Though the Berkshires are still covered in nearly a foot of iced-over snow, if you look very carefully, you can detect the first faint signs of spring. March, with what Dickinson so aptly called “his purple feet,” is starting to creep across the fields and slip through the underbrush. The witch hazel branches are knobby with new growth which, in another few weeks, will explode into clusters of chrome yellow with hot red centers — each a miniature fireworks display. I caught the acrid scent of skunk this afternoon outside our garage. And, when I walked down to the creek where several years ago I planted three pussy willow bushes, I saw that — here and there — a popcorn-size blossom had burst through its casing.
One of my first memories as a child was the pussy willow shrub that grew at the back of our garden. I was the youngest then, the only girl, and often found myself playing alone. As I think happens with many of us who eventually become gardeners, trees and plants and animals were my playthings when I was young. Remember that nursery rhyme: “I know a little pussy/her coat is silver grey/she lives down in the meadow/not very far away.” I think that was one of the first images I understood. That the poem was about a pussy willow seemed magical to me. As often happens with those of us who like to write, words became my playthings, too.
The pussy willows (Salix caprea) that I originally planted along the course of our seasonal brook grew so tall in that marshy and exposed spot that one of them toppled over a few years ago. Except for their short-lived moment of glory in the early spring, I know they don’t add a great deal to the landscape. But I love them. The way we tend to love the scents and sounds of our childhood. Cinnamon. Fur Elise. Woodsmoke. Those shrubs were among the first things I put in when we brought our place. As we all try to do in one way or another, I suppose I was attempting to recapture an unrecoverable Eden. Though the pussy willows at the height of their flowering — their branches studded with bright furry buds — make it almost seem that I’ve done just that.
Are there plants or trees in your garden —or life — that have sentimental value to you? Write to me below. I’d love to hear from you!
I always look forward to your postings. Here’s mine:
The hollyhocks which grew against our house in the backyard was a particular favorite of mine, altho’ the lilac bush near the backdoor and the forsythia next to the garage were close second and third…but the hollyhock was special – it became part of the bridal procession down the slate walk: deep red was the groom, pale pink the bridesmaids and a white one with a yellow throat, the bride. Each, topped with a bud of the same color, proceeded toward the gravel driveway and lasted all the playday – on a sunny afternoon.
I just love your image of the wedding procession, Annette!
Pussy willows are among my earliest loves in childhood, those furry wonders unlike any other ornaments I had ever seen or touched. Other deeply implanted and visceral memories include the honeysuckle blossoms whose tiny and sweet elixir my sister and I pilfered from an unknown neighbors yard…and my favorite to this day-the intoxicating aroma wafting from magnificent and beloved purple and pink lilac bushes. Oh the pleasures each year that delight and then are, too soon, but a memory!
And that the pleasures pass so quickly makes them all that more intense, don’t you think?
Your blog reminded me of what represented the arrival of this new season:
My Dad and his best friend Billy used to hike in the Palisades and when the seasons
started to change he bought branches of forsythia home from the woods. I am sure
it was and is illegal to do that, but never mind.
I would find the branches “taking a bath” in the tub, I suppose to help force them
to bloom. It bought the country into the city and made everything look so
cheerful. He would put them into some early American pots we had. I always think of him when I see they are out, a happy memory.
What a lovely memory, B. So many of the early spring flowerings — witch hazel, forsythia, daffodils — are that loud bright chrome yellow! They’re like a bugle call: it’s spring!
What a beautiful post. It makes me smile to think of the small buds I see now packed on the tips of branches soon about to blossom.