Sending out an olive branch to myself

I have a love-hate relationship with my forsythia bush. It was on my property before it was my property, having been planted at the end of a hedge of bridal wreath spirea by an owner or two before me.

Its full and beautiful yellow blooms entice me in spring. I watch for them to pop out on the blondish and bare-looking branches of the bush, indicating spring truly has arrived. The bright yellow blooms provide such a brilliant contrast to the bleak grays and browns of winter’s detritus, and feed my hope about what is yet to arrive.

Little bursts of God’s promises for better times.


As I have come to know the bush over the years, I understand that its blooms are more plentiful and vibrant in the years it has the protection of more snow around it; and contrastingly, they are sparse in the low-snow years. With a Bachelor of Science in Botany, I understand the science of it, yet I tend to see my relationship with this plant as more personal than scientific.

I call the sparse years “the olive branch” look.

Generally one or two branches close to the ground reach out, tentatively offering their yellow blooms to the world, leaving the rest of the plant open for criticism about what it has not accomplished.

My forsythia displaying "the olive branch look."

My forsythia displaying “the olive branch look.”

But those few branches sporting spring’s brilliant yellow save the bush from oblivion. If the bush stopped blooming all together, I tell myself I would yank it out of the ground and be done with it.

Out of my frustration, I have threatened it with this action a time or two anyway over the years, knowing full well that even if the bush put out just a branch or two of yellow, I would concede defeat for another year.

But the bush was there first. It is part of the history of the house’s landscape, and if I can save it, I will. Just like the antique apple trees that continue to survive winter’s wrath; the wall of purple lilacs that provide me some shield from the road; and the aged structure that is my house.

I owe the forsythia some concession I think — out of respect for what it has survived.

I am not unlike my own forsythia. I, too, am one of God’s living things, just trying to survive life’s winters.

Sometimes I am abloom in bright yellow, confidence pouring out of me, adorned in the splendor of good health and better spirit. Sometimes I keep my confidence close to my chest, protecting it from the wind and the weather of life, so it can survive for another round.

And sometimes, my confidence reaches out tentatively, showing just a little color, hoping it will be enough to stay alive until I can really bloom in full again.

Grief has given me this acute self-awareness. When I lost my husband Jim to pancreatic cancer in 2010, I became much more aware of my vulnerability, and my need to survive emotionally however I could.

Just like my forsythia, I at times direct my energy to sustain my roots and leaves because I don’t have enough in reserve to force out brilliant yellow flowers.

I bide my time and let the storms rage and as spring peeks over the horizon, I send out an olive branch of yellow flowers to let the world know I am still here.

I am still here. Changed. Sadder. Stronger. Less whole. But DEFINITELY still here.


Julie Harris

About Julie Harris

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.