We came home from the kids’ first fencing class today—awesome but for another post—and saw our black and white pussywillows with their catkins. We planted them last summer, long after the catkins hadgiven way to leaves. This is our first spring seeing them at Casa del Lobos. It cheered us on this cold Spring day.
In many of the Eastern Rite Churches, pussy willows are used instead of palms on Palm Sunday, and they are tapped gently (mostly) on backsides with the saying “It’s not I, but the willow, that taps you on this week of Easter” (translated from Ukrainian).
In typical Ukrainian fashion, there’s a folktale about the origin of pussy willows. I’ve posted an excerpt from my novel, The Silence of Trees, where Nadya recounts the story to her granddaughters. Warning: It is not a happy story.
Do you know why pussy willows have these fluffy white buds?” I asked them. They shook their heads. “Well, once there lived a mean old farmer who had a pretty little brown cat—”
“What was her name?” Tamara asked.
“Her name was Kasha,” I answered, “and one spring day, Kasha had nine beautiful baby kittens. But the mean old farmer didn’t want the kittens, so he took them all and threw them into a great big sack.”
“Oh no,” the girls said in unison, looking around for Khvostyk, who stared at them from under the table.
“Well, he took the sack down to the river and tossed it in, waiting for it to sink to the bottom. Kasha sat on the riverbank mewing and crying for her lost babies until a willow tree nearby asked her what was the matter. Kasha told the willow what had happened, and because willows are naturally kind trees, the tree plunged her branches into the water and pulled out the sack. Kasha ripped a hole in it to free her babies, but all but one of the kittens had drowned. Ever since, willows everywhere bloom with kitten-like buds in memory of the drowned kittens and their sad mother.”
From The Silence of Trees, by Valya Dudycz Lupescu (Wolfsword Press 2010)