Tag Archives: Pussy willow

March has been ‘Right Mixy’


Spring 2015

Years ago, when I asked an Old Order Mennonite woman how her two-year-old daughter was doing, she responded with, ‘Right mixy.’ Which sums up a wee tot and their erratic moods quite well. The term also applies to March in the Shenandoah Valley, and other parts of the country. One day it’s mild and in the 60’s and the next, temps drop to the teens and snow flies. Is it any wonder I’ve been stricken with a respiratory thing, as have many others in the valley. We all long for full-blown spring and more settled weather, and hope to live to see it. Hack, sniffle, honk.

March 6

“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.” ~Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

“In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four and twenty hours.” ~Mark Twain

March 5

“The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.”
~Robert Frost

(I know, but am hopeful April will be kinder.)

***snowdrop, crocus and pussy willow are blooming. Daffodils have just begun. Images by daughter Elise

Meadowlarks, Pussy Willow, Fussy Geese–Spring in the Shenandoah Valley


“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”
― Margaret Atwood

Early spring in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

“It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke

Spring is coming to the valley this week, and we’re all ready to kick up our heels after the long winter. The post below is from last year, but it fits.

Grady, soft-coated Wheaton terrior, enjoying spring day

Heavy wet snow fell last night and the trees are laden, my crocus buried. But several afternoons ago after the rain showers ended, the day turned mild and I pulled some overwintering weeds from one of my flower borders. A whole wheelbarrow full. While bent contentedly to my labors, I heard the sweet trill of a meadowlark, my favorite songbird. Silent today. When the sun shines and the weather softens, I will hear it sing again. This crazy weather is typical of early spring in the Shenandoah Valley. A cold snap follows on the heels of a wonderfully balmy day or two. This year has been on the colder side and wet, which is just as well with our tendency toward summer droughts. We’ll take the moisture while we can.

Meadowlark, Eastern MeadowlarkDucks and geese love all the puddles that come with the rain, and our farm pond is finally full again after dwindling to a sad state in the past. Happy quacks resound against the fussy geese fighting over nesting sites. These battles, and the meadowlark singing, are among the first signs of spring. And the pussy willow blooming. I picked a lovely bouquet of pussy willows yesterday. The fuzzy catkins brighten the kitchen in an old mason jar,

Pussy Willow

Back to the meadowlark, my goal is to ever actually see one of these elusive birds again. Theoretically, this shouldn’t be such a challenge, with our meadows and all. Once or twice, I’ve glimpsed a yellow flash and spotted the bird perched on a fence post before it flew. Mostly, they hide in the grass and skim away to another spot before I get a good look, calling all the while from various positions in the meadow.

Beth, Elise, and Cows

Several years ago, my daughter Elise and I were determined to track down the evasive songster and take its picture, like photographing fairies. We tenaciously followed its calls, even climbed over the fence into the neighbor’s pasture and picked our way along the little creek that flows from our pond, but never caught up with that bird, or birds. There may have been more than one taunting us. Unless I catch another rare glimpse, I must content myself with their beautiful trills. Birds like this need tall grasses and untidy hedge rows for nesting. Bear that in mind in your own yard and garden. Keeping everything trim and cultivated robs our feathered friends of habitat. It’s also a good excuse for a less than perfectly kept landscape. A little wilderness here and there is a good thing.

The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in spring“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”…
“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”
― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

“She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
“Winter is dead.”
― A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young

***Images of spring in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia by my mom, Pat Churchman,  Grady, the soft-coated Wheaton terrier, and pussy willow by daughter Elise. Beth and Elise in our meadow by my husband Dennis. Obviously, I had to purchase the image of the meadowlark

Mad Enough to be Sane–Beth Trissel


Pussy WillowWell, maybe. Last evening as the sun dipped behind the trees on the wooded hills above our farm, I set off with my trusty wheelbarrow heaped with pussy willows we’d rooted last year and wintered over in the garden–where they could not possibly remain–and a shovel. My aim, the farm pond in the meadow. Highly curious heifers with no regard for personal space followed at my heels like pet dogs. If I turned around, they were breathing down my neck. A little disconcerting, so I waved them back. Repeatedly. I was also slightly concerned about chancing upon a coyote, but decided with this lot keeping me company that wasn’t likely. Might not have been anyway, but coyotes do visit the meadow when making their rounds late in the evening or at night. Rarely in the day.

lab mix, our farm dog LanceMy two farm dogs chose not to go with me on this particular venture. Wise. I had to toss the pussy willows, contained in feed sacks after I dug them out of the garden, and my shovel over not one, but two, electric fences and then roll beneath the wire to reach the grassy edge of the water. For those of you who think it’s easy to dig in wet muck sucking at your shovel and your boots, I can assure you that it’s not. Already worn out after a day of overdoing it in the garden, this final endeavor took the last of my reserves. And I sank in the squelchy mud up to my boot tops.  Then my knees. Digging and clawing my way along, I shifted clumps of saturated grass and oook to get my plants into place. Then heaved myself back up the bank to the meadow and pushed my barrow home. A task I desired to accomplish before dark so I could still see the electric fences, installed, btw, to keep the cows out of the pond.

beth252celise252candcowsIf the pussy willows are happy there, we will have lovely catkins next spring. Supposedly, they prefer swampy places and the edges of streams, so this spot ought to suit them. But I reserved one to plant someplace else, just in case.

As ever, I am in pursuit of Eden on earth. My own bit of heaven. And I have the aching back to prove it.

(***Images of Lance in the muddy creek near the pond and daughter Elise on a different outing. And our oh so friendly cows. To be expected, really, as they were hand raised and bottle fed, etc).

pussy-willow-hatsI did a search on pussy willow quotes and found this rather unusual one: “Everything that anyone would ever look for is usually where they find it.”
― Margaret Wise Brown

I have no idea how that relates to pussy willows, but liked the quote. I hope to find my willows where I planted them, growing happily. I shall report back.

My March Garden in The Shenandoah Valley–Beth Trissel


daffodils in March snow“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.” ~Charles Dickens,  To this famous quote I add, ‘and then it snowed.’

“It’s spring fever.  That is what the name of it is.  And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”  ~Mark Twain

I heartily agree, and so I worked in my gardens on Saturday, quite mild out really, and daughter Elise  helped, which was greatly appreciated by this weary gardener. We got the peas and early greens…lettuce, bright lights Swiss chard, spinach, pok choy…plus radishes and assorted kinds of beets planted. *All heirloom seed. I added three Crimson rhubarb roots to the patch of red rhubarb. Only the traditional ‘been here forever’ green variety is reliably robust, but we keep trying. And then Sunday, Palm Sunday, (the little children were so precious at church waving their palms) it began to snow about mid afternoon. Same thing happened last Sunday. By this morning we have at least ten inches of the white stuff covering everything.

Elise went out yesterday with her camera at the start of the snow and took some lovely shots. Our old red barn with pussy willow in foreground.

snowy pussywillow by the old red barn on march 25

“Awake, thou wintry earth –
Fling off thy sadness!
Fair vernal flowers, laugh forth
Your ancient gladness!
~Thomas Blackburn, “An Easter Hym

I hope the snow clears out by next weekend, which is Easter. Too early this year for me, but there it is. And I do love Easter whenever it comes.

“I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden.” ~Ruth Stout

This is one of my most favorite spring quotes. I fully agree with Ruth Stout and have done so. I am also attempting to practice her no till gardening method. Image below of the seeds (packets are on the stakes) I planted on Saturday before Sunday’s snow with the pussy willow, wheelbarrow, and barn in the pic.

Seeds I planted the day before the snow on March 24th

“No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.” ~Proverb

“Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush.”  ~Doug Larson

Luca in the snow March 2013“Every spring is the only spring – a perpetual astonishment.”  ~Ellis Peters

“In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four and twenty hours.”  ~Mark Twain (And so say all of us!)

“I think that no matter how old or infirm I may become, I will always plant a large garden in the spring.  Who can resist the feelings of hope and joy that one gets from participating in nature’s rebirth?”  ~Edward Giobbi

To this I add, I hope I will have help with my gardens. Image of our rescue farm dog, Luca, at the start of the snow. We have two rescue farm dogs.

“The front door to springtime is a photographer’s best friend.” ~Terri Guillemets

Amen to that!

pussywillow against the barn in March 25 snow

We rooted pussy willow shoots in the garden last spring and were amazed that they all took off, and now we have a dozen blooming willows to move and give away to good homes. Some we will plant by the farm pond, but they cannot remain where they are because pussy willows grow far too large, even when pruned to keep in a garden.

Oh look, it’s snowing again.

“Yesterday the twig was brown and bare;
To-day the glint of green is there;
Tomorrow will be leaflets spare;
I know no thing so wondrous fair,
No miracle so strangely rare.
I wonder what will next be there!”
~L.H. Bailey

“First a howling blizzard woke us,
Then the rain came down to soak us,
And now before the eye can focus —
Crocus.”  ~Lilja Rogers

snpw crocus on march 25th

Early Spring in the Shenandoah Valley–Beth Trissel


Crocus threeHeavy wet snow fell last night and the trees are laden, my crocus buried. But late Saturday afternoon after the rain showers ended, the day turned mild and I pulled some overwintering weeds from one of my flower borders.  A whole wheelbarrow full. While happily bent to my labors, I heard the sweet trill of a meadowlark, my favorite songbird.  Silent today. But when the sun shines and the weather softens again, I will hear it sing. This crazy weather is typical of March in the Shenandoah Valley.  A cold snap follows on the heels of a wonderfully balmy day or two.  This March has been on the colder side and quite wet, which is just as well with our tendency toward summer droughts, so we’ll take the moisture while we can.

Ducks and geese love all the puddles that come with the rain, and our pond is finally full again after dwindling to a sad state in past summers. Happy quacks resound against the fussy geese fighting over nesting sites.  These battles, and the meadowlark singing, are among the first signs of spring. And the pussy willow blooming. I picked a lovely bouquet of pussy willow on Saturday too.
Back to the meadowlark, my goal is to ever actually see one of these elusive birds again. Theoretically  this shouldn’t be such a challenge what with our meadows and all.  Once or twice, I’ve glimpsed a yellow flash  and spotted the bird perched on a fence post before it flew.  Mostly, they hide in the grass and skim away to another spot before I get a good look, calling all the while from various positions in the meadow.
One spring daughter Elise and I were determined to track down the evasive songster and tenaciously followed its calls, even climbed over the fence into the neighbor’s pasture and picked our way along the little creek, but never caught up with that bird, or birds.  There may have been more than one.  So unless I catch another rare glimpse, I must content myself with their beautiful trills.  Birds like this need tall grasses and untidy hedge rows for nesting.  Bear that in mind in your own yard and garden.  Keeping everything trim and cultivated robs our feathered friends of habitat.  It’s also a good excuse for a less than perfectly kept landscape.    A little wilderness here and there is a good thing.
***Images of early crocus before the snow and Elise and me on a walk about the farm, two years ago. A cow is saying hello. They follow us like pet dogs.
***We have the Eastern Meadowlark.  For more on that variety click here.
For more on the Western Meadowlark~
*Royalty free Image of meadowlark–until we can finally photograph one.

April On Our Farm in the Shenandoah Valley


So far this spring is filled with remodeling our old farm-house, and gardening, when it’s not raining,  and all the small people in my life, though not as much writing as I would like.  The remodeling is at an end, for now–there’s always more to be done in future projects.

Weather wise, we’ve gone from a gradually diminishing drought to flood watches out today.  April 2011 is turning into quite a wet month.  I’m not sure what ‘normal’ is in the Shenandoah Valley, but I’d prefer less extremes.   Still, I seek for the beauty amid the imperfection and this spring is sublime.  Thought I’d share a few pics of our farm along with some favorite quotes.

“April prepares her green traffic light and the world thinks Go.”  ~Christopher Morley,  John Mistletoe

“Hoe while it is spring, and enjoy the best anticipations.  It is not much matter if things do not turn out well.”  ~Charles Dudley Warner

“The year’s at the spring
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hillside’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven –
All’s right with the world!”
~Robert Browning

“April is a promise that May is bound to keep.”  ~Hal Borland

“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.”  ~Iris MurdochA Fairly Honourable Defeat

“To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat. ” ~Beverly Nichols

“Flowers… are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty out values all the utilities of the world.”  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Flowers really do intoxicate me.”  ~Vita Sackville-West

“The flowers of late winter and early spring occupy places in our hearts well out of proportion to their size.”  ~Gertrude S. Wister

“Flowers have spoken to me more than I can tell in written words.  They are the hieroglyphics of angels, loved by all men for the beauty of their character, though few can decipher even fragments of their meaning.”  ~Lydia M. Child

“Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

“Cares melt when you kneel in your garden.”

“A garden is a friend you can visit any time.”

“Kiss of the sun for pardon. Song of the birds for mirth. You’re closer to God’s heart in a garden than any place else on earth.” — Dorothy Frances Gurney

“But each spring…a gardening instinct, sure as the sap rising in the trees, stirs within us. We look about and decide to tame another little bit of ground.” ~Lewis Gantt

“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.” — Henry David Thoreau

“It is a greater act of faith to plant a bulb than to plant a tree.”~Clare Leighton

“To dig one’s own spade into one’s own earth! Has life anything better to offer than this?”~Beverley Nichols

“No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.” ~Proverb


March is a ‘right mixy’ month, to use a country expression.  Last week’s balmy warmth was followed by snow and today is cold, cold, cold, followed by a projected warm spell and then more snow to round out this month of extreme weather contrasts.  But that’s early spring in the Shenandoah Valley.

I grieve for the foolish apricot tree lured into bloom by the warmth, then zapped by the returning chill.  This happens nearly every spring, except last year when we had a lovely luscious crop. And the tulip leaves are looking sad, but I hope they’ll revive.  The best cure for a cold snap is a soothing wash of warm spring rain.

For some reason, the birds have nibbled the blooms on the pussy willow to bits. And I feed the birds.  The feeder hangs from the remains of the old cherry tree not far removed from the pussy willow.  My solution is to root pussy willow cuttings and plant them somewhere else.  Apparently the birds like some fresh greens along with their sunflower seeds and soft silvery little ‘pussies’ will serve. Who knew?  But I love catkins so will tuck some in an out-of-the-way corner.  Perhaps down near the pond.  I also love my birds, and kitties (big bird fans).   Sometimes our loves do not meld well.

“It’s spring fever.  That is what the name of it is.  And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!  ~Mark Twain

“Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush.”  ~Doug Larson

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”  ~Anne Bradstreet

“No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.”  ~Hal Borland

“Spring shows what God can do with a drab and dirty world.”  ~Virgil A. Kraft

“Where man sees but withered leaves,

God sees sweet flowers growing.”
~Albert Laighton

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”  ~Margaret Atwood

“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold:  when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.”  ~Charles Dickens

“In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four and twenty hours.”  ~Mark Twain

*Pics of the Shenandoah Valley, my garden, and our gosling and kitten taken by my mom and daughter Elise.

Spring Rites


Spring can be very wintry here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, with snow lying on the ground sometimes until Easter and a chill wind blowing from the North.  But the sun shines more brightly, when it shines, and the barnyard geese get fussy, a sure harbinger of spring.  Squawky geese are always the first sign, even before the pussy willow blooms, or whatever it is that pussy willows do. This sign of spring makes me think of other annual observances, such as my battle with cows.  In winter I give them little thought, but in spring they’re the enemy.

March is usually the first month when gardeners can get their hands into the earth and plant something, like those first rows of peas, often put in with cold fingers right before a rain.  The rains come so closely together there may only be a day or two when the soil is workable before it’s too wet again.  Veteran gardeners watch the sky and feel the earth, wrinkled pea seed in readiness, and when it’s all systems go, there’s a mad scramble for the garden as the gray clouds roll in.  I have yet to beat the clouds this year.

Along with the peas, a bit of lettuce, spinach, and radish seeds are scattered in short rows, then back to the house for a hot cup of tea and toasting of numbed extremities by the wood stove, the contentment of a spring rite observed. There’s something of a one-upmanship among country folk about who gets their peas in the earliest.  “Got your peas in yet?” is apt to be a seemingly casual conversation opener, but only for the one who has, of course.

Spring is also the time of year when I regard the cows on our farm with a deep wariness.  Inevitably, the cows will get out.  I don’t know exactly when they’ll time their visit, but their attraction for newly planted gardens and flower beds is their annual spring rite. They particularly like a newly planted garden just after an April shower, because they can really sink their hooves in and churn up the earth.   The fence my father installed around the vegetable garden has helped deter them, unless someone forgets to close the gate.  However, my flower/herb beds and borders are unprotected.  And cows enjoy a freshly re-seeded lawn, which needs doing again after their last rampage.    Cows are also fond of shrubbery.  We have a side of the house called “Cow corner” where the bushes appear to have been strangely pruned by a mad gardener.

I don’t know of any plant that doesn’t attract them except maybe thistles, which we battle in the meadow.  I once threw myself in front of a stampeding young heifer as she made her way for my newly planted raspberry bushes––bushes I was in the midst of planting when she and several others escaped from the pen my husband was cleaning.  He’d left the gate unbolted for a second––that second cows live for.  Yelling “No!” I hurled myself in her path.  He came running just in time to see me prepared to be martyred for my cause, stalwart gardener that I am.

Not so the heifer, a coward at heart, who veered at the last moment and leapt off the small wall at one end of the garden.  I later heard some discussion about the value of the raspberries compared to the cow if she’d broken her leg.  There’s no comparison in my mind, but I’m relieved to add that she didn’t and there was some concern for my safety, had I disappeared under her charge.

I’ve watched in horror as bovines of all ages have frisked their way through tender young snapdragons, newly emerging peas, and dozens of other cherished plantings.  Later in the season when the weeds get thick and the weather grows hot and dry, my enthusiasm for the garden wanes.  As does the cows.  They prefer to make their pilgrimages while the earth is fresh and new, the plants carefully chosen and special.

*Pics are of the author, Beth Trissel, daughter Elise, our farm, cows, geese, and granddog Grady

Springtime Gardening in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia


Spring can be very wintry here, with snow lying on the ground sometimes until Easter and a brisk wind blowing from the North. But the sun shines brighter, when it shines, and the geese begin to fuss, a sure harbinger of spring. Squawky geese are always the first sign, even before the pussy willow blooms, or whatever it is that pussy willows do.

This annual sign of spring makes me think of other spring observances. March is usually the first month when gardeners can really get their hands into the earth and plant something, like those first rows of peas, often put in with cold fingers right before a rain. The rains are so close that there may only be a day or two when the soil is workable before it’s too wet again. Veteran gardeners watch the sky and feel the earth, wrinkled pea seed in readiness, and when it’s all systems go, there’s a mad scramble for the garden as the gray clouds roll in.

A bit of lettuce, spinach and radish seeds are scattered in short rows, then back to the house for a hot cup of tea and the toasting of numbed extremities by the wood stove, the contentment of a spring rite observed. There’s something of a one-upmanship among country folk about who gets their peas in the earliest. “Got your peas in yet?” is apt to be a seemingly casual conversation opener, but only for the one who has, of course.

Spring is also the time of year when I regard the cows with a deep wariness. Inevitably, the cows will get out. I never know exactly when they’ll time their visit, but their attraction for newly planted gardens and flower beds is their annual spring rite. Around here, in the spring, cows are the enemy. They particularly like a newly planted garden just after a spring shower, because they can really sink their hooves in and churn up the earth. A freshly re-seeded lawn will do in a pinch, even shrubbery if all else fails. We have a side of the house called ‘Cow corner’ where the bushes appear to have been strangely pruned by a mad gardener.

I once threw myself in front of a stampeding young heifer as she made her way for my very newly planted raspberries. I was in the midst of planting them when she and several others escaped from the calf pen my husband was cleaning. He had left the gate unbolted for a second–that second cows live for. Yelling “No!” I hurled myself in her path. He came running just in time to see me prepared to be martyred for my cause.

The heifer, a coward at heart, veered at the last moment and leapt off the small wall at one end of the garden. I heard some discussion later about the price tag value of the raspberries compared to the cow had she broken her leg. I’m relieved to add that she didn’t, and there was some concern for my safety had I disappeared under her charge.

I’ve watched in horror as bovines of all ages have frisked their way through tender young snapdragons, newly emerging peas and dozens of other cherished plantings. Later in the season when the weeds get thick and the weather grows hot and dry, I begin to lose my earlier enthusiasm for my garden and so do the cows. They prefer to make their pilgrimages while the earth is fresh and new and the plants are carefully chosen and special. Don’t we all?

Have any gardening stories of your own? Please post them under the comments section!

Pics are of our farm, and my daughter’s soft coated Wheaton terrier Grady when he encountered his first cow.