Wild Words: Kirsteen Bell

NO F11 Kirsteen Bell 1
NO F11 Kirsteen Bell 1

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Rowan: caorann, or fuinnseag-coile in Gaelic, meaning ‘wood enchantress’, I am told.

Clusters of its vivid red berries are enchanting the summer woods now with the idea of autumn.

There has been a slight but definite shift in the air, a barely tangible turning of the season underneath the warm sun. A few birch and oak leaves are hinting at yellow. The bright colours of the rowan fruit are the first of many, as the crab apples and brambles also begin to ripen.

It was an August I found out I was expecting my first child; it was a good year for the rowans then too. I remember the branches hanging heavy and low with the weight of them – so much so that I almost called our son Rowan.

Though we didn’t in the end, the sight of all those berries, shocking against the green of summer, still reminds me of that time. Sitting as it does on the threshold of the seasons, I like that the rowan marked my threshold into motherhood.

The tree was often planted near the thresholds of homes as protection. Tradition also has it that a rowan should not be felled unless for sacred or ceremonial purposes or, at the very least, you should plant a seed for every tree cut.

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When our pigs had exhausted the ground they were on and needed fresh vegetation to eat, I would walk the croft pulling any tiny stray saplings that had drifted from the woodland. But I only ever lifted the birch and oak. As a result, the slopes are scattered still with young rowans that I couldn’t bring myself to pull out.

If I felt industrious, I could use this year’s abundance by making rowan jelly or wine;  another piece of lore is that you will receive the gift of future sight on drinking the distilled spirit. I don’t need to be a seer to tell you that, in all likelihood, these trees will just provide more food for the birds.

The Latin name for the rowan tree is sorbus aucuparia: fruit for catching birds. The winter thrushes will soon come, flocks of redwing and fieldfare travelling through the trees in a chattering cloud of sound.

They strip the rowan berries as they go, leaving droppings that sow the seeds of future harvests. At least, I hope they will. The birds were notably absent last year. A late frost had killed the early rowan blooms, so there were no berries.

Standing watchfully on this year’s threshold, underneath boughfuls of potential, I am hopeful.

Kirsteen Bell – www.kirsteenbellblog.wordpress.com – @KirsteenBell

NO F11 Kirsteen Bell 1

F36 Rowan tree 02