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FAIRY RINGS. The cause, occasion, call it what you will, of fairy rings subsists in the turf, and is conveyable with it:* for the turf of my garden-walks, brought from the down above, abounds with those appearances, which vary their shape, and shift situation continually, discovering themselves now in circles, now in segments, and sometimes in irregular patches and spots. Wherever they obtain, puff-balls abound; the seeds of which were doubtless brought in the turf.- WHITE
In the churchyard of this village is a yew-tree, whose aspect bespeaks it to be of a great age: it seems to have seen several centuries, and is probably coeval with the church, and therefore may be deemed an antiquity: the body is squat, short, and thick, and measures twenty-three feet in the girth, supporting a head of suitable extent to its bulk. This is a male tree, which in the spring sheds clouds of dust, and fills the atmosphere around with its farina.
As far as we have been able to observe, the males of this species become much larger than the females; and it has so fallen out that most of the yew-trees in the churchyards of this neighbourhood are males : but this must have been matter of mere accident, since men, when they first planted yews, little dreamed that there were sexes in trees.
In a yard, in the midst of the street, till very lately grew a middle-sized female tree of the same species, which commonly bore great crops of berries. By the high winds usually prevailing about the autumnal equinox these
* Fairy rings are caused by certain fungi which throw their seeds outwards, so that a gradually increasing circle is formed of greener and brighter vegetation.
berries, then ripe, were blown down into the road, where the hogs ate them. And it was very remarkable, that though barrow-hogs and young sows found no inconvenience from this food, yet milch-sows often died after such a repast: a circumstance that can be accounted for only by supposing that the latter, being much exhausted and hungry, devoured a larger quantity.
While mention is making of the bad effects of yew-berries, it may
be proper to remind the unwary that the twigs and leaves of yew, though eaten in a very small quantity, are certain death to horses and cows, and that in a few minutes. A horse tied to a yew-hedge, or to a aggot-stack of dead yew, shall be found dead before the owner can be aware that any danger is at hand; and the writer has been several times a sorrowful witness to losses of this kind among his friends; and in the island of Ely had once the mortification to see nine young steers or bullocks of his own all lying dead in a heap from browsing a little on a hedge of yew in an old garden, into which they had broken in snowy weather. Even the clippings of a yew hedge have destroyed a whole dairy of cows when thrown inadvertently into a yard. And yet sheep and turkeys, and, as park-keepers say, deer will crop these trees with impunity. Some intelligent persons assert that the branches of
yew, while green, are not noxious; and that they will kill only when dead and withered, by lacerating the stomach ; but to this assertion we cannot by any means assent, because, among the number of cattle that we have known fall victims to this deadly food not one has been found, when it was opened, but had a lump of green yew in its paunch. True it is that yew-trees stand for twenty years or more in a field, and no bad consequences ensue; but at some time or other cattle, either from wantonness when full, or from
hunger when empty (from both which circumstances we have seen them perish), will be meddling, to their certain destruction. The yew seems to be a very improper tree for a pasture-field.
Antiquaries seem much at a loss to determine at what period this tree first obtained a place in churchyards. A statute passed A.D. 1307 and 35 Edward I., the title of which is “Ne rector arbores in cemeterio prosternat.” Now if it is recollected that we seldom see any other
very large or ancient tree in a churchyard but yews, this statute must have principally related to this species of tree; and consequently their being planted in churchyards is of much more ancient date than the year 1307.
As to the use of these trees, possibly the more respectable parishioners were buried under their shade before the improper custom was introduced of burying within the body of the church, where the living are to assemble. Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, * was buried under an oak—the most honourable place of interment probably next to the cave of Machpelah,+ which seems to have been appropriated to the remains of the patriarchal family alone.
The farther use of yew-trees might be as a screen to churches, by their thick foliage, from the violence of winds; perhaps also for the purpose of archery, the best long bows being made of that material; and we do not hear that they are planted in the churchyards of other parts of Europe, where long bows were not so much in use. They might also be placed as a shelter to the congregation assembling before the church doors were opened, and as an emblem of mortality by their funereal appearance. In the south of England every churchyard almost has its tree, and some two; but in the north, we understand, few are to be found.
* Gen. XXXV. 8.
+ Gen, xxiii. 9.
The idea of R. O. that the yew-tree afforded its branches instead of palms for the processions on Palm Sunday is a good one, and deserves attention. See Gent. Mag., vol. 1. p. 128.
NOVEMBER 22nd, 1768. A remarkable fall of the barometer all over the kingdom. At Selborne we had no wind, and not much rain ; only vast, swagging, rock-like clouds appeared at a distance.—WHITE.
The country people, who are abroad in winter mornings long before sunrise, talk much of hard frosts in some spots, and none in others. The reason of these partial frosts is obvious, for there are at such times partial fogs about: where the fog obtains, little or no frost appears; but where the air is clear, there it freezes hard. So the frost takes place either on hill or in dale, wherever the air happens to be clearest and freest from
THAW. Thaws are sometimes surprisingly quick, considering the small quantity of rain. Does not the warmth at such times come from below? The cold in still, severe seasons seems to come down from above; for the coming over of a cloud in severe nights raises the thermometer abroad at once full ten degrees. The first notices of thaws often seem to appear in vaults, cellars, etc.
If a frost happens, even when the ground is considerably dry, as soon as a thaw takes place the paths and fields are all in a batter. Country people say that the frost draws moisture. But the true philosophy is, that the steam and vapours continually ascending from the earth are bound in by the frost, and not suffered to escape till released by the thaw. No wonder, then, that the surface is all in a float, since the quantity of moisture by evaporation that arises daily from every acre of ground is astonishing.--WHITE
January 20th. Mr. H.'s man says that he caught this day, in a lane near Hackwood park, many rooks, which, attempting to fly, fell from the trees with their wings frozen together by the sleet, that froze as it fell. There were, he affirms, many dozen so disabled.— WHITE.
MIST, CALLED LONDON SMOKE. This is a blue mist which has somewhat the smell of coal smoke, and as it always comes to us with a N.E wind, is supposed to come from London.
It has a strong smell, and is supposed to occasion blights. When such mists appear they are usually followed by dry weather.-WHITE.