What Do You Say When You Meet a 4,000-Year-Old Tree?

Crowhurst Yew

Crowhurst Yew: Doorway to Stillness

What do you say when you meet a 4,000-year-old tree?

“You don’t look a day over 2,000!” Which, it turns out, might be a more accurate age for the Crowhurst Yew and many of the other gnarled specimens that dot the English countryside. 

A visit to this stunning, understated giant at St. George’s Church in Crowhurst, Surrey, on a rare sunny English day, was like stepping back in time (except for the constant airplane traffic above). 

Sitting at the door of this tree, and stepping into its hollow center with reverence, was an experience in slowing down. It required dialing back the forward momentum of life to just be with this venerable living thing that has been around for, well, a long time. But exactly how long? Four thousand years seems rather long.

In a time where Google and Facebook know more about you than your family does, it’s hard to believe there are any mysteries left. But the English yew, or Taxus bacchata, holds her secrets deep in the twists and turns of her mottled bark.

It turns out it’s not so easy to guess a yew’s age. Yews grow incredibly slowly, twisting as they go, eventually creating buttress-like structures that provide enough support for the center to rot away, taking with them the story of their life written in their tree rings.  

They also posses the capacity to suspend growth and then restart growing when conditions are favorable. And they can send a branch down to the ground where it roots and begins a new/cloned plant. All these factors make it hard to know how old a specific yew tree is. Which left me with the opportunity to drop my need to know these things and just enjoy the pocket of stillness found with this quiet old specimen.

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