Monday, 4 March 2019


hazel catkins


so many longings

© Mary Robinson 2019

Every year I write a spring poem for friends.  Spring was traditionally a time of poetic rejoicings.  But now spring has become more complicated.  It's is an ambivalent season and I don't just mean the sudden lurches in weather.  The decline in species is alarming.  How many swallows will return?  Where have the cuckoos gone?  Where are those prodigal drifts of primroses I remember on the grass verges in my childhood?  Fewer moths come in through an open window on a warm evening.  Insects are on the decline. Spring is coming earlier but at a cost.  New shoots have to fight their way through discarded cans and plastic.  Scarcely a day goes by without another environmental warning in the news.  But I also think it is vitally important to celebrate and value what we have.

For a few years there was a clootie tree by the side of Derwentwater.  Clootie trees and clootie wells are a remnant of pre-Christian folk religion which more recently seems to have had a dash of Tibetan prayer flags added.  The belief is that by the time the clooties (as in clout - 'ne'er cast a clout till May is out') have rotted away a prayer/wish/desire for healing will have been granted.  But whereas natural fibres biodegrade with time, artificial fabrics merely fade and cling on stubbornly.  It seems a terrible thing to do to a tree.  I think in the end someone took a step-latter and removed the offending rags.  

My mother loved hazel catkins and each spring would cut some from the hedgerow to put in a jug with daffodils.  After a while the table would be dusted with a soft drift of yellow pollen.   While the other trees are still wintrily bare the hazels are decked with twitchy-tailed catkins (a lovely word from middle Dutch, katteken - a kitten) - sometimes lambs' tails in English.  

I've noticed a lot of hazel catkins this spring.  It's as if the hazels in the hedgerows have been hung with decorations.  I think that made me think of the idea of a natural clootie tree, not only biodegradable but with the source of future life.

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