Monday, June 05, 2006

New eyes

I had a friend visit from the Old Country this weekend, someone who more than most visitors brings the gift of new eyes. I am always doubly grateful for such visits because added to the pleasure of seeing the person is the way that person's interest opens your eyes again to where you live. The path of your daily tread-tread (re)acquires something of the exotic - the ordinary becomes illuminated by another's interest.

Their attention often goes to the most unexpected thing. This weekend it was the maythorn, as he insisted on calling it. Quite correctly, too, as I found out. He could also have called it hawthorn, whitethorn, the May tree, quickthorn, haw, or the faerie tree. I can't believe that I have ignored such magnificence for so long. Or is this a particularly fruitful year? Suddenly it is everywhere I look, and such beautiful flowers. Their mark on the landscape is very delicate, a dry brush stroke, unlike the eye-breaking cacophony of the rhododendrons.

For your edification, hawthorn derives from Anglo-Saxon haegthorn, the first element of which means hedge. Whitethorn does not refer to the blossoms, but to the bark, pale compared to the blackthorn. According to this site, when found together with oak and ash it is "particularly potent". I'm not sure in what capacity. And if you've ever wondered why 'Here we go gathering nuts in May', when there aren't any, it may be because they were not nuts, but knots, of May blossoms.

The other dusting-down was of early industrial architecture. I have always been struck by the accidental beauty and lightness of square-cut buildings relieved by so much glass. My friend is only now taking an interest in the Industrial Revolution and is bowled over by them. Me, too. Again.

Styal Mill
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