The FLOW Wassail of 2021 was already planned to be quite a DIY affair, but as the date approached the Wassail team felt that COVID lockdown conditions meant that organised public gathering shouldn’t be encouraged.
As we live very close to the Exwick end of the orchard, my family decided to visit the trees on Saturday 16th January as a special kind of daily exercise expedition. We toasted some bread and threaded it on string to hang in the tree for the robin, and set off in our wellies, hats and gloves. It felt very small, just the three of us processing in the daytime, when usually we make the Wassail journey at dusk, with fire and a noisy throng.
From a distance, the trees still looked very little, just bare sticks in the ground, but close-up we were surprised to find pink blossom already on some of the cherries. We hung our toast on the trees, but didn’t see the robin on this occasion (though we could hear him).
I danced the Exeter Wassail dance, and sang the song while my family listened and watched, humouring me: it’s easier to do this kind of thing in a large group, and very odd as a solo. The unexpected blossom quietened my dancing and singing: if part of Wassailing is to encourage the trees to wake up, I didn’t want them to be this quick off the mark. I asked the trees to sleep longer, rather than rush into spring while we’re still in the necessary dormant phase. We humans were learning this the hard way, through the isolation of the COVID winter that many struggled through. It felt good to be connecting with the trees as part of a longer-term commitment during this dark time.
Leaving Exwick Mill Field, we walked slowly the length of the orchard, following the map to learn which trees are which and pausing for a ceremonial photo on the FLOW bench.
On reaching Trews Weir we spied two other people tending the trees. Surely, other Wassailers? Yes, they were, and Orchard Guardians to boot, not only Wassailing and sharing some of their mulled cider with the trees, but doing some gentle tree-care adjusting and reapplying tree guards (the rabbits had been nibbling at the bark).
We had a quiet, socially-distanced little sing and dance. Then my family went home and I continued alone down the orchard to honour the last tree at Double Locks.
The following day, I met a friend for an even smaller socially-distanced Wassail in Exwick Mill Field. Hers is an spirit that refuses to be inhibited, so we danced and sang with more abandon than the previous day, spinning around the little trees and hanging up more toast. Silly, but good to connect with each other and kindle our still-new Wassail tradition. We provided quite a spectacle for a dog walker who eyed us with curiosity and perhaps some concern. We didn’t need to ask him to keep his distance.
I wonder whether anyone else Wassailed the FLOW trees this year? Let us know if you did!
Author Emma Welton
FLOW Wassail 2021 write up