although I challenge anyone to question the veracity of my favourite country saying.
If Oak be not in leaf afore July, why then the bloody thing be dead.