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Just Don’t Stick Them Up Your Nose

Where I grew up as a child, one of the first and favorite signs of spring were pussy willows sprouting their furry little heads. As little kids, we were fascinated with them–how they looked, but mostly how soft and furry they felt. We’d cut off a few branches and take them home, proudly presenting them to our moms who would fill an old mason jar with a little water and display them on the kitchen table.

Where I live now, we don’t easily find pussy willows. As spring dawned this year, I commented to my wife about how much I missed this messenger of spring on the way. I live in the high desert of the American mountain west and so I wondered what it was about our climate that made pussy willows absent.

When I began my online search, I almost immediately found an expert I recognized. It was not some scientist from a prestigious university known for its botany or agriculture departments–it was Martha Stewart. “Martha will know”, I said to myself. And she did. On her website she pointed out that pussy willows like bright sun–and we’ve got lots of that in the high desert. She said they could grow in almost any soil–so maybe our clay could work. Some really poor soils (like clay) need the addition of peat moss or leaf mold–both of which I could get my hands on. And, she continued, they grew along bodies of water because they needed lots of water.

That’s when I remembered that, as a child, we’d find pussy willows growing in some of the least habitable parts of our neighborhood. If the area was low-lying and prone to swampiness, if the sun was intense at times and absent at others and if the soil seemed unable to support anything else – that is where you’d find pussy willows.

As I connected Martha’s guidance with my childhood experience, I realized how pussy willows have found a way to work “with” growing conditions most other plants shun. The bright sun plants won’t put up with the shady periods. The “soil picky” plants want the acidity and composition of the soil to be just about perfect. The “water wanting” plants want the water in just the right ratio – not too wet and not too dry.

But the pussy willow can work “with” all the less than perfect environments. Got sun? The pussy willow is on board. Got shade? Not a problem. Good-ish soil–that’ll be good enough. Too much water for anything but fish? Pussy willows will find a way.

So now, besides their pretty appearance, their fuzzy texture and their important role in announcing spring my friend the pussy willow has gained another admirable aspect–they have taught me I can, if I’m flexible enough, work “with” almost anything life throws at me.

As to the title of this piece–well, if you had pussy willows as a kid–you know there’s always one kid who–you guessed it–feels some bizarre and overwhelming need to shove that furry little bud right up their nose. Which is why, if you’re going to have kids and pussy willows nearby–make sure you know the way to the nearest urgent care clinic.