Sunday, 6 November 2016

Old Wives' Tales: If the Oak Be Out Before the Ash...

Many years ago when I was very young my granny (my father's mother) used to repeat this rhyme when she drove my brother and me around Dorset. That was before she lost her licence knocking someone down on a pedestrian crossing. And we didn't go driving any more.

If the Oak be out before the Ash 
Then we shall have a splash
If the Ash be out before the Oak
Then we shall have a soak.

This must have been 50 years ago but I remember so clearly Granny saying this rhyme that I can only conclude she repeated it quite often. Unfortunately Granny never asked if my brother and I knew what an Ash or an Oak looked like. 

I knew what an Oak tree looked like. Of course I did. There was a line of Oaks at the bottom of my other grandparents' (my mother's parents) garden, along the boundary ditch. With a noisy rookery on the left hand side of the garden. On the other side of the ditch was a field (later a golf course) with more Oaks in the distance.

The English Oak is a very common tree in England even if you don't live in the middle of the New Forest - which Granny & Grandpa did. And then when I was 7 we moved to London, but by chance we lived just across the road from an Oak wood. So I know about Oaks.

But I had no clue what an Ash tree looked like. And for some reason Granny never bothered to point one out.

Anyway, now I know. And it turns out that Ash trees are very common too. You get them all over the place.
Ash leaves October 2016
October is not perhaps the ideal time to photograph an Ash. The leaves have lost their springtime freshness and got a bit old. But you can see that the leaves are pinnate - like a feather. And the seeds  are bunches of dangling fruits. Somehow I didn't have any closeups to show you so I took these photographs this week.
Ash leaves and fruits
The thing is, that almost every year the leaves on the Ash trees will appear well before the Oak leaves. Oaks tend to be very late. So almost every year you could say that the Ash will be out before the Oak and we will have a soak.

Which I guess is shorthand for a wet British summer. Pretty much the norm.
Ash tree in Gloucestershire summer 2016
And most years that I have noticed, yes, the Ash flowers and leaves have come out well before the Oak leaves and flowers. And most years, yes, there has been a fairly wet summer. At least in this part of England. 

However, this spring I happened to notice that the Oak leaves opened well before the Ash leaves. I have no idea why this happened, but I made a mental note because it was so unusual. And I watched the weather.

We had a cool wet spring and early summer and I was thinking, well, that rhyme must be nonsense after all. And then suddenly we had a long hot dry summer. In fact, the weather has been dryer and warmer, at least in this part of the country, than usual. Almost into November the weather was still warmer and dryer than we would normally expect.

So could it be that this rhyme is correct: the Oak came out before the Ash this year and we had a splash not a soak. It worked in 2016.
Oak leaves October 2016
I wonder will it work again next year? There's a lot of more scientific reading out there including these thoughts from Gabriel Hemery. Could it be something to do with climate change? I wouldn't be at all surprised; almost everything is these days.
Ash flowers
Young Oak trees in Derbyshire 2016

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