When I first found the ash tree, I thought of the song we used to sing in my grade school choir.
Down yonder green valley, where streamlets meander, when twilight is fading, I pensively rove, or at the bright noontide in solitude wander amid the dark shades of the lonely ash grove.
This was Oregon ash, Fraxinus latifolia, and it wasn’t far from the creek. Growing right next to it was the seedling of a maple tree, Acer macrophyllum. They were close enough together that I knew one would eventually choke the other of sunlight. Only one could grow tall. Secretly, I hoped it would be the ash tree. You see, my forest is full of maples, and cedars, and even two hemlocks, but there have never been any ash trees.
The ash grove was one of the last songs we sang in my fifth grade choir. Just before middle school. Just before everything changed. Back then I didn’t know the names of plants, or trees, but I came to this same forest and I imagined myself in my own little ash grove. There was the streamlet, and the swaying of trees, neither dark nor light as the shadows danced like water snakes. I played there for hours. I sang to the trees.
It was just a few years ago–long after fifth grade–that I discovered the ash, but I still remembered most of that song. The tune, at least, if not the words. I waited, and waited, but it seemed the maple was winning out. When at last the maple grew so wide as to swallow the ash, I crept down to investigate. The ash tree was still there, hidden deep within the foliage of the young maple. For the moment they were growing together, co-existing, but I knew that the survival of the ash was unlikely.
I thought I’d kept the music, all these years. I looked for it, for the lyrics, so I could remember those lost lines. What I looked up online had very different lyrics; my choir teachers must have changed it. I looked through my old folders and scrapbooks, only to remember that I’d thrown it away many years ago. All I remember now is that it slowed down at the end. The ash grove, the ash grove, repeating like that, and then my memory drifts off. The ash grove, the ash grove–