Country diary: the hedgerows are transformed, as if by magic

Wenlock Edge, Shropshire: They are common, we are hedged in by them and yet the hawthorn has such a powerful link with imaginations of the past

Soft weather, sun and rain, cool and moody in the quiet byways: this is meteorological autumn and the hawthorns have gone through a metamorphosis; the lanes are full of bright red berries.

Now it is no longer the “may tree” and the hermaphrodite sex magic of spring blossom has spent all summer creating fruit, these trees and bushes are lighting up the landscape again.

Sparkling in rainy hedges, monumental on ancient burial grounds, scorched by backyard bonfires, the berries prepare for birds to carry their seeds into the future. The haw of the hawthorn is the 8-10mm crimson oval cup technically called a pome.

It belongs to the rose family that includes rowan, blackthorn, apple, pear, plum, damson, cherry and, of course, rose and it would be hard to imagine an autumn in this part of the world without Rosaceaen fruitfulness.

Haw comes from the Old English haga, shortened from hagu-berige, hedge berry. They are rich in vitamin B complex and vitamin C and made into jams, jellies or wine. For many birds such as blackbirds and thrushes and those of their kin that will soon arrive from the north, as did the word haga, they are an orgiastic feast our ancestors would also have revelled in.

The Crataegus monogyna – common hawthorn – pome has only one seed; each is wrapped up in more myth and folklore than almost any other in the landscape. They are common, we are hedged in by them and yet the hawthorn has such a powerful link with imaginations of the past.

InRobert Graves’s interpretation of an ancient magical language of trees, the hawthorn has an arcane, erotic, bad luck and sacredness to the White Goddess. Pome is also a word for poem, and the language that carries metaphor, symbol, emotion is that of the fruit and its seed seeking the future.

Seamus Heaney’s poem, The Haw Lantern, combines the legend of the philosopher Diogenes carrying a lamp in daylight to find an honest man with seeing a shining red hawthorn berry, “… the haw/ he holds up at eye-level on its twig,/ and you flinch before its bonded pith and stone/… its pecked-at ripeness that scans you, then moves on.”


Paul Evans

The GuardianTramp

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