willow spreads branches and roots
toward the river
One of my favorite childhood memories is of a weeping willow that grew on the bank beside an Ozark creek where our family often vacationed in a log cabin that belonged to some friends. The wife was an artist and she painted a watercolor of my older sister and me under the willow. I am sitting cross-legged, reading a book, and my sister is standing, fishing with a bamboo pole. This early memory comes sweeping back whenever I see a willow. So when we arrive at Hruska's Canoe Livery, I am pleased to discover that the campground on the bank of the Oneota River is shaded by many willow trees. However, these are not weeping willows and they don't look like the wild willows with contorted trunks and low, widespread branches that grow along the river. Our shuttle driver tells us it's an Austree, an import from Australia. He calls it a "dirty" tree because it litters the ground with lots of little branches. I find out later that the Austree was widely planted in Australia to control erosion along waterways because they grow quickly with wide-spreading roots. However, it is now considered an invasive weed and is being removed and replaced with native trees. Many homeowners can attest to the problem of aggressive, moisture-seeking willow roots that clog drains and septic systems. Still, they are beautiful trees and they have a very important medicinal use. The leaves and bark of the willow tree have been used for thousands of years for aches and fevers. The active ingredient, salicin, turns into salicylic acid, the precursor of aspirin, in the human body. This brings back another childhood memory. My father always kept a huge bottle of aspirin in the medicine cabinet. He considered it a cure for everything from tummy ache to tantrums.