Willows in the World
March 19, 2017
In his book, TREES:A WOODLAND NOTEBOOK, the Right Honorable Sir Herbert Maxwell says:
The name "willow" speaks to us of a time when our Anglo-Saxon forbears dwelt in wattled houses. They spoke of the tree aswelig and also as widig (whence our "withy"), the root-meaning being pliancy. Another old English name for the tree was "sallow," which in the north has been shortened into "saugh," a term associated with one of the darkest episodes in the somewhat murky annals of the Stuart dynasty; for it was at Sauchieburn near Stirling that James, Duke of Rothesay, aged fifteen years, was brought by the rebel lords to do battle with his father James III. on 11th June, 1488. King James, flying from the field, was done to death; and, in contrition, his son wore an iron chain round his waist till he, too, fell as James IV. at Flodden, twenty-five years later
Wattle and daub was used as a building method on every continent in the world and dates back to Neolithic times. Here are good instructions on how to make it if you'd like to try it yourself.
If you'd prefer to see it done, this video shows what it takes to make it and gives some good advice on technique.
Whether you're making buildings, fences or baskets, you need long, straight withies to do it with. The easiest way to make sure you have a good supply of them is by coppicing your willows. Here's a video showing how to maximize your crop.
Many cultures saw the willow as a symbol of death. The Willow Song, a folk ballad written in 1583, so clearly shows the link between the willow and tragedy that Shakespeare used the song in his play Othello to foreshadow Desdemona's doom.
This association was still prevalent in the Nineteeth century, when the practice of depicting the weeping willow in drawings, needlework samplers and on gravestones to denote mourning became popular. This is an interesting article with some very nice pictures of willows engraved on tombstones.
I don't want to leave things on a depressing note, so I saved the most cheerful use for last. Willows make lovely flutes and whistles. Here's a sample of what a willow flute can sound like when played by a master.
Did I forget anything? Have you used willow to make anything? I'd love to hear what you made of it in the comments below. Thanks for stopping by!
Tomorrow I'll share a Tale of pride and tears. And a couple of other stories, as well.