I am rowan – sorbus aucuparia – mountain ash if you’re from The Valleys. I am found throughout Europe, from plain to mountain – from Iceland to Russia, in Northern Africa and China. I go first, where others cannot. It is I who will return first after the desecration, the clearing, the burning and the collapse of your concrete temples. Dependent on the wind and soil – I can grow tall. But on exposed hillsides – I bow backwards, deferential to autumnal blows. I can withstand all weathers – but it does feel different now. The air flyers – buzz about me, seeking nectar and sharing pollen. The feathered ones take my berries – I help them fatten before migration, they spread my seed far and wide. The clawed and the cloven eat at my feet – their winter made better by a full stomach and shelter. Away from the sun, the fungal society feeds me, medicates me, cwtches me. I bind the soil of the steep slopes – so that they do not wash away. I am short lived, just 80 years – but maybe that’s long to you? I was here before you and live humbly beside you. You use me for medicine and tools, shelter and heat. I tolerate your pollution better than most and offer a warning, before all is lost. Pay attention and take care.
This poem was written in memory of my much-missed cousin, the Welsh-American composer and educator Hilary Tann (2 November 1947 to 8 February 2023), whose company is called Rowanberry Music. Hilary was born in Llywnpia, Glamorgan, was educated at the University of Wales Cardiff and Princeton University, and lived in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York. Her compositions include Sarsen, Seven Poems of Stillness, And the Snow Did Lie, and Songs of the Cotton Grass.
Hilary Tann was the John Howard Payne Professor of Music Emerita at Union College, Schenectady, where she taught for many years. Her compositions have been performed and recorded by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, the European Women’s Orchestra, Lontano, the Marsyas Trio, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Tenebrae, and the Thai Philharmonic, among others. She held composer residencies at the Eastman School of Music, the Women in Music Festival, and Tŷ Cerdd Music Centre Wales. Her overture With the Heather and Small Birds, her tribute to the beloved land of her birth, was commissioned by the 1994 Cardiff Festival.