It was another glorious day in the Botanics, and the tree of the day was alder. It likes its feet wet, and there is a lovely circle of them around the pond between the edible gardening polytunnel and the wood where the fairies live. I spent the afternoon there, reading poems about alders to people who sought me out by following the signs, and also to unsuspecting passers by.
I’m enjoying the many voices from the Botanics who are joining in this poetic celebration of our native trees, and today, appropriately, Seamus Heaney’s ‘Planting the alder’ was read by an Irish visitor. We also heard Kathleen Jamie’s ‘Alder’, Lesleymay Miller’s ‘Alder’, Yevtushenko’s ‘Alder Catkins’, and Rob King’s ‘Tree Cones’ (yes, alder has cones, the only native broadleaf tree to bear them), as well as Aonghas Macneacail’s beautiful little ‘Fearn’.
There are some very special alder poems, but not many of them, so if you feel inspired to write another, please post it here as a comment. Most of the poems I’ve found so far are wet weather writings, or inspired by some of the darker lore of the tree. The old Scottish tradition of planting alder stakes in a ring around the grave of a woman who dies with no children, to shield the community from her bad luck, inspired my own rather bleak, ‘Under the Alder’. When the technology allows, I’ll be creating some dedicated species-specific tree poem web pages on this site, and all your contributions will be very welcome. So feel free to email your tree poems to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you need inspiration, how about this? Alder was sacred to the Greek god Chronos, the god of time, because alders are said to know the past, present and future. Some of their branches can carry the empty cones from last year, the green cones swelling with this year’s seeds, and the starts of next year’s catkins.
I have a challenging relationship with the concept of time, so I used alder’s connection with time today as the basis of my morning musings. I sat for an hour beside Britain’s biggest fossil tree, a 320 million year old trunk that fell in a swamp about a mile from the Botanics (and where now there is a retail park). My mind was blown by contemplation of the vast aeons of evolution that have led to our own species’ brief tenure on the earth, and the fleeting moment of an individual life. A sign in the garden quotes John Playfair (the geologist), saying ‘The mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time.’ I felt that giddy feeling this morning. I recommend it.