My fondest early childhood memory was time I spent in our willow tree. It was a grand weeping willow with branches that nearly touched the ground and had perfect climbing branches. I remember needing a milk crate to pull myself up onto the first limb, but once I was up there I could escape to my own little world.
The rustle of the leaves, the light greenish yellow leaves, the aromas of nature all around, the texture of the bark…I can vividly remember that tree and often escaped there, even now when I feel worried I bring it back into my memory. Perched atop an old weeping willow is my ‘happy place’.
As a child, I often played school while perched in the tree and my imagination soared. I could hear my older brothers playing in other parts of the yard or across the street with friends. I could hear my mother working in our greenhouse or in the yard, but more than anything I wanted the solitude that my willow tree offered. In my tree I could forget the dilapidated house that we lived in, forget how awkward I felt when I was around other children, and best of all, in my willow tree perch I didn’t need to talk to anyone.
As fate would have it the name of town that we lived in was Willow Grove, and I remember thinking that sitting high up in a willow tree in a town of the same name must have qualified it as some sort of magical place.
Now as an educator I am often at professional trainings and the speaker asks us to reflect on our fondest memory and to consider why that particular memory sticks. I remember when we first moved to that house that it was in shambles. The basement was filled with trash from the previous owner, there was no running water, the floors were creaky, the walls unfinished, and no heating. I can remember my mom’s optimism and vision of what the house would become but I knew that she hated it as much as I did. Though we made slow improvements to the house it never felt like to me a home, so whenever possible I remember wanting to spend time outdoors. The willow tree was an escape.
The first year living in that house I was in first grade, and I remember riding the school bus and trying not to cry but by the time I got to school I would lock myself in the girls bathroom and sob and rock until someone forced me to come out. School was dreadful and hard. I remember being pulled out of class for intensive speech therapy and was certain that I was the stupidest child in the class. I also remember slowly making progress and slowly feeling a bit better. I remember my mom meeting with my primary grade teachers and talking with them about why I was so fearful.
We lived in that house for four years and though many of my memories of those years are blurry and painful I remember my willow tree as a place of solitude and escape. When it was time to move I remember thinking how glad I was to leave the hell-hole of a house behind, but my heart ached to say good-bye to my willow tree.
As a child I felt that when I was in my “teaching tree” I was wise, powerful, and joyous. I didn’t need words to communicate and I could just be who I was. It was then that I discovered Mother Nature could be my most trusted teacher and I began to listen to the wind to help my world make sense. As we left that house for the last time the willow branches waved goodbye, but I knew that another one of nature’s glorious ‘sit spots’ awaited me. And luckily every new home that I have moved to has had some “glorious-just-perfect-for-me” place to sit and listen.
My home is now well insulated, built with sturdy walls, and most days relatively tidy…but I still continue to prioritize heading outside to a favorite ‘sit spot’ to listen to nature’s guidance.