Thursday, March 12, 2009

Goat Willow Catkins on Whidbey Island

Growing up in Southern California, we never saw real pussywillows (except as imported curiosities). They were captive items, like peacock feathers or Mexican jumping beans. They stayed frozen in their soft furry grey velvet form forever.

Maybe that’s why I didn’t recognize them at first in my Seattle neighborhood. I had walked around the same block for years without ever seeing them. Then one March, on a walk with the dog, I noticed something plopping down around me. They were spent pussy willow catkins that had thrown off their pollen and were dropping to in an orgy of dissipation.

From then on, I kept my eye on the bush and came to know all its phases. I love it best when the buds are just showing that flash of milk white, before they open. No, I love it best when the stems are studded with those soft, furry grey velvet puffs, like tiny rabbit feet. I have a vase of them sitting in my window in front of me at my writing retreat. They were blown off this tree in the high wind that came up several nights ago and I found them on the side of the road. They don’t seem to be opening despite the warmth of the cottage, which is just fine.

But I do love the next stage. Here they are on the same tree a few days later, popping out, covered with yellow pollen. I will be eager to get back to Seattle and see how the ones in my neighborhood are progressing.. I think because Seattle is warmer they will already be littering the ground.

I’ve been reading Bill Felker’s list of March Zeitgebers from Poor Will’s Almanac. In Yellow Springs, Ohio, he predicts pussy willow catkins will break in the second week and pollen will appear on the catkins in the fourth week.

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