In the run up to Christmas many years ago I bought a couple of lengths of twisted willow that had been sprayed gold, brought them home and put them in a vase, weaving fairy lights through them. Within a week they’d sprouted leaves. Those sticks quickly grew into trees that require hard pruning every winter. Neighbours have taken cuttings – a too technical term for snipping off a slender tendril of this vigorous plant – which quickly grew into new trees. The willow is the last tree in my garden to lose its leaves and the first to show signs of life in late winter.
But not this year. Only now, in late April, has it shown any sign of life.
Spring has been incredibly late this year and even the hardiest plants have held off as the weather remains cold and dreary. Light has managed to force its way through almost continuous cloud cover as the planet tilts towards the sun, but it won’t have escaped your notice that austerity seems to have reached even into the natural world.
Today is Earth Day, the largest civic observance in the world, and whilst you may not feel up to writing letters to your MP about environmental issues you could do a lot worse than making a point of seeking out a place close to you where you can spend a little time immersed in nature, even if that means seeking out one of the many trees finally in blossom and just spending time gazing at it.
In Japan, Hanami is the centuries old custom of blossom viewing, a period after winter when people can leave their homes without being frozen or soaked, hanging lanterns in the trees, so that Flower Parties can continue into the night. For older or more serious minded people, simply watching the blossom reminds them that the beauty of life is fleeting and that they too are part of the cycle of growth, blossoming, fruiting, dying, and in death continuing to nurture new life.
Here in the UK, we are just a few days away from our own spring festival, Beltaine, a celebration of the smaller, less showy hawthorn flower and of life returning to the land. Too often, we forget that we too are part of the natural world, that we are as effected by sunlight and warmth, cold and dark and the rhythms of night and day as any plant.
Just as garden birds are having a hard time keeping their offspring warm and fed during this wet, cold spring, so every one of us, whether we can afford to have the heating on or not, is effected by the lack of natural warmth and having to spend months on end covered up and indoors. Not having sunlight on your skin results in vitamin D deficiency, which has an effect on mood as well as leading to weaker bones and muscles. And inactivity leads to depression. Commuting, though exhausting, does not count as activity.
Make a point today of going outdoors to do nothing, just for 10 minutes. Sit on a bench in the sun. Walk around looking for a cherry or plum tree – which you’ll recognize from the froth of flowers - and when you find one examine the structure of the tree, the colour of the blossom, whether the flowers are single or double, the glossy ruby red of cherry bark and so on. Frankly, no one will give a hoot about a person gazing at a tree in blossom, they won’t think you’re mad because, if they register you at all, there is an understanding that these trees are so beautiful that standing still and looking at them does not make a person bonkers. In fact – scientifically proven fact – it is likely to make you more sane than someone who doesn’t.
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