A Wink and a Nudge

One of a miscellany of short observations from a trip to Scotland.

 Because it keeps the witches away.

The interrupter is three, or so said his grandfather in introducing him to our tour group.  As a second son (the three-year-old, that is) he’s a bit of a minx.  (The grandfather too, on both counts as it turns out.  The second-son part we get a little later; the minx part we already know.  During WWII, he has told us, my father was a guest of the late A. Hitler.)

Junior minx already knows how to use cute to get attention, while older brother stands quietly to one side, either uneasy or full of precocious dignity in the midst of all these strangers: this family’s very own Harry and William saga.

But back to the witches.    

The point at hand is why a rowan tree (aka a mountain ash in the foreign parts we foreigners all come from) is being allowed to grow atop, down into, and through a stone wall of several hundred years standing.  With a verbal wink and nudge, Grandfather has started to explain the reluctance of any reasonable home owner—his son in this case—to cut the tree down, even to spare the wall.  Even an old wall that is attached to a house designed by a famous architect and owned by the same family for, oh, not very long—just a little more than three hundred years.

Of course, you know why you don’t want to cut down a rowan tree.

That’s when small fry gets into the act and gets his reward: we all laugh.  But we do know, as it turns out.  Although we have been in the land of the rowan tree for only a day or two, we have already heard about its protective powers, and more than once.

As we go in for afternoon tea, I wonder.

Like, about whether tourists to North America hear about witches.

And about how often a three-year-old has to hear a saying like this to pick it up.

And about whether people attribute the lack of tigers in these here parts to the mighty rowan tree too.

And—I frame this one with some reluctance—about whether they really believe it.

Well, of course they don’t.  That would be, I don’t know, medieval.  Pre-modern, certainly.  Of course they don’t really believe it.  That’s what they’d all say if asked, I’m sure:  We’re kidding.  After all, everyone who tells us about the tradition does so with that aren’t-we-modern wink and nudge.

Of course they don’t believe it.  They just refrain from cutting down a rowan tree, given any option at all.  Even a poor one, like letting a historic wall beside a heritage home be gradually demolished by said tree.

Nudge, nudge.  Wink, wink.  I wonder who’s kidding whom?

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2 Comments

  1. The sign of a modern person is the ability to hold two views in one mind. Or perhaps we are content to acknowledge that our right brain can think its thoughts and the left brain can think its own. No harm.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Judith – Well, it’s interesting, to say the least. I spend my work days driving inconsistency out of documents at both superficial and substantive levels. To turn around and accept/embrace it outside work as, perhaps, a necessary condition of being human bears some thinking about.

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