Thursday, August 26, 2010

Willows of the Brook

At first it was a whisper, barely there, something sensed more than heard. Then the syncopated rhythm, drumming softly on skylights and roof. Gentle rain with a hint of breeze stirred the surrounding woods and began the day.

Summers, we enjoy morning coffee and the paper outdoors. My husband prefers the picnic table on the porch where he can spread the news out before him. I usually soak in the sun near the carport, close to the bird feeders where the action is. But this day, even with predicted high temperatures, arrived with clouds and light fog misting in from the canal. On the porch, curled up in my favorite chair, I gazed out to a sea of green - the tall, swaying type.

Beyond the old cedar and the wild cherry, the land slopes down into bog filled with Alders, Douglas Firs, a few Elderberries and Mountain Ash. Near the road, a small drainage stream winds its way through the thicket. There among the blackberries, a number of willows grow. We hardly notice, as they are mostly out of view and that area is far too boggy and choked with brush to walk through.

But we did notice the sudden clearing left after a winter wind storm several years ago. One large old willow had been snapped and was bent over into the bog. Aside from being unattractive, it wasn’t hurting anything and was nearly impossible to reach, so we decided to just let it be. We figured it’d rot out in a year or two and gradually disappear completely. We figured wrong.

That spring, we agreed to have a few of the large Alders closest to the house removed. Wind-damaged, with large splits in their trunks, they could hit the house if they came down on their own. My husband mentioned the downed willow to the tree man. He told us it probably wouldn’t rot; the fallen part would put out new roots, the branches facing up would continue to grow, and a whole new clump of smaller trees would form. By the end of that summer his prediction had come true and then some.

I should have known. We have several curly willows and a couple others we grow for the large pussy willow catkins they produce each spring. All have been grown from branches simply stuck in damp soil and left to root. Willows beyond our fence in the neighbor’s woods continue to multiply, slowly moving our way until we whack them back again - and yet again.

Willows sprout readily, grow in all soils, and on all continents except Australia. For thousands of years they have been used for food, housing materials, firewood, basketry, and pain-relief, containing a chemical similar to aspirin.

Their sticky-sweet scent wafts me back to childhood, when on summer trips we’d stop beside a cool stream for a rest or lunch. If there was water, there were always willows - how we welcomed their shade!

And you shall take on the first day
the fruit of goodly trees,
branches of palm trees, and boughs of leafy trees,
and willows of the brook;
and you shall rejoice before the Lord seven days.
Leviticus 23:40

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