Signs of Life

Pussy willow sapling
Pussy willow sapling
Several years ago it began to become obvious that our pussy willow tree might be dying. It apparently has been attacked by carpenter ants. Several large branches die each year and new branches do not grow to replace them. Because this tree has sentimental value&emdash;more about that later&emdash;I have tried to root a cutting from the tree several times.

Last year I succeeded. I placed a small, fresh twig with a clean cut in a Mason jar of water and kept it in a protected spot all summer. When a good amount of root had sprouted from the bottom of the twig, I planted it in a small pot filled with potting soil and it continued to thrive.

Winter approached and I asked a local gardening expert how to ensure the survival of my tiny sapling. She suggested putting it in a protected spot out of doors, so I found a spot that I thought offered the best shelter to my tiny sapling. This past winter being the harshest in many years, however, there really was no protected spot out of doors. The sapling spent much of the winter buried in snow. I was hopeful but not certain that it would survive. In fact, although I brought it out into the open as the weather warmed and kept it watered, it appeared to have been done in by the severe weather. No buds, no catkins, no leaves appeared. It was days away from being consigned to the compost pile.

Now to the sentimental angle. Thirty years ago, when we first set up housekeeping and groundskeeping in our Passaic home, Aunt Rose (better known as Rosadee) rooted a cutting from the pussy willow tree in the backyard of my childhood home. We planted it in the backyard of our new home and it survived. Living as it did in the shadows of several large maple trees, for many years it grew toward the west and the open sky. Jody maintained that it really wanted to be in the neighbor’s yard. The result was a somewhat unusual shape, which has changed since the maple trees were cut down.

Back again in the present, one morning as I stepped outside I glanced down at the twig. The tiniest clump of green had emerged from one of the branches. The sapling is alive after all. It’s too soon to tell if it’s really healthy and capable of surviving to maturity, but it’s alive.

During Holy Week, as we anticipate Good Friday and Easter, it’s appropriate to meditate on death and life. Many aspects of our lives may be moribund: faith, career, friendships, and interest in avocational pursuits to name a few. Sometimes, perhaps often, something that appears dead or is close to death can be revived with some effort.

Think also of a fire that’s gone cold. Sometimes, buried in the grey ash, is an ember that is still alive. Fanning it will often result in a flame that can then spread as new fuel is brought into its reach.

One should not pretend that an aspect of one’s life that is weak because of neglect, however benign, can become the friendship or career or faith journey that it might have been had proper attention been given throughout its life. That should not discourage anyone from making the effort to revive it, however. Who knows what might grow out of our lives with a little effort and attention?

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