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Tag: forcing branches

forced

forsythia snow

it’s come to this:

starved, hungry, every pore of our souls aching for release from the waning soot-sodden days of winter, i slide into sloppy old boots. clippers in hand, clippers that haven’t been shaken from their deep winter slumber in too long a while, i trudge across the ice-crusted snows. crunch-crunch goes the sound of my footfall. i pass bumper crops of pellets, rabbit pellets, i presume, and splashes of blood-orange whose origins i can’t bear to ponder. they’re the scant signs of life here in the tundra that is my back garden.

i’m on a mission. a mission to bring on an awakening, a seasonal awakening. and if i need to indulge in trickery, in prestidigitation with clippers, well then, that’s what i’m signed on to do.

it’s simple enough, this magic trick: trudge to your nearest forsythia bush, snip at the neck, all those long-limbed branches that, at this point in the year, look like little more than so many tangled sticks.

ah, but look and look closely: see the nubs tucked close to the stick, the tiniest hands clasped in prayer? those are the wee little blooms in the making, the sepal and stamen all huddled together, awaiting their cue. their cue of course comes from the sun, its angle and surge. any day now, the globe will have spun far enough, aligned us with just where we need to be for the vernal awakening.

but sometimes you just can’t wait. you need to get out there with clippers and boots and hurry it up, put gas to the seasonal pedal. (even when you preach the gospel of savoring the slow march of time.)

oh, there are signs that springtime is coming. they’re trickling in, a bit more by the day. i’ve heard it in birdsong. the birds aren’t checking their date books, aren’t awaiting the thaw. they’re warbling their vernal love-making hearts out, because that’s what you do when your DNA insists you perpetuate the species. you make it your job to whistle up an egg-laying mate. or at least someone with whom you can coo in the cold. and the light? the light is purer, less blue, more white. it’s straining to gather full steam — or something more zaftig than the pale arctic puff that’s kept us shivering in our cotton-lined boots.

my mama, of course, taught me this trick, and her mother before her, most likely. i might come from a long line of seasonal tricksters, miscreants of natural ilk.

it’s called forcing, and it’s plain old alchemy of life: warmth + water = blossoming. and it goes something like this: trudge. snip. fetch. plunk in water, warm water. wait. bloom. voila, you have forced.

i looked up the word force. it’s not pretty. it cropped up in the 14th century, with roots in old french. forcer, “conquer by violence.” egad. guilty as charged, me and my sharp-toothed clippers. too hungry to wait for the seasonal rotisserie to turn up its offerings in natural rhythm.

no, i had to conquer by violence, if snipping a branch at the neck is deemed a violent act (and if you were a bush you’d certainly say so).

and if dragged into the court of seasonal acceleration, i’d plea for a wee bit of compassion. i’d try to explain that here in the wee days of march, here when we’ve indulged in the season of winter with its depths and certain deprivations, we can’t help but respond to the seasonal tug, the one that pulls us, yanks us, into the next chapter. it’s akin to the itch that sometimes finds us leaping ahead in the steamiest novel, to peek at how the story unfolds, who marries whom in the end, and whose days are numbered.

my winter, you see, has taken a serious turn for the dregs in the last couple weeks. people i love are suffering, are scared, are facing the darkest of days.

i’m so itchy for light i won’t be surprised if i strip down to my bare naked legs and pull out a chair to soak up the lamest, the flimsiest of rays. in my snow-laden yard that would be.

but the light that i seek, truth be told, is the light that shines in the soul. illumination of the deepest kind. i pretty much stumble through days  — from hour to hour — with the words of my pleas and incantations rising up from my lips. there is so much to be prayed for. there’s so much at stake.

and that, in part, is what drew me to clomp through the snows, to clip what the old bush had offered. “here’s your rare chance at the promise of spring,” it whispered. and i answered. with clippers.

forsythia table

dear chairs, are you too going a bit batty by now? are you aching for the stirrings of spring? oh, for the day when the wee slips of green poke their hard heads through the soft crust of earth.

so what might be the seasonal rites and holy vespers you indulge in to beckon the resurgence of soul?

 

urging on the equinox

“hey, lady, what’s with the sticks? what’s with the sticks sticking straight up from the glass?”

i can hear you saying that. hear you thinking, oh my she’s gone mad, here in the unrelenting arctic of winter.

mais, non.

it’s just the latest of my little home experiments to grope for the rope, to pull through this dark tunnel of white, white and more white. and cold. did i mention the cold, barreling once again at us from up where the polar bears roam?

those sticks, friends, are not just any sticks. they are the sticks of the forsythia, a flowering shrub, a cloud of pure lemony yellow, whose very name, it seems, begs us to force, to force spring to bloom.

force me, the forsythia beckons.

and my mama–the true keeper of these sorts of knowledge–she reminded me, tapped me on the shoulder, said, “don’t forget the forsythia.”

february, apparently, is prime time for forsythia. for the forcing of sticks in general. forcing them into bloom, that is. rather than forcing though, i like to think that i’m coaxing, i’m urging, i’m begging a break in the please-bloom-for-me department.

so, intent on seducing some spring from my sticks, i trudged out through the deep drifts of the snows, felco no. 2 pruners in hand. looking like some kind of a nut case–once again–i dodged and i darted, all around the forsythia bush. i clipped a long one here, a not-so-long one over there, going always for the sticks with the big balls of nubs. those would be blooms in the making.

once i made for the house, and dunked them in water, of course.

now, being the daughter of a woman who merely cuts and plunks in warm water, no muss and no fuss, i, decidedly different, decided i needed to research this task.

i consulted a few books, did a little digging online. and these are the 10 commandments i came up with:

1.) do not cut before february 1, the l’il sticks need to slumber on ol’ mama bush. if they haven’t had sufficient sleep, out in the cold, they won’t even think of opening their lids.

2.) when you’re out at the bush, cutting like a madperson, try if you can to cut on an angle. apparently this gives the stick more of a throat for guzzling water–once you and your sticks are inside.

3.) speaking of madpersons, one tome tells to use a hammer (once sticks are cut, obviously), to smash the poor ends of the stick, the last inch or two only, as if this too will give the poor stick more capacity for taking in fluids. eesh.

4.) okay, once in from the snows, try very hard to imagine it’s spring, and then, you creative devil, you, try to recreate it, there in the cold and the drafts of your sweet little house.

5.) for best blooming, do not plunk your sticks straight in the vase, the books tell me, but rather submerge them in a tub of cool water. for 24 hours. (be careful to step around them when you step into the shower, should that be the tub of submersion.) if you haven’t a bath for your sticks, misting, they tell us, will do. mist like a rainforest though. mist with reckless abandon.

6.) once soaked, but not soggy, your sweet little sticks are ready to stand and perform.

7.) find a spot, sunny and warm, but not straight in the glare or the heat of the sun. (the sun, remember, that big yellow star allegedly on the payroll for purposes of keeping us warm? ha.)

8.) change the water every few days. our little sticks do not like drinking water turned mucky.

9.) one final tip: if any blooms start to bloom under water, dispense with those blooms. they are so much fodder for bacteria, the books tell me, and they’ll do in the whole bunch much sooner.

10.) stand back and admire. in less than two weeks, more likely just one, you’ll have a whole shock of spring blooming there on your ledge.

now, here’s the part where i come clean: i broke at least two and a half of those commandments, two venial sins and one half of a mortal one. i did not cut on an angle, i did not hammer the heck out of my sticks, and i did not soak in the tub, not with my sticks i did not. being at least a little bit of my mother’s daughter, i pretty much ran in the house, misted, and dunked. and the misting i only did after the fact, after i culled the whole list of commandments.

but you know what? it’s only been a few short days since i was out nipping away with my pruners. and, truth be told once again, i was a serious doubter. oh, yes, i was willing to play along with this forcing of spring, but i really couldn’t imagine that i had on my hands much besides a nice bunch of sticks in a vase. i was the skeptical queen of the sticks.

well, you can already guess where i’m going here: those sweet little sticks, at three days and counting, are already performing. where once there was brown and more brown, no life in sight, suddenly there is green. the softest, tenderest most vernal green. all up and down. all over those sticks.

the sticks, they are telling me: do not give up. do not lose hope. spring it is coming; it’s clinging and waiting on a stick that’s well within your grasp.

the show is unfolding. i have a sense it’s one i don’t want to miss. and i hope, neither do you.

p.s. not only forsythia are willing to bring on the equinox early; february is the month to beg a few branches of the crab apple, cherry, almond or plum, japanese quince, pussy willow, rhododendron, azalea, and the serviceberry. don’t give up hope. plenty bloom in a mere week or two. cherry, almond and plum should bloom in two to four weeks; japanese quince could take four; rhododendron and azalea might take four to six weeks. but that still beats march 21, the day the world turns to spring.