A Weeping Willow’s shade is otherworldly.
Sweeping those famed branches aside feels like peering into a secret world of fairies and sprites. Breezes sway the long, languishing limbs, and reveal a perfect spot for mischief.
I remember the first and only time I stepped beneath the Weeping Willow in my grandparents’ front yard.
I could not have been more than ten-years-old. The tree had always been a curiosity—not symmetrical and firm like the maples that surrounded our house or prickly like the tall pines. This tree stood in perpetual lament.
I don’t remember playing on my grandparents’ property much. Mostly, we sat indoors and watched the colorful static of their television, listened to my mother and grandmother chatter about family gossip. My dad and grandfather flipped through fishing magazines and barely spoke but seemed to be having a conversation just the same. And, there, my brother and I would sit and wait for the opportunity to eat stale cookies with oats and raisins and a couple scoops of Neapolitan ice cream.
It was an autumn day. I remember this. I zipped up my red windbreaker and asked to play outside.
Theirs was a quiet neighborhood, every house filled with people they knew and trusted. My brother might’ve stayed inside or else came with me—I don’t know anymore.
Since his death, I lose him more and more in my memories. Perhaps because he is not alive to assert his presence, share the common history of our family. He lingers in the periphery, and my memory almost convinces me that I have always been an only child.
I breathed in that crisp autumn air and sighed away the stuffiness of my grandparents’ small front room. There was nothing more to do outside than inside. They had a large backyard but no trees or places to explore. The only difference was the stillness. I reveled in the quiet—the lack of voices and words and conversations that had no relevance to me.
I wandered my way to the front of the house, stopping once to examine a small toad hunting near where the downspout from the gutter emptied into the yard. Off it hopped when my childish fingers stroked its bumpy skin too much. I sighed and turned my attention back to the rest of the world. This is when I noticed the willow.
Its branches tickled the tops of the grass blades, and I thought it looked like an ugly tree. No one else had a Weeping Willow in their yard, yet here one stood alone and distinguishable. From my perspective, I could not see into the branches very well. My grandfather had allowed it to become overgrown and unruly.
When I brushed the hanging branches aside, I saw that it was not cool and dark like the shade of most trees. The willow’s shade was light, ethereal. I touched my palm to the trunk and listened to the crackle of the shed leaves beneath my tennis shoes. The fuzzy brown egg sacks of gypsy moths dotted the trunk. I did not know what they were at the time, but I took a stick and scrapped them away because I was a child and I was bored.
I squatted down and leaned my back against its trunk and sat that way until my parents came and told me it was time to go.
In a strange way, it felt like a holy experience—willows known for their curative and mystical properties. As a child, leaning against the slender trunk, I almost believed this tree was a special kind of living thing—one that understood loneliness and grief.
In the shade of that willow tree, I listened to the whisper of its leaves, to its secrets to mourning. This tree, rooted in the middle of a yard in the middle of a city, seemed resigned to its solitary existence.
The tree is not there anymore. The last time I drove by my grandparents’ old house—the tree was gone, as was my great-grandmother’s rose bush that had been grafted and replanted. I don’t know who lives there now, but I know each room of their house well. I remember each creak of the floorboards, the taste of the well water, and the musty smell of the basement where my grandfather worked on upholstery and played Dartball.
But, the willow is gone—probably too damaged from gypsy moths—or too distracting from the house’s “curb appeal.” And, so, is my brother who must have been with me under that tree. Though he was older, we tended to do most things together. But, he is gone, too—probably too damaged from his own years of weeping—a figure not unlike the willow, perpetually sad, heavy-hearted.
Looking back on that autumn afternoon, perhaps now I realize why that experience has stayed with me and why I cannot seem to find my brother there.
I do not know why every willow weeps, but I believe I know why that one did and always will.