James A. Baggett

Winter Witchcraft

Perhaps I can force myself to stop watching the bald eagle cam (http://www.raptorresource.org/falcon_cams/) in Decorah, Iowa, long enough to show you what I found in my front yard when I woke up yesterday. Mind you, this pair of eagles is tending to three good-sized eggs, which are due to start hatching any day now, but here’s what I found:

My witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’), which has been blooming its head off for almost a month now, was covered with a couple of inches of heavy, late-season snow. Despite some recent disparaging remarks posted recently at a popular garden blog proclaiming witch hazels as not garden-worthy, I find their coppery tassels and spicy scent intoxicating at this time of year. It reminds me of the aroma of witch hazel at the old-school barbershop in Broad Ripple, Indiana, where my brothers and I dreaded boyhood haircuts. The essential oil, distilled from the leaves and bark, is a mild astringent used in skin care products. The natived shrub remin ded European colonists of the English “wych hazels,” whose branches were used as diving rods to locate underground water and minerals.

Poet Robert Frost—about the time of World War I—described a New England hired hand’s complaint about a young college boy:

“He said he couldn’t make the boy believe

He could find water with a hazel prong—

Which showed how much good school had ever

done him.”