The Apple and the Ivy

Across the dirt road in front of this house is a wild patch of trees and shrubs, among them an old apple tree which produces fruit no bigger than cherries, a crabapple. Crabapple was one of the components of the ancient Woden’s Nine Herbs Charm, dating back to the 10th Century. The other ingredients were mugwort, waybread (plantain), cress, nettle, betony, chamomile, chervil and fennel, all of which can be found in the fields, forests or gardens here. The charm was intended as an antidote to poison and infection.

Climbing the trunk of this apple tree is a vine, fat and hairy as an old man’s finger - poison ivy. To see the famous leaves of three one must look high up into the branches where the leafy part of the vine rests like a predatory cat, waiting for the unwary.

In winter the vine against the trunk looks like some terrible millipede, with hairy roots climbing and reaching for something. The apple and the ivy seem to symbolize the struggle between good and evil, a botanical wrestling match.

I cannot look at the tree without the story of Adam and Eve, the temptation, and the fall coming to mind, especially after reading a translation of the Saltair na Rann, The Irish Adam and Eve, also dating back to the 10th century. This Middle Irish long poem composed in deibhidhe meter (a seven syllable meter), rhymes AABB, and with much internal rhyme and alliteration is incantatory. The language seems to dwell in the margin between the polytheistic and monotheistic Celtic faiths, perfect for the first day of Summer when I am writing this.