Monday, August 29, 2011

Life Lessons From My Weeping Willow Tree

When my husband and I first bought our house, back in the Spring of  2002, our front yard was quite the wet spongy mess.  And we never got any shade, ever.  Even a solar-powered person like me doesn't want to be cooked like a campfire stew meal in tinfoil, in my own house.
So I went to a nursery up north of here and found myself a tiny little start of a thing that they called a weeping willow tree.  It looked like this:
sorry for the poor quality, old digital- it's all I got
But you get the idea.

I had read up about what to do and how to plant this tree so that it would one day be the wonderful specimen that I envisioned.  You see, as a kid there had been one house in one year of my life that I had been pretty darn happy in and that memory was quite a driving force for me.  I remembered the long green tendrils that had swayed in the breeze in our side yard that year and how we had even set up a picnic under that tree when my sisters grandparents had visited us that summer before my sister was actually born.  I loved the fact that the tree was able to survive growing in a very wet ditch and that it was beautiful in an effortless sort of way.  I could go out in the yard and sort of disappear under that weeping willow.  It was a magical world underneath that tree.  Smooth swishing sounds under a cool green canopy seemed able to make the world a more peaceful place.
So by the time I got to the nursery to pick up my weeping willow, there was absolutely no deterring me from having this tree in my life.  I listened to the warnings that came with the tree; about how large it could get and what planting it on a regular sized lot could mean in terms of the work it would take to keep this tree under control.  I determined that I could handle this- no problem.
And for the first few years the tree grew up beautifully without much help from me.  I started to wonder what all the fuss had been about.  This weeping willow was doing exactly what I wanted with nary a worry from me at all.  I watered it, and fertilized it, and kept it from growing without too much of a lean from the prevailing winds and that's about it.
In years 2 and 3, the tree looked like this:

In years 4-7, I must have been so blissfully satisfied with what the weeping willow was doing that I have no full shots of it.  But I do remember that this was the time that my friends daughter started her love affair with my willow tree.  She has had her picture taken underneath it on many occasions.  In fact the picture below is of her at age 7, the very same age I was when I first fell in love with that weeping willow in my own yard that summer 30 years ago.

And here's another picture of her with the willow, taken just a few weeks ago:
 She just turned 11 and loves her Irish dancing.

It was also during the time that my weeping willow was growing merrily along that my neighbors really started to comment on how beautiful the tree was becoming.  One particular older lady who lives right across the street told me all about how she had always wanted a weeping willow, but it was too much work for her so she especially enjoyed seeing mine right outside her picture window.  We became known as the people with the big willow tree and others seemed to marvel at how brave we were to commit to such a tree.  
Ignorance really was bliss for quite a while. 
Then suddenly that weeping willow really started to grow, fast!  As of last year, it looked like this:

Suddenly I realized what all that planning about 12 feet of space on each side and all the recommendations of heavy trimming were all about.  And all that advice about how keeping a tree such as this in check would be a bit like keeping a rock star confined to a local venue...
I almost panicked when I realized that this weeping willow was just hitting its stride.  Could I manage this after all?  Would it be a dream or a nightmare?
After a lot more research and some soul searching I decided that I would indeed take on the task of trying to make what had started out so beautifully work for me, in the space that I have to give it.
Just a week and a half ago when my nephew and his Dad came up to visit, they pitched in and helped me do a ton of yard work including some major trimming on that willow tree.  It has grown even more in the last year and we needed to really work to train it to go upward, not outward so it can continue to live in the space that I have for it.  It was scary to watch as big chunks had to go, especially any branches that crossed and touched each other so as to avoid the perils of disease.  Nathans Dad actually climbed the tree to do the work.

I wish I had taken a picture of the tree before we got started, but I found one online that looked very similar to mine- kind of like 'Animal' from the Muppet Show, way too top-heavy and wide.
photo credit:
As of now the tree looks like this:

It is quite magnificent!  It has been worth the effort, all 5 hours of it!  That's right, that's how long it took all told in 3 separate sessions so as to be sure that we weren't doing anything too drastic and yet got it to a more slender, less yard hogging sort of form.  Basically, it has to be one central trunk and you want to avoid any sort of wide V shape so as to keep it strong.  After all of the work we did, we should be good to go for at least a couple of years.   I am happy and satisfied for now, enjoying what I have helped to create.
However, as much as I do love this weeping willow tree and what it means to me, there is still a nagging question left over.  Knowing what I know now, would I do this all over again?  I know there are those who say that I never should have attempted it at all.  Weeping willow trees are meant to be large, grand, sweeping beauties without limit.  They really should only be planted where they can grow truly uninhibited, as is their nature.  And in my heart, I agree.  
I really do.
So the answer to my nagging question has to be a resounding 'No'.  I wouldn't plant a weeping willow on a small suburban lot ever again.  While I needed this tree at a particular moment in my life (more emotionally than anything else) and enjoy what it has brought me, I do see that it would have been much better off somewhere else.  A place that was better suited to allow the tree to reach its full potential.  
And that leads me to so many other things that function in this same way.  There is the idea that no matter where we are 'planted' in this life, any one of us can still be quite functional and beautiful human beings.  Would we have benefited from being placed in just the right place?  Of course.  But reality doesn't always follow that way and why dwell on it?  
For me personally, I wonder what would have happened if my family would have been grown in more fertile soil, with more care and less boundaries.  I faced the question of whether or not to try and take custody of my nephew.  At one time, there was a much better chance of me getting him than even his own father.  I could have used my resources to make that happen.  Instead, I got behind his Dad and fought for their relationship.  We all know that was for the best now, but I faced some serious demons over that choice at one time.  
Even just relatively simple things like what career a person ends up in seem to mirror what I have learned from this tree- that choosing carefully is important, but that there are also lots of ways to do things that can end up good in the end.  And just because you wouldn't do something again doesn't mean that it wasn't worth while at least once in this life.
I am looking forward to the day when I have a big ol' piece of property where I can plant a tree just like the one I have now.  And then fertilize it, and be sure that it gets enough water, and then watch it grow, unfettered to whatever potential it has inside.


  1. We had a couple of them when I was a child. I love them, but just wait. As they say, "You ain't seen nothin' yet"! Anyway, treat them right and they will return the favor.

  2. What a great blog (I almost said sermon! lol) It does seem very spiritual and very fitting for me where I am at right now. Thanks.

  3. Your tree triggered great memories of playing under our next door neighbor's tree when I was little...

  4. Thank you for posting. So interesting how a simple beautiful tree can bring on a flood of memories.


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