Pussy Willow

IMG_0348The farmland here is literally breaking open with Spring. The earth’s crust resembles brownies from the oven – the top is chocolatey-cracked and dry, but moist with deep, dark richness beneath.

So different from the red clay tobacco fields back home. These fields are amazingly fertile and robust furrows, patiently waiting for seed.

Today I run past grizzled and stinky old goats who kick their back hooves at me flirtatiously. And there are clutches of chickens and even several plump rabbits nervously nibbling in their yard, no hutch in evidence, they’re free to hop around.

The dozens of unmarked wooden boxes stacked on the edges of the meadow are for the bees, I’m told. And massive, horned, shaggy cows wait to be escorted up to graze in the Alps, like bridesmaids, adorned with ponderous bells, ribbons and wildflowers even.They stare at me with gravity and intelligence, reducing my running business to foolhardy nonsense. Who says they are stupid?

And on this trail the prickly sticks and woody shrubs have new green poking forth. It is all such a huge display of effort, of trying, of willing the sun to come back, come back again for another season. And here, amid much shrubbery foreign to my eye, I recognize a familiar old friend –  the pussy willow.

When I was very young, our family lived in an old brownstone duplex on Prince George Street, just a stone’s throw from the US Naval Academy in Annapolis where my dad was chaplain. It was on a cobbled brick street lined with gorgeous old maples. And under the trees, our neighbors’ yards were deep with ancient clutching vines and wild plantings of forsythia, lilac and my very favorite, the pussy willow.

When my brother and I walked to church hand- in-hand, I would trail my fingers across the metal fence covered in rusty verdigris. And in Springtime the yellow forsythia would  burst through those iron bars like a firework announcing Easter and all its delights.

One day, by myself, I scrabbled over the edge of the brick ledge and thrust my chubby arm through the bars to break off some of the pussy willow that so intrigued me. Maybe I would give it to Mommy? I pinched off a tiny bud and it dropped like a cocoon into my palm.

Unlike any other flower blossom, this was furry. It was so soft, so plump, so perfect. And like a bunny’s tail it felt so incredibly delightful on my nose. I tickled it down one side and up the other, twitching it at each nose hole. Perhaps it might go even deeper in my nose? Yes. And still so soft, like a cotton ball.

So kitten-tail tickely as it went up my nose. Poke in, peep out. Like a little rabbit in a hole. Disappearing.Nested inside. A perfect fit.

Of course, the story goes that I had completely wedged that thing in, but good, up there in the sinus cavity. Walking home, my sensuous orgy with the bush turned to dread and fear. And later, as the doctor extracted it from my nostril, not a word was said about how it had gotten there. At the time I thought I had them all fooled with my accidental shoving talk.

But I don’t remember any scolding. My parents weren’t like that. Yet I still remember the shame I felt over my gluttony.

I think Spring is a bit like that, isn’t it? We want to greedily dig up and pull out the juicy newness, squeeze the ripe bud with our thumb, and inhale, and gorge and digest and become that new life that promises so much. We are hungry, so hungry for hope, and change and transformation. It’s our chance to be new, peel off the cold and wet and ugly, old useless version of us.

And it’s almost as if we want to be the beauty all around us. We want to be burrowed down warm in the soil – fed by the sun and then watered by showers and the occasional drink of cold, clear water from the old well. We crave to be watched over and brought to fullness. We yearn to be patted softly into the ground with farmer’s palms, and later gently pruned to be finally cradled away in the soft arms of Summer.

But for me, this season can provoke a rabbity nervousness, an almost giddy panic. The over-sweet premise is just so tantalizing, so blinding, so brilliant, it’s almost too much. All the lambs’ tail softness and downy chick fluff stuff is just a teaser with an underbelly of longing that can’t be satiated.

So, I pick up my pace, conscious of the new, not yet calloused tender cracks on the bottom of my soles as they slap the dirt. The pollen is thick and some tiny flying bugs are already starting to swarm my sweaty face and eyes. Little winks at the next hot season to come. And wiping my eyes across my elbow, I gaze past the evergreens to find the lake in the distance – my landmark – as I steadily make my way back home.

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