I first measure spring with robins. Their numbers have been increasing of late and now I never look north from the kitchen window that there aren't several robins feeding on the lawn. But if robins are the tick marks on spring's ruler, the final proof is measured when the first pussy willow explodes into bloom.
I noticed the first catkins yesterday and this morning they had filled out and become as soft as cotton balls.
This pussy willow was purchased many years ago at a local nursery and it was labeled as having gray catkins. That was true the first year but every year since they've looked substantially like all the rest I've seen. I was duped, I think!
I remember planting the bush by the neighbor's lane at the south side of our property, probably in the early 1990's, and the plant has grown there with just a few trims since. Each year when it blooms I notice a distinct increase in my own allergies. That's not to say it's this plant but rather if the pussy willow is blooming, so are other things unseen. My body detects this subtle change before I see it in the world around me.
Looking at the catkins from the sunny side (south), they look even more white. They'll look like this - fuzzy and warm - for a few days and then explode in bloom. They'll become covered in yellow pollen and then the leaves will come. From that point on, the bush is nothing spectacular; it's even nondescript, quite boring.
But now, early in the season, it's the only thing visibly alive besides the early greening of the fields of winter wheat and the slightest blush of the lawn. Yet in the next month, all of that will change. A quiet explosion is about to take place.