Monday, 19 November 2012

Not the final word

The thought that we will lose all our ash trees almost breaks my heart. We have seen it before when dutch elm disease robbed us of most of our elms. There have been other recent scares including bleeding canker claiming many of our horse chestnuts. Now it is the threat of ash dieback which hangs over our hedges and woodlands.

At the entrance to St Michael’s, Little Coates we have a particularly magnificent weeping ash. It is a feature people often talk about. It is old and we know that one day it will have to come down, but North East Lincolnshire Council has done quite a bit of tree surgery to keep it alive and safe.

A couple of years ago a couple celebrating their Diamond Wedding gave us a replacement weeping ash which the Council allowed us to plant a little way inside the churchyard. We had thought that it would ‘take over’ when the old one finally has to come down. Perhaps it will. Or perhaps both trees will succumb to this new fungal infection before that.

At St George’s, Bradley it is the conkers from the horse chestnut trees in the churchyard which people have enjoyed for years. Many of these trees were infected with bleeding canker and several have died as a result. A couple of years ago, with the support of villagers, we had to spend thousands making their stumps safe.

But there is hope. There is a spot only a mile or so from either St Michael’s or St George’s. Beside a footpath in the countryside just west of Laceby Acres and Wybers Wood there is a large lone elm tree. Nobody is quite sure how it has survived dutch elm disease. Perhaps it was too far away from other elms to get infected. I always enjoy spotting it when I am anywhere near. It is possible that surviving disease-resistant elms and ashs will one day repopulate our hedgerows and woodlands.

This hope is exactly the same as the one our churches will soon be celebrating in Advent. Many will be reading from the prophet Isaiah. There is huge destruction going on in Chapter 10 until it says that ‘the remnant of the trees of this forest will be so few that a child can write them down’. It seems that all is lost and God has abandoned his people.

But then Chapter 11 says a new shoot will come from one of those stumps. It is ‘the stump of Jesse’, and Jesse was one of ancestor’s of Jesus, which is why we read the passage as we prepare for Christmas. Next time I visit the surviving elm tree I shall remember that. I shall pray for all those who feel that abuse or bereavement or cuts or destruction around them have the final word. They don’t.

This is my piece published in the Cleethorpes Chronicle last week with three grammatical and spelling mistakes (yes, three; I must do better) corrected.

The picture taken at the weekend is of the two weeping ash trees at St Michael’s. Pictures have appeared before of the ash trees, the lone elm, and the stump of one of the horse chestnuts.

The article didn’t have room to mention the way a Jesse Tree became part of religious art, often in a stained glass window. The tree is usually shown as growing out of Jesse, through his son King David (often recognisable by his carrying a harp), and then upward to others; literally a ‘family tree’.

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