Saturday, 23 March 2013

Pussy Willow Sunday

Alberta roadsides, the low wet ones, are home to many different species of wild pussy willows (almost 40 sorts).  Beautiful pussy willows are the flowers of willow bushes, and among the most eager blossoms on the prairies.  Anxious for insect pollinators, the fuzzy pussy willows are impervious to frost damage, pushing roots, and moving water and nutrients even in cold weather.  Good thing, considering the snow and bluster of Alberta's "spring" this year. 

Coloured twigs of moose willows are popular here in Alberta.  Early February pussy willows can be found in wet areas, and have branchy red stems with very white flowers.  March varieties are mostly brown with grey or silver grey flowers.  Early April varieties have rusty brown stems with large white flowers, and wolf willows (a neighborhood variety) host their small grey flowers on green, yellow and red stems.  You can find pussy willows in open areas and need not cross fences or hazards to reach them. The male pussy willows will be the first to blossom, while the female will bear seeds much later in the season.

Willow twigs play a rather important role in the Ukrainian tradition at this season.  The Sunday before Easter is called Palm Sunday, but where do palms grow in Canada?  Resourceful Ukrainian pioneers buried knee deep in snow and yearning for the end of winter, would see the willows as the harbinger of spring. A short walk into the wild wood could find you knee deep in swamp and rewarded with  a few bundles of furry catkins to treasure in anticipation of better weather to come.

The Ukrainian tradition is to bring willows to Palm Sunday services to have them blessed, a beautiful symbol of greeting Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on the Sunday before the crucifixion.  Enjoy this youtube video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWMhNiNZFJI . After services, one can then decorate the home, placing the pussy willows around holy pictures and ikons. 

A bundle of nicely coloured and shaped willow twigs will dry into a very elegant arrangement over time. Some people make willow furniture, willow baskets, wreaths and walking sticks.

My dad, a child of the Alberta prairies, used to love working with wood.  Gently peeling off the bark, polishing off the chaff, and working it gently with a soft cloth to bring out the wood's sheen.  His walking sticks are such a lovely reminder of his youth - and times past.  Diamond willows make particularly beautiful walking sticks!  A diamond willow walking stick, complete with autographs of "best" and "forever" friends, has always been a part of the Alberta Ukrainian summer camp experience.

 
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