1973 was a harsh year for Walt Kelly, having suffered a painful illness that only got worse until he left us permanently in October of that year. Many of the published strips were reruns and pastiches of old ones, and there was a run where the strip was just a pale shadow of its former self, before collapsing into other people's hands.
But yet we've seen that some of these '73 strips are still invitingly written and drawn. I am uncertain of the provenance of strips from that year, but these last few feel right and proper and this opening panel is some of the old Sunday fancery, what with a shrugging tree and coal-carrying-critter, seeming like part of a lovely last hurrah.
March 5, 1972
Update: Well call me a potato and poke me in the eye, I totally misread the copyright date and didn't bother looking at previous posts to catch myself. Craig caught my mistake and you can ignore my blathering above. I would delete the post and start over, but that wouldn't be fair to Craig and his comment. Though I did change the date above to the corrECT 1972 date. Thanks Craig!