Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wintry weeping willow

click photo to enlarge
I was born and raised in an upland area of north-western Britain, a region where the willow tree is something of a stranger. It's not that you don't see them: ornamental specimens are found in gardens, and they can be seen in river valleys. But, willows are not as plentiful as in lowland Britain, and the ash, beech, and other species greatly outnumber them. It was only when I moved to eastern England that I began to appreciate the species.

The willow is one of the earliest trees to come into leaf in spring, and one of the last to lose them in autumn. A very large specimen that grows in my garden near a stream sheds its leaves so late that for the past couple of years I've had to wait until the first snow has melted to clear the last of them away. But, this is a minor inconvenience when set against the beauty of the willow. The soaring, arching boughs and the cascades of supple, slender twigs give it an unmistakable shape. Its spear-shaped leaves - soft green or yellowish above, with a silver tinge below - are equally distinctive. Ancient trees are often missing a branch or a major limb, only the broken stump remaining, and frequently throwing out shoots. "Crack willow" is the old name for the tree because of the way it splits and cracks when assaulted by high winds. But, although it gives way to the elements relatively easily it can keep on growing for centuries, even the most shattered trunk or a fallen bough having the capacity to spring back to life. In the days when branches were used for fencing, clothes props and other garden and farm duties, people noted the way in which a piece of cut willow would often take root and begin throwing out shoots and leaves, the life force within trying to re-establish itself. Today this quality is exploited by artists who use the supple branches for weaving living sculptures.

Today's photograph shows part of a row of willows that lines the stream that goes on to flow through my garden. A hoar frost that accompanied a fog left the branches almost completely white, looking like cascades of water falling down a cliff. The subtle magnificence of the thousands of delicate lines curving downwards caused me to stop, wonder, then go in to the house for my camera. Through the viewfinder this composition reminded me of an etching or a scraperboard drawing.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 147mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/160
ISO: 1000
Exposure Compensation: +0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On