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.

#Blogtown: Letters from the Homefront

Dear Friends,

Why does this blog post begin like a letter? I’ll tell you.

My friend Anna at The Brown Dress Project is drawing on a lifetime of history-reading for strength and motivation in the present time. I love her assessment of what qualities are needed.

 Thrift, ingenuity, service, hard work, gratitude for daily bread, commitment to neighborliness were all traits which brought families through. Those times are no longer the faded memories of grandparents – they are upon us now.

Anna the Librarian/Historian

In today’s open letter on her blog, Anna’s suggesting that our #blogtown community stick together through this hard time by writing letters to each other. Noting that the front lines for this “world war” run squarely through the home of each person, Anna hearkens back to the days when the efforts of those at home provided the strength and resources for those far away on the more obvious battlefields. That’s why she’s calling for Letters from the Homefront.

If you have a blog, welcome! You’re automatically a neighbor in the #blogtown community. Your well-being matters. The funny moments, frantic boredom, quiet inspiration, fabulous nap, or dogged determination that got you through the day are worth sharing with all of us, your virtual neighbors.

It’s a quiet day at my house. I’m pondering the mix of worry and relief this situation has brought to us. I meant to bake bread today, but instead I played games with my kiddo and took a gray-day walk, looking for leaf buds and early flowers. I even curled up on the couch with the dog and stared out the window at the intricacy of tree branches.

This week has been fiercely busy. I work for an internet company, so working at home isn’t a change. But the sudden influx of EVERYONE ON THE PLANET onto the internet, all hoping to help, all live-streaming, all sharing tips, all asking if this or that is going to happen and when, seemed to make all my days twice as crowded.

I love the surge of helpfulness, but I also believe that we humans aren’t capable of sustaining this level of intensity. Once the novelty of this situation wears off, we will either turn on each other or relax into this new way of being and go back to binge-watching Netflix or reading real, tangible, papery-scented printed books. We’ll walk around the block, and around again. We’ll bake things. Our supply chain will recover from our panic, and there won’t be as much to say about toilet paper any more. But I don’t think normal life will come back for a few months.

I’m at peace for now. Mostly. And exchanging letters with all of you here in this cozy internet community will be something I continue to enjoy.

God bless and keep you,

Melinda

#LettersfromtheHomefront