There’s a panther in the willow tree. At least, in the mind of a six year old me, holding the family cat against the wrinkled old bark and my imagination fired into the exotic. Willows will do that to you – maybe it is their limbs, waterfalls of grey-green leaves tumbling earthward like plaited hair, or their voices, crack of old bark and rustle in the wind.
Crack willow is abundant in wetter parts of Norfolk, and is rather more at home here than my old companion was in the dry chalky North Downs. It is a grey trim along the riverbanks like a furry coat lining, leaning towards the water, reflected back towards the sky.
Willows always retain one limb inside the human imagination. Perhaps JRR Tolkien saw a hollowed shell such as this before the hobbits had their misadventure with Old Man Willow?
And as for the Wind in the Willows – Ratty, my favourite character, is properly called a water vole, and he still stars in Norfolk’s waterworlds.
A rushed photo admittedly, but I was thrilled to glimpse it at all. These large aquatic rodents have had a catastrophic decline in the UK due to habitat loss and predation by introduced American mink. Bizarrely, a few days later I saw another mammal swimming up the river.
Yes, that is a grey squirrel, and it was swimming well enough and making for the bank. It probably fell out of a willow. Is it just my imagination that the tree could jettison a climber so easily?
Keep listening to willows. They must have many more stories.