Though it really hasn't felt like it for the last month and a half with freezing temperatures, frosty mornings and a heavy heart, spring is now just around the corner. It was a beautiful warm day, though I know in other places around the country people are struggling to stay warm. I couldn't resist the urge to head out to the washes to check on the progress of the plants. Some of the first spring plants I'll be collecting live in the washes which periodically fill with water and run over the roads and feed the lush riparian growth in and around them with life sustaining water. First among those is usually the cottonwood buds. Our local populus fremontii starts to swell with buds in late January and early Februrary. I walked along under the many tall cottonwoods, checking lower branches for resinous buds, and found that most of the trees were not quite ready, with only terminal buds (but gooey and resinous indeed.) There were a few trees with giant swelling buds covered in a thick, sticky and fragrant resin which works so wonderfully as an oil for painful, inflammed joints, muscles, burns and more. The small portion I did gather today went straight into sesame oil and onto the pilot light of the stove to warm. I'll add to it as I gather more buds in the next few weeks. I never seem to make enough of this oil, as I run out every year just before budding time. It goes into almost any concoction in which a mild pain reliever is indicated and works its magic every time.
Interesting to note that the cottonwoods in this particular area seem to be quite heavy with mistletoe. Hard to see when the trees are fully leafed out, it was strikingly obvious to see the bright green leafy mistletoe against the white empty branches of the cottonwoods.
Along the same washes grow the mexican elders (sambucus mexicana) which flower in April and fruit in June. But the elder trees were already leafing out today in the warm sun and my excitement for the coming season grows. I'll be back in early April to harvest the elder flowers, and another favorite plant, the milky oat seeds. There was no trace of the oats that I know grow in this wash yet, but they'll make their appearence soon.
Last seasons cudweed flowers and stalks were brown and crispy and there wasn't any sign of new growth under the blanket of dry, crunchy cottonwood leaves, yet.
But the sun is warm, we've had several good rain and snow storms this winter, and I'm looking forward to a very fruitful season, in the meantime I still must be patient with nature and myself as the changes and transitions around me continue to unfold...