Walking in Circles: In Praise of Willows

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By Dave Coulter

Rough Edges

I have now spent the better part of my life as a tree hugger.  And as a result I have formed opinions and biases about particular species I like or dislike.  These opinions - as you might imagine - have been formed by a variety of factors.   One example is what I’d call nativity:  I tend to favor trees native to our region.  I like things that look like they belong here.   Another big factor for me is durability: how many of these I have cut down, or wanted to cut down.   I have nursed long term dislikes for Amur maples and Siberian elms, to name two examples.

I have for years regarded willow trees with neither like nor dislike.   Yes, I know they can be weedy and messy - and heaven knows I have removed my share.  But I also appreciate their form, their flexibility, and their tolerance of wet soil (which comes in handy when planting around a lake).   And I now have a couple more reasons to be a fan of the willow. 

Last week before the Thanksgiving holiday I was walking around an anonymous retention pond - killing time before a meeting.   Virtually all of the leaves had now fallen, leaving bare trunks - a palette of tans and grays.  What stood out was the shocking yellow leaves of the willow trees scattered along the shoreline.   Willow stems brighten noticeably as winter turns to spring, but I confess I’d never enjoyed their contribution to the mosaic of the autumn landscape.  Because they hold their leaves so long aren’t they due some credit as the last color out the door?    

And that late burst of color is not the only reason I’m a fan.  According to that ever-wise internet I was, in fact, born under the sign of the willow in Celtic astrology!  FYI, I’m also an Aries, and according to placemats in Chinese restaurants, a Pig.   And listen to this: we willows are creative, intuitive and intelligent - and may even be highly psychic.  If I study this more closely I seem to be on an alder-willow cusp.  Hmm.  Both are water loving trees.  Could this explain why I enjoy my kayak, or the occasional glass of water?

So there you have it.  Willows: sometimes graceful, sometimes messy are a current favorite. They do seem a little like me.      

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