Monday, March 8, 2010

ONCE, IN THE COUNTRY


     VIOLA, N.Y. – Almost 50 years ago, in a time that could be today if progress had not marched, the American Pussy Willow was predominant as a first sign of spring along College Road, then newly named from Viola Road for the small two-year school that began in 1959.

Rockland Community College would become one of the largest of its kind, taking land from old farms and former county almshouse property, as needed. In less than a decade from its start, the furry catkins that are the buds of the pussy willow (and so the name “pussies”) would be found no longer in the wet lowland off the road and in front of the 1800s Hudson River brick-built main hall.

The American Pussy willow, and the European variety both herald spring and are used in some religious services when palm cannot be grown. As a harbinger, the catkins, so soft to the touch, seem a transition between winter, when fur is needed to keep warm, and the bright then deep green foliage of spring into summer.

If you have the blessing of living in changing seasons, the willow buds warmly remind you of renewal. And since the plant is so easy to grow, hope is there as well for an easy and successful planting into harvest. At least the opportunity exists.

Pussy willows are still to be found in Rockland County, N.Y., just 20 or so miles up from the great gotham that is New York City, and probably in Viola, too, but not in front of RCC.

Progress thrives on growth and hustle and bustle, which can push aside natural, simple beauty, replacing it with expensive horticultural landscaping, maintained by squads of men carrying leaf blowers, weed-whackers and trimmers in chalk-on-blackboard-like cacophony.

The young college woman who could be gifted with furry catkins on willow stalks still exists as well, and perhaps such an un-fussy, modest present would still be welcome. But the search for the stalks is no longer easily satisfied.

Colleges aid progress, aid humankind, aid the individual and are a general blessing. Long – very long – before the college at Viola was there, even before the almshouse of life’s endings was replaced by a house of beginnings, the American pussy willow plant thrived in soil native to native Americans. And it was a thing of beauty, indeed.

IOLA, N.Y. – Almost 50 years ago, in a time that could be today if progress had not marched, the American Pussy Willow was predominant as a first sign of spring along College Road, then newly named from Viola Road for the small two-year school that began in 1959.

Rockland Community College would become one of the largest of its kind, taking land from old farms and former county almshouse property, as needed. In less than a decade from its start, the furry catkins that are the buds of the pussy willow (and so the name “pussies”) would be found no longer in the wet lowland off the road and in front of the 1800s Hudson River brick-built main hall.

The American Pussy willow, and the European variety both herald spring and are used in some religious services when palm cannot be grown. As a harbinger, the catkins, so soft to the touch, seem a transition between winter, when fur is needed to keep warm, and the bright then deep green foliage of spring into summer.

If you have the blessing of living in changing seasons, the willow buds warmly remind you of renewal. And since the plant is so easy to grow, hope is there as well for an easy and successful planting into harvest. At least the opportunity exists.

Pussy willows are still to be found in Rockland County, N.Y., just 20 or so miles up from the great gotham that is New York City, and probably in Viola, too, but not in front of RCC.

Progress thrives on growth and hustle and bustle, which can push aside natural, simple beauty, replacing it with expensive horticultural landscaping, maintained by squads of men carrying leaf blowers, weed-whackers and trimmers in chalk-on-blackboard-like cacophony.

The young college woman who could be gifted with furry catkins on willow stalks still exists as well, and perhaps such an un-fussy, modest present would still be welcome. But the search for the stalks is no longer easily satisfied.

Colleges aid progress, aid humankind, aid the individual and are a general blessing. Long – very long – before the college at Viola was there, even before the almshouse of life’s endings was replaced by a house of beginnings, the American pussy willow plant thrived in soil native to native Americans. And it was a thing of beauty, indeed.

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