pierre laszlo

Salix viminalis (Salicaceae)

For centuries, if not millennia, willows have assisted mankind: it will suffice to mention baskets, on one hand, aspirin on the other — the drug derives from natural products in the bark. Willows were a significant part of the domesticated area, in the Western European countryside, as an easy-to-reach supply of pliant fiberwood for basketry. Local dwellers sooner or later would discover their pharmacological benefit.
Willows, at least in my mind, have thus a close connexion to England - to Good Olde England. For one thing, the healing properties of the bark were first taken advantage of by Englishmen: the Reverend Edward Stone (1702-1768), from Chipping Norton, in Oxfordshire, who treated more than 50 patients with malaria ; Samuel James (c 1763-1831), from Hoddesdon, in the Lea Valley between Cambridge and London,, who used pussy-willow bark to reduce fever and brought more widespread attention to Stone’s contribution.
Moreover, the phrase, wind in the willows, sends a shiver down my spine. Readers may recognize the title of Kenneth Grahame’s Georgian pastoral, an enchanting masterpiece. First published in 1908, it justifiably celebrates the English countryside — without exaggeration, a wonder of the world.
Grahame’s book, apparently a mere gentle animal story for children and grownups alike, is much more: a bucolic ode to mankind partaking of nature in a gentle and mutually respectful manner. The writing is exquisite, a romp among the luxurious English language, as in this example:

"The 'poop-poop' rang with a brazen shout in their ears, they had a moment's glimpse of an interior of glittering plate-glass and rich morocco, and the magnificent motor-car, immense, breath-snatching, passionate, with its pilot tense and hugging his wheel, possessed all earth and air for the fraction of a second, flung an enveloping cloud of dust that blinded and enwrapped them utterly, and then dwindled to a speck in the far distance, changed back into a droning bee once more."

`One may, alternatively, rejoice in one of the main characters, Toad’s, philosophy of life:

"I've had enough of adventures. I shall lead a quiet, steady, respectable life, pottering about my property, and improving it, and doing a little landscape gardening at times. There will always be a bit of dinner for my friends when they come to see me; and I shall keep a pony-chaise to jog about the country in, just as I used to in the good old days, before I got restless, and wanted to do things." .

The Wind in the Willows is often compared to Alice in Wonderland. It is comparable indeed in both being masterpieces. In an interesting coincidence, the authors, Kenneth Grahame and Charles Dodgson / Lewis Carroll, were also both professional mathematicians, the former worked for the Bank of England.