Unlike the oak, this is not a child’s tree. But I have put away childish things and am unafraid now.
Its bark is so gnarled and striated. Its crown is never far from the ground. Its fallen branches root without much difficulty which means that the trees seem to gather like a clan ready for battle.
Its crown weighs you down and so its shade is very dark. And then there are berries which, except for the bright red aril, are poisonous, like every part of the tree. And that these arils are really highly modified cones and that the yew is considered a conifer simply adds to the mystery. Like its symbolic status so unlike – at least in England – that of the straightforward oak. Like the toxic fine pollen which may induce violent headaches. Like the gas it gives off when the weather is very hot, which is a hallucinogen. Like the cancer-killing medicine made from a compound extracted from its needles. And the hollow trunks of old yews.
Below is the wonder-giving great yew in a cemetery at Fortingall, Perthshire, Scotland. It is one of a handful of trees considered to be greater than 5000 years old and perhaps older. These are believed the oldest living organisms in Europe.
It is a male tree and has not been known to produce berries. This year it produced berries on one or more branches in its crown. I don’t think they know how or why. Mostly male, then. But with the chemistry to perform as a female of its species.
I am not going to draw any species-vaulting conclusions.