It’s not a tree. Other Half is adamant. It’s a bush.
Wiki proves unhelpful. Height and girth, it seems, only get you so far. Defining tree is a complicated matter. Other Half thinks he’s clinched it though, courtesy of Allen Sibley, a dendrologist, he’s just met on Google.
If you can walk under it, it’s a tree; if you have to walk around it, it’s a shrub.
He points at Blackthorn, barely distinguishable from the rampant undergrowth, and laughs. A little too hard. “Try walking under that. ”
Difficult, I admit.
In winter, Blackthorn looks more like a badly constructed bonfire than a tree. Unlike solitary Oak, regal even when naked. Or serpentine Yew, curled round a rusty stake in the churchyard. Both silent witnesses of history. And both, undisputedly, trees.
Refashioned, Blackthorn never became a ship’s beam. Nor, curved into a bow, pierced any hearts at Agincourt. A remnant of ancient hedge, it squats in a No Man’s Land of scrub and brambles, a guest who’s outstayed his welcome.
It’s Blackthorn though which greets me every morning, marking the passage of my year. Pinhead blossom merging with the vestiges of frost, branches heavy with a surfeit of berries as summer wanes. Then velveteen sloes, bitter-sweet with the promise of winter firesides and woody gin.
“Why does it matter, anyway?” Other Half asks after sixty seconds of stony silence.
“I don’t know”. Unable to articulate how deeply Blackthorn roots me to this place, I shrug. “It just does. ”
Image: my own.
This piece is short-listed in the Urban Tree Writing Festival 2021 and published in the anthology Canopy.