A Harbinger Of Spring


The most amusing event of my week?  Bunches of pussy willows, fully decked out in their silvery fur, arriving via UPS. Maybe it doesn’t take so much to amuse me, but was there not a time when every yard had a gangly overgrown and not so gorgeous salix whose main claim to fame was how they woke up and got going in March-the early fur bird of the garden?  Just about to burst, we all cut branches and brought them inside, as it was still way too cold to stand outside and appreciate this modest but sure sign of spring.  Pussy willow delivered to my door-what has the world come to?

Like its shrubby partner in crime, forsythia, early counts for a lot in my zone.  Some gardeners with foresight may have galanthus  or eranthis popping out of the ground.  Or a hamamelis in bloom. Other warm and urban southern facing walls may be softened by daffoldil leaves springing forth, announcing the imminent change of the season.  But pussy willow holding forth is a sure harbinger of spring.    Do you think you would still love pussy willow branches if they came on in June or July? Sure this is a rhetorical question; timing is everything, yes?  In a past life when I had five acres of land, only two of which were even remotely civilized, I could wade in those wild places and be sure to find pussy willow, forsythia, and rosa multiflora making moves in March.  I could see the sap was rising in the willows; the branches are waking up.  The color was distinctly different-luminous, and alive.

The poplars, whose rustling leaves stage a concert most every summer day, are all branches and trunks in March.  But there will come a time when that grey bark is suffused with with a green welling up from underneath.  There are no stands of popples where I live now. Should I decide to plant a meadow of popples, pussy willow, forsythia, wild roses, bergamot, buffalo grass, centaurea, and willow in the right of way on my urban corner lot, I most likely would be facing some highly irate neighbors. 

Not everyone shares my idea of beautiful.  Why should they? So  I’ll keep the lawn in the tree row, for now. I have another source of spring from which to draw.  My twigman has made a life of growing specific cultivars whose twigs make the faces of gardeners light up. This salix, which he calls prairie willow, I have never seen before. When I unwrap his long sturdy stems, I am delighted, relieved, beyond all belief.  His pussy willow branches are studded with furry buds, one right after another. 

Do I long for my wild pussy willows-not really.  I never pruned them properly.  The stems had missing teeth-inevitably.  They grew at angles impossible to right.  Though I have no end of nostalgia for what enchanted me 30 years ago, I am perfectly happy what came my way today.  Living and breathing-spring is on its way.

The first harbingers of spring in Michigan-they have a big job.  We gardeners are starved for sun, life, movement.  We are most interested in winter loosening its grip. There are signs from nature that will help that big ache you have.  Mine came in the mail today.

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