Did you know that tree means truth? Well it does, honestly, let me be the first to tell you so you know it’s true. The Old English word treow means both tree and truth. Lots of Old English words use treow in them to mean things like to trust or believe (treowan), or to be faithful (treowfæst, truth-fast). Treow is used for more woody things too, like when you take your treowfæstnian (trusty) ax to the treowsteall (a grove) to work as a treowwyrtha (carpenter) treowfeging (joining boards together) into a treowgeweroc (tree work, something made of wood). In that treow grove you’ll find forest birds (treowfugol) and faithful friends (treowgeðofta) who’ll go in for a little tree worship (treowweroðung) with you and with whom you might find treowlufu (true love). Watch out for the treowles and treowleasnes.

Tree and truth were more than homonyms in Old English. Trees were where you’d go for truth, talk to God, get married. We still do that. Under this tree I pledge thee my troth. Under what tree? Under the æsc tree, the ash. The world tree with all the stuff in it. The one holding steadily, rightly. Æ, the letter for the rune ᚨ, meaning ash tree, isn’t just a letter in Old English. It’s also a word that means law with a bit of a divine flavor to it. Æ means a covenant before God, a sacred rite, a ceremony, a marriage. The ash tree has the gods in it, so watch what you pledge to be true in front of it. It knows truth. It is truth. You go to the ash tree to tell the truth and make it stick.

Somebody once told me the first person to tell the truth wins. He’d say wins. You can tell it any way you like he’d say, lips pursed, and he would. He’d tell you all about that and then he’d tell you all about this. He’d say you can arrange the truth however you want, use what’s close at hand, polish up some parts, trash other bits, or even better, recycle them. You can repurpose the past for reuse, yes, it’s just plain environmentally responsible, but you do run the risk of altering the future if the first tale told takes a good hold in people’s minds. Once you put something in there it’s hard to get it back out: it sticks to everything like sap and stays forever. So this soothsayer who found out the staying power of having the first word would get in there asap and mix up the truth with something funny all day long. If truth depends on a priori positioning in duration then good luck to any words coming in after. Got any last words? They’ll suffer from the comparison. Of course I believed him about the victory of the early truth. Was the first I’d heard.

Now I believe the best way to win a truth competition, if you do find yourself thrust into one, is not to compete. This is not your treowfæstnian axe to grind. If somebody says they said things first and now that’s what’s true, don’t fight it. Don’t try to stuff your truth in there edgewise. Say nothing. Reflect on this: each truth to enter imagines itself to be the first to enter whereas it is neither first nor last nor only nor alone in a series originating in and repeated to infinity. This idea can be applied in surprising places. The truth in it is there is no first. What first? First is meaningless. So forget about who’s first and keep your own counsel, or tell it to your treowfugol or your treowlufu, somebody treowe, trustworthy. Even better, tell it to the ash tree. That’s what it’s for.