Photo by Simon Berger


THE SO-CALLED spirit of place is drawn mid-song toward the ash tree erupting through the sold-off edgeland, a straggly, ragged middle-aged gangly thing, with a half-dead crown, with a diamond lesion in its side, and she licks it, and she enters.

She travels through the wood support system to 90 million sickening trees, singing of their deep androgynous past and their livid withered future, creaking, growing, glowing swollen damp and rotting, into beams, bats and buttresses, boards and boats and beer barrels, and “Woe is me,” says the old ash tree, “I’m dying!”

She can swing from the bottom of the place to the top in a one-word vehicle, a tour of the land and the people’s idea of the land etymologically overlayed, endlessly named and renamed, cut into, splayed, sold, and displayed:

Ash grove, Ashlyn Farm, Ashlea, Ashurst, Ashford, Four Ash, Ashorne, Ashdown, Ashwood, Ash Magna, Severn Ash, Campsey Ash.

She flows to the corners in a species rush, like a tourist on the old ash bus, sprinkling the man-made ashes, and listens to this country, this odd, ghost-rich bickering place, so oddly cramped yet so full of space, so tightly controlled and highly strung, so spectacularly unjust, still stitched together with ancient cruelties, small place that named itself Great, listening quick she slips along the true ash liens, excelsior wires.

Angry cramp ball fungus swollen Alfred’s gonads, on the stump, twin pert buttocks on the puffball rump, she is yelling, Call me native, would you, when it suits your story?

She is a refugee tree. An interglacial guest from the southern forests, before we broke off at Dogger.

On the River Avon, downstream from Dundas, engineering aficionado, passionate amateur wasp-keeper, a two-century heavy female tree, a queen, gazing down on the naked body of a man, floating, and then a cow, drowning, and then a hawk struggling, pike and ceph, tench and barbel, Coke can, oil drum, empty Lipton ice tea bottle with a yellow cap, belly of a kingfisher, bloody massive chub, decent bream, the flash of an empty gold Benson box unearthed, the zip of a Peter Storm, the blue rip of the king-fisher’s baby heading west toward protected ash wood, sealed off from humans to patiently die, or survive.

It’s a heavy fruit year, trees weighed down with bunches
of keys,
talking about this or that, favorite weeds,
the perpetual desire to please,
pitiful nature writers going weak at the knees,
where the hell are the bees,
you and I both know we’ve got a disease,
I’ll be your snooker cue if you’ll water me, please.

We aren’t pretty pictures, we’re not even trees, we’re deep time survivors with complex needs.


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Max Porter is the author of Lanny, longlisted for the Booker Prize, and Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, winner of the International Dylan Thomas Prize and shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Goldsmiths Prize.


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