How I Planted a Willow Tree

Our back yard is longer than it is wide. It’s about 1.7 acres, and the lingering woods still cover most of the last .7 acre. If you’re standing on the deck looking at the woods, you notice a bare patch on the left. The woods break, and there’s a swampy stretch of soft earth and weedy hillocks for a few yards before you reach the towering evergreens marking the property line on that side. From it’s shape, it might once have been the end of a very long drive way. The deer wander through it, passing on to the trees.

During some recent moment of quiet, I remember telling myself it would be nice to plant trees in that bare patch, bringing the woods across to the evergreens. I was eating breakfast, I think. Or staring out a window thinking about saving the planet.

The moment passed. The day continued. The thought vanished.

In a wholly unrelated instance, months before, my mama gave me a tree for my birthday. She doesn’t live nearby, so we researched “trees that deer might not eat,” and she sent me a check, with the understanding that I would buy the tree at a local nursery. Our research and my love of flowering trees led us to select pink dogwood as the object of our desire.

This is not my tree. Photo by Jonathan Hanna on Unsplash

I waited through the end of winter, mentally dropping a pink dogwood in various spots and deciding whether it would do well there. As the spring advanced, I asked the farmer who mows our lawn if he could dig a hole when I had the tree. He said yes and suggested a different spot than the one I’d thought of.

I kept looking and picked another location. The not-yet-present pink dogwood had now been mentally located in three places.

Spring came, sun shone, weather warmed, and I began tree shopping in earnest. The first place had one white dogwood left, no pink. I dithered, but decided to check the other place.

The other place? Had Everything! But no pink dogwood. Apple trees, cherry trees, grape vines, blueberry bushes, oak and maple and holly and too many others to recall. But no pink dogwood.

Voila! The perfect conditions for my brain to run wild! I called my mama, and we debated the merits of starting an apple orchard, or pear, or peach, or planting raspberries in rows (probably near the shed). I skipped from tree to tree, idea to idea, while she asked Google if deer would eat my choice-of-the-moment.

But then, I found a willow tree.

Sneak preview. This is my tree.

Decades ago in an earlier world, we played under a giant weeping willow at my Aunt Greta and Uncle Fred’s house. The wands swept the grass with their finger-tips. We parted them with eager little hands and slipped into a green pavilion, peopled and furnished by make-believe.

I looked at this present-day willow, nearly ten feet tall, its roots bound in a plastic bucket and its fingers reaching into the blue, and I fell in love.

It didn’t fit in my car. At all.

Leaving my love to the guardianship of a red SOLD tag, I raced home to purloin my neighbor’s truck and his good offices as a tree escort service.

Back again, 10 minutes before closing time, my neighbor and the tree-selling staff person lifted the willow into the back of the pickup and secured it with twine and Boy Scout rope-tying knowledge.

Then we drove home.

Did you know that willow roots can grow up to 100 feet from the base of the tree?

And that they are notorious for entangling and crushing sewer lines?

Not a consummation devoutly to be hoped.

As it turns out, the sewer line runs through the backyard, and the willow, like the dogwood, could not be planted in the spot originally chosen for it.

Evidence of the sewer line’s course across the yard

Taking my daughter, a tape measure, and impervious boots, I paced out 100 feet from the sewer line, bringing myself full circle, into the muddy patch I once considered in my dream of reforestation.

And because it’s such a muddy patch, the earth is soft enough for a distracted writer of children’s books with a good shovel, a sunhat, and some pants she doesn’t care about to dig that hole herself.

So I did.

I wrestled with the earth and muddy gloves and slippery boots. I followed directions and dug a hole twice the width of the potted willow’s footprint.

Muddy Blue Jeans taking a selfie with best friend Dirty Boot.

My husband and I hauled the willow across the long yard to the hole and between us, we coaxed it to relinquish its imprisonment. We set its feet in the wet earth, tucked in the roots, and I said a small prayer for it and kissed the tip of a graceful branch.

I dragged out the hose. It’s actually several hoses connected. It’s long, but the yard is longer.

As I was trekking across the space between the end of the hose and the roots of my tree, carrying pitchers of water, I remembered that quiet moment when I’d thought of planting trees here. I saw myself unknowing, pressing along through one decision after another with no recollection or foresight, finding the end of the string where I might have wished to find it, the dream accomplished despite the scattered pathways that led to this good end.

Home, planted, and reaching for the light.