Tuesday, March 31, 2009

In My Garden

The big leaves are daffodils, of course, while the small leaves are garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata). This is a weeding battle I can never win: I knock it back every growing season, but every spring is just the same -- like I never pulled a one.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Willow Sky

We live in the city, but our backyard abuts a hilly urban woodlot. It is not a pristine wilderness by a long shot; portions of the area were graded for a street that was never constructed, yet is still depicted on some maps of the area. This means stripped top soils, compacted subsoils, and lots of invasive species. Still, we enjoy our little woods: it is where we walk the cats; where mayapples and wild geraniums grow; where we see the first robins of the year.


I almost always carry a camera with me on these walks, even though I'll frequently return without taking any pictures or with only lackluster shots. I am working on that, taking more photos, trying to train my eye to see the beauty in the mundane. One photo I seem to shoot repeatedly, especially this time of year, is of willow branches against the sky. When I download the camera, I breeze right by the photos, never finding them terribly interesting. And yet I take the same photo over and over and over. Witness:




It was last weekend when I really noticed this strange recurring pattern, and started trying to figure out the reason behind it. One theory I came up with dates back to my childhood. When I was 7 or 8 years old, my family had to leave a rental house we'd all loved. My parents bought a new home in a growing subdivision, the kind of place where the sum total of landscaping was one stick tree in the front yard, along with two squat bushes, one on either side of the door. Of course they immediately set about changing that, planting oak and birch and hemlock, catalpa and dogwood and spruce.

Entranced by the magical rooms the drooping branches can create, my sister and I lobbied hard for a weeping willow. We were utterly unconcerned by the fragile, messy nature of large willows, but ever practical, my parents demurred, instead opting for honey locust and cedar, crabapple and horse chestnut. Could my photographic loyalty to this same boring picture date back to my unmet youthful yearnings for a backyard willow world? I've been mulling this over for the last week, and oddly the process of analyzing the mystery has caused me to photograph the tree less -- I didn't take pictures of the tree on any of my three most recent walks (yesterday, Monday, or Tuesday).

Ultimately, I decided the appeal is almost entirely in the bright colors. Woods are generally pretty monochromatic places this time of year, with various shades of brown bark and brown mud. No greens yet, no flowers, and the lovely white snow has all melted. The potential energy in those willow branches just screams against the blue sky. Yellow! Life! Like the robin, it's another symbol of what is to come. Here's a sneak peak from last year, what we have to look forward to in just a few short weeks: