Willow Trees

A Quest for Willow Trees

On an early summer day, I paddle a boat down a placid stream and pass under the shadow of a black willow tree. Its seeds are boat-shaped and silky so that new willows will grow downstream. It is one of the first trees to take root on any empty sandbar and invite other plants and animals to decorate the river banks.

As the desert finally cools and night begins to arrive, I drive through what seems like endless flat scrubland. In the distance I see some tufts of green and when I arrive, I realize that they are arroyo willows, sudden shrubs evocative of a wetter place. They are waiting on the banks of a dry arroyo for water to flow there once more. Willows, so often trees and shrubs associated with water, are not often found in the desert, but can grow near arroyos at elevations up to 7000 feet.

I go searching for birds in early morning on the California coast. Though many shrubs and trees are present, I find the most birds in the willow trees. The willows draw them as they draw me to a beautiful place.

In a northern boreal forest, a densely wooded area opens to a meadow. Here I find shrub willows, which are favorite foods of moose.

On the Arctic tundra in summer, I arrive at a shrub that sends up flowers shaped like bottle-cleaning brushes. The Arctic willow survives even here.

These are all my dreams of finding willows.

When I was a child, a neighbor would always display pussy willow branches taken from her backyard. The photo below shows the fuzzy catkins that are the plant's flowers. A weeping willow shaded another neighbor's front lawn, and we would play endlessly underneath the drooping branches. Perhaps these memories are when my love of willows began.

Willows are a graceful note that follows you as you explore nature. Experiencing the sight of willows is a reminder that you, like willows, have the good fortune to exist in the beauty of many diverse vistas, from Arctic tundra to desert. If you haven't experienced these sights, then take inspiration from the idea of a pilgrimage of willows that each lead you to a different graceful sight around the world.

Willow Tree Symbolism

The quaint appearance of pussy willows has inspired a fanciful story of the origins of their fuzzy catkins. According to Polish legend, a mother cat cried out to a willow tree beside a river that her kittens had fallen in and were drowning. The willow reached out its branches to save them. As a reward, every spring willows arch gracefully over streams and rivers and on their branches are catkins as soft as kittens' fur.

In Victorian England, weeping willows were a symbol of sorrow and grief. Depictions of the willows appear on many gravestones from that time period.

In China, it was traditional to involve the symbol of the weeping willow in a commemoration of the winter solstice. The time from the solstice to the start of spring is said to be 81 days. Parents would instruct their children to scribe a poem about willows one stroke of each Chinese character one day at a time, for a total of 81 days. The poem is "the weeping willow in the courtyard treasures the valuable spring time the most." Certainly these children, like the courtyard willow, learned the value of patience.

In literature, amongst the wind in the willows, Rat, Toad, Mole, and Badger find various adventures in the classic children's story.


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