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The Totteridge Yew

24th March 2021

There is a hoary Yew tree by the church
St Andrew's Totteridge, which has been growing
since the Romans came two thousand years
ago. Longevity's a feature of 
the yew, which for this reason often grows
in cemet'ries, companion for the dead 
in their eternal rest. The English yew
at Totteridge, penultimate stop on
the Northern Line, is older than the rest
and certainly the oldest living thing 
in London, although the Duke of Edinburgh
comes close. They share a pallid greenish hue,
translucent with the patina of age.
The yew, if not His Grace, has swelled with time
as each year adds a ring, and has a girth 
today of twenty seven feet (nine metres).
The bark has opened into cavities
voluminous enough to hide a child
which happened once: a baby was abandoned
here in seventeen twenty two. The tree
is native, male or female, flowers in March
and yields a juicy berry in September
with a poisonous pip. Some yews give up
their wood to live as music in the belly 
of a lute. Here's mine. Each strip of yew 
is two-tone, light and dark, with ebony
between and varnished to reveal the grain, 
the inner beauty of this precious wood.