The Little Asby Hawthorn spends most of its time undisturbed by humans, a solitary figure beneath a wide open sky. Birds pass and leave their marks, rodents scramble in and out of the limestone grikes around its trunk, and a few sheep may wander by. Today, however, this feisty and resilient tree was introduced to a group of over 60 sixth form Geography students from Xaverian College in Manchester.
The students came to Little Asby with us after a week’s residential based at the Field Studies Council’s Blencathra Centre; from here they had spent time in what you might call classic Lake District scenery. This exposed area of limestone pavement with its far-reaching views was quite different. We heard a few ‘Wow’ and comments that it was ‘Just, so … Wide up here’. A few students wondered about the poetry they might write in response to this tree, this place.
We spoke about this hawthorn and hawthorns in general, the different species of moths they can support (including the aptly named hawthorn moth and the rather beautiful pear leaf blister moth), and a range of other hawthorn facts. The idea that the blossoms release a chemical that is the also released early in the process of decay in dead flesh is not very romantic, but nevertheless true, and could link to the reluctance to bring hawthorn blossom into houses in Medieval times, particularly when Black Death was rife. We also shared what we know about the management of this piece of common land, owned by Friends of the Lake District and grazed by flocks from nine different farms; and talked about trees in general, and their strategies for survival.
Some of the young people wanted to talk to us and ask questions, others ambled away from the rest of the group in a gentle exploration of the land and the views. It felt good to see some of them get up close to the tree to feel its bark and see the new leaf buds emerging. Around us the air resonated with the melody of skylarks.
As we left the tree and walked back down the hill to the road, with the wind and the sun in our faces, each person lodged their experience somewhere, somehow. Some will build on it. It’s hard to know what kind of ripple effect there might be from walking in sunshine in a landscape the stretches on and on for uncountable miles, hearing poetry shouted from the top of a limestone scar, or struggling to stay quiet to hear a distant curlew. Maybe it’s like the gentle production of a hawthorn blossom in Spring sunlight, the emergence of a haw, its eventual falling, and the potential for that seed to emerge into a new tree …