Huckleberry Bear Bear next to the Willow Tree in the Earthfire Wildlife Garden
— by Susan Eirich, Ph.D. —
For more than 100 years it grew, gracing the home of the people who planted and gave life to it. It added a note of beauty and peace to the center of the small town, heralding spring with the fresh green of bursting buds, town crier for the renewal of life. It gave shade and coolness in the summer, bent with limber limbs in the winds, turned a golden yellow in the fall, glowing in the late afternoon light.
It watched over births, triumphs, tragedies and deaths; over generations of humans each locked into the perspectives of their own short lives. The willow was there, greening, gracing and growing.
Times changed. The town grew. The willow just grew and greened and lent its loveliness to the people of the town.
But in the course of human events the land was sold and the new owner didn’t want it anymore. He decided to cut it down. Controversy raged among the townspeople but in the end there was nothing they could do. It was owned by the new landlord. There were no laws in place to protect a tree. A tree has no rights. The willow could only green and grace as its limbs were hacked off and it was uprooted by a bulldozer, its bark stripped and torn.
The limbs were carted away to a trash pit, but the huge old stump was heavy and lay there drying in the hot sun. One man, his heart hurting at the sight of the once mighty presence, wanted to do something. He felt such a sadness for what had been done to something so old and venerable and stately, yet ultimately helpless. He arranged for a backhoe to lift it onto a truck and brought it to the Earthfire Institute’s Wildlife Garden, a place where rescued wild animals play. For them it would be a treasure. The animals loved it and made it theirs.
When it arrived at the Garden, the man had an inexplicable urge to “plant” it against all reason. Did he sense the life force still present? Did it communicate on some level that it wanted to live? He stood it upright, piled soil around it. He watered it. He visited it. He talked to it.
The willow in the Earthfire Wildlife Garden
The winter snows came, with its blizzards and cold and dark. The tree stood in the Garden, surrounded by tracks of the animals who visited it.
The days lengthened. The man came again in the spring and visited it, talked to it, touched it, watered it. There was a single slender twig, two feet long, left on the inside of one of the cut off limbs. Several weeks into spring, outlined against the blue sky, the man saw what looked like a single swelling bud near the top of the twig. Could it be true? Was he dreaming?
Day after day, several times a day, he visited it and it became clear – the bud was swelling! Life! But he was troubled. Was it the last gasp of a dying tree? Would life take hold?
It leafed out into a tiny branch with several leaves. He looked more carefully. He walked around massive base and saw a bud peeking out from underneath an undamaged piece of bark. Then he saw another bud. Then another. Over the days he found another and another and another; five buds, fourteen, fifty two, more ….
Would they shrivel up and die?
The tree had been so grievously injured… Could the dried out roots grow back to nourish the leaves or was it just drawing on its last reserves? The man watered and visited, watered and worried, watered and encouraged. Some leaves started to turn black. Despair. Some continued to grow. Hope.
As hope grew he worried. Would disease ultimately claim it, entering through its massive injuries? Maybe it takes huge old trees a long time to die……
The willow tree full of Life
It has been 2 ½ years now. It is thriving. The animals love it. People come to visit it. It grows and greens and graces. It keeps reminding them never to underestimate hope, love and life.
Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.