Debra Prinzing

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Breathing Room: Welcome to spring

March 20th, 2008

March 20th is a magical day for me – the Spring Equinox and the day of my son Alexander’s birth. Today he turns eleven! Like me, he is a Pices, arriving at the last possible moment of this sign.


My friend Scott Eklund, now a photographer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, took this “flower baby” portrait of Alex in the fall of 1997 when we were shooting a holiday brochure at Emery’s Garden

I take pleasure in the fact that my first child was born on the Summer Soltice and my second child was born on the day when spring arrives (today!). It feels symbolic and life-affirming in so many ways, especially for a mother whose creative expression occurs in and around the garden. My sons, so special and yet very different from one another, are growing up. Oh, for a time-lapsed movie of their young journey to date. In my memory, my mind’s eye, I can actually see them growing: their legs and arms lengthening; their shoulders broadening. In the stories my husband and I retell one another, we roll back the tape and hit the pause button to watch it over and over again. Remember when….?


A little piece I wrote for the Los Angeles Times appears today under the banner: Breathing Room.

If you read my “willow” post in January, you’ll know why I so enjoyed composing a short essay about environmental artist Patrick Doughterty’s new Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanical Garden installation. Called “Catawampus,” the willow sculpture opened on February 24th.

Here is my essay in its entirety. The Times had to cut it for space, which is fine. I like it both ways. Read the published version by clicking here: Branching In.


Willow wisdom

Standing in a distant field, looking like child’s building blocks tossed here by giant hands, the assemblage of woven-willow cubes and rectangles conveys kinetic energy.

Aptly named ‘Catawampus’ by creator Patrick Dougherty, it is slightly askew, beckoning me to draw near.

Taller than a house, the installation is situated away from the main path at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden. I approach, noticing how sunlight slips between open spaces formed by the warp and weft of twigs. The tactile quality of each thread-like branch appeals to me: the in-and-out, the over-and-under. I run my hand along the twisted surface, marveling at the density of four-inch-thick walls. My fingers stroke pussy willow-like tips, velvet against the rough twig bark. The structure looks spontaneously woven, as if beavers gathered the arboretum’s fallen branches after a windstorm and built themselves a fanciful dam.

Like a sophisticated student of art, I try to mentally deconstruct the organic sculpture. Is it a modernist bird’s nest? Is it a commentary on the fragile balance between nature and architecture? Or is pure folly, meant only to delight the eye?

magnolia seen through willow-framed window The tilted branch-blocks rest on ottoman-like cushions of willow. I enter and move from one interconnected space to the next. Peering out of the window openings, I glimpse a maple tree, its new green leaves about to unfurl. Through another portal in the gray-and-brown twig wall I see an early-blooming magnolia. A “skylight” at the top brightens the dark interior with spring’s pure blue sky.

It’s easy to be lured into Dougherty’s rooms, made from saplings grown by the Willow Farm in Pescadaro. Even though the primitive chambers are penetrated by air, light and sound, they feel safe and separate. Time stands still, at least for a few moments.

Solid-looking, yet impermanent. In the end, it is simply a series of large forms, fashioned from ordinary willow otherwise destined for the compost heap. But it gives me quiet comfort.

Catawampus by Patrick Dougherty runs through 2009 at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, 301 North Baldwin Ave., Arcadia, (626) 821-3222 or

3 Responses to “Breathing Room: Welcome to spring”

  1. Lydia Plunk Says:

    Your love of textiles is evident in the LA Times piece today. I used to take the paper for the sports section. Now I run to grab it on Thursdays to see what great gardening articles have been gathered there.

    But as much as I love to garden and to write- there will never be anything more fun than having been raised by two sons.

  2. Dee/reddirtramblings Says:

    The happiest birthday to your spring baby. Yes, mine are growing up too. My youngest turns nine tomorrow. Our oldest (my bonus daughter) came to Easter at our house yesterday, and she is 31. Time does fly doesn’t it? XOXO~~Dee

  3. Kathryn/ Says:

    Beautiful, Debra. Another Pisces, like our mutual friend in Seattle, apparently, all gravitating to beauty and color and shapes and designs and Nature.
    Congratulations on the new book! I added you to my Twitter following!

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