Pussy Willows by Augusta Larned

 
Nasjonalbiblioteket from Norway Glædelig Paaske

Pussy Willows by Augusta Larned
PUSSY WILLOWS
The sun is setting in calm splendor irradiating the brown earth with hues of gold. Buds are beginning to swell on the twisted boughs of old trees, and the lawns and meadows are gathering that first, faint green down that speaks of some new impulse at the roots of things. Children are passing the door with pussy willows in their hands, those straight, slender branches with knobs of gray plush scattered along them. They are sleepy looking and downy soft, and remind one of young birds that have just put on feathers, of baby chickens and little toddling ducks. They are the earliest of Spring's infants she nurses at her breast, while the hoarfrost comes at night, and a thin sheet of ice gathers on the pools, and a delicious sharpness tingles in the air, in the clear light of stars, darting their beams from the zenith.
On such nights the mother rocks her little catkins with the tenderness the first-born ever inspire. They are synchronous with the first arriving bluebirds that come while grubs and worms are still scarce in the bird market, and doubtless the high price of fresh meat is a cause of heartburning. But there are no dead birds about the muddy lanes or on the woodpaths. They all flourish in some way, though perhaps with a sense of having arrived too early, like the first guests at a great hotel who wander solitary about huge, empty rooms. The air is filled with a chorus of low chirps and twitters, and there are tiny gray-coated peepers who never will sing a real song, but are just as happy to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.
Yesterday a robin came, the day before a song sparrow. The snow birds and chickadees seem to have gone into spring retirement. Perhaps they are exclusive and do not care to be confounded with a crowd of people they do not know. What a thing it is to be the first of the kind to appear,—a dial to point the way and set the world ticking with a new impulse. Pussy willow is that dial, a humble little sign that spells good news. It was born of a few scant rays of the sun, but the finest flower in the greenhouse has not its significance,—a downy thing, a little poem that has stepped out and shown its heart to do and dare, while winter is banked in woody hollows and ice shoots its crystals across the brook. Its courage is sublime when we think of it, and it is as much a pioneer as Peary was when he planted his flag on the north pole.
This little tuft of down and fluff has crept out of darkness and silence. What moved it to step first into the light of day in our cold northern spring, and speak to us of the immortal life of Nature? It is a symbol the wisest philosopher might muse upon seeking to probe the heart of its mystery, no wiser than the ignorant child who loved it. And again it would awaken in the poet soul images of beauty, suggestive parallels, tender thoughts of the great awakening, the whispered word of resurrection, while the artist would see visions of the early spring, the brown faded nap of fields and hills, the vaporous clouds, misty, tender, fructifying, full of the fruit fulness and refreshing of the opening season, the clean black soil of newly turned furrows, and the liberated spirit of the year for which no word can be found save that it gives life and imparts the feeling of joy. Then, too, he would see the smile of the sky over stooping willows, as they bend to the stream, showing their brown and yellow stems, above such nooks as that wherein Ophelia was drowned among the lily pads, and pure white blossoms floating on the palm of their green leaves.
From this beginning in a bud and a fragment of bird song, we trace the steps of the spring coming forward with skip and dance and unusual caressing warmth, going backward to snow flurry, white frost, a glaze of ice, and keen wind that cuts to the marrow of the bones, to sharp brightness, caprices childlike, with naughty fits and vixenish temper. What a mazy dance it is, led in by little, plain pussy willow! The season changed to produce her, the days lengthened that she might take a text and preach her little sermon. The winds were tempered to bid her welcome, and the earth mellowed to send the sap to nourish her growth. Now that she has come one hears a great note of rejoicing in the air. The crows have changed their caw as they fly over the woods on slow wing. The rusty-throated house sparrows cry "spring, spring, spring," from their covert in the ivy on the wall. The old tinker's and rag-gatherer's cracked wagon bell repeats it as he goes jogging down the road, all his wares rattling in accord. The carpenter's hammer, as he repairs the roof, taps to the same strain. The cow in the farmyard lets forth her voice to a like tune, and the nag in the stable whinnies in unison. The very rain-pools in the road rejoice, and do their best to reflect the broken, tumbled clouds and gleamy splendor of darting sun rays. The brook swollen by melting snows runs like a mill race, and feels itself as big and important as a river, not a creature but feels a new nerve thrilling with pussy willow's delight in living. Not to love life now is a sin against the Creator of this exquisite March world, so full of the excitement and passion of a new time, the crazy month that yet has such method in its madness, so full of flurries and temper and moods and tender relentings like a hoyden who kisses and slaps you or a kitten who purrs in your arms to give you a scratch. It is the month of the unexpected that keeps your mind on the stretch and your eyes exploring the horizon for signs and wonders, while you shiver under its unrelenting winds.
But March is the month we could least afford to spare from the calendar. It is the month of kiteflyers, and even in our old age we are still sending up our fancy kites on windy days, when it is such a joy to see them mount above the naked treetops. A very little thing can make us happy, and help us to leave the commonplace round of petty or irritating trifles to an escape where our kite is floating in the blue. A gleam of sunshine, a touch of color, the red sunlight on the evergreen trunks, the smile on a beautiful face, a branch of pussy willow on our chimney-piece,—the merest nothing can set us mounting to the empyrean if we hold fast to the string of our kite. It can bring back the scenes of childhood, can re-create a lost, forgotten world. Up there we can look back past our graves, our buried hopes, our disillusions, our faithless times of bitter sorrow, and feel again the childish pulse beating in the heart and the trusting love of God falling all about us with a still blessing. If we can mount high enough on our kite, even through the glance of an eye we shall see things as they are, not in distorted vision of crooked and hideous lines but a fair map of plan and purpose.