WILLOW; Published in LAKESTYLE magazine, Spring 2005 Issue


It was an all too familiar sight and sensation; the early morning sun breaking across the wooded canopy behind our lake home, showering its golden rays across the mirrored waters of Lake Leander. And there was I, like so many times before, sitting beneath the weeping willow while witnessing another glorious dew-drenched spring morning emerge from my favorite place on this planet. But there was a striking difference this time: Emily. Waking in the early hours of dusk, my daughter anxiously chose to join me on this morning’s journey down the winding staircase to the shoreline and then to the nestled refuge I discovered decades ago, as a child, at the foot of the grand weeping willow.

The silence of the wondrous moment was only disturbed by our gentle breathing… and then she had to ask.

“Tell me again why this place is your most favorite place, daddy.”

“There are too many wonderful moments of past springs and summers from which to choose as the defining moment, Emily. But this is a place where I knew I could always go to be peaceful and gain a greater perspective on Life.”

“You’re peaceful under this sad tree, daddy?”

“Yes, I am peaceful, Emily, but sadness is only one part of this tree’s story. There’s a reason why the weeping willow looks happy and sad at the same time. Would you like to know the origin of the willow? It is a tale that has been passed down through the generations and was told to me – under this very tree - by your grandfather during one of his last summers here at the family lake home.”

Not sure what another hour of silent observation of the sunrise would hold, Emily quickly opted for her grandfather’s story. Drawing a deep breath, I said, “As numerous and as deep are the lakes of Minnesota, so are its tales and folklore. And here is where this tale begins…”

Eons before the great northern woods saw the face of humans, the Grand Designer had already completed his plan for populating the area with all varieties of rich vegetation, greenery and fauna. He had strategically placed the most majestic pines and hardwoods in the very heart of what is now known as Minnesota and then abundantly sprinkled it with endless lakes and rivers. In his grand scheme, he had set down the responsibility of protecting these natural resources and beauty to the Guardians. And it was the Guardians that set to the task of naming this creation Nature and promoting its goodness for the eons ahead.

Several millennia had past since the inception of Nature and humans now roamed the land. Integral to any architectural plan, the Guardians were instructed to gather in audience with the Grand Designer to review Nature’s progress.

“Grand Designer, we are quite pleased with the evolution of your Nature but we have become concerned with the humans you have created. We fear they are not utilizing your Nature the way it was intended. They rarely come to witness the grandeur and majesty that is Nature itself.”

“What is it they come to witness?” inquired the Grand Designer.

The senior Guardian stepping forward stated, “The humans now only come to the forest – at the very least – to escape their personal life; to lick their emotional wounds and lament their regrets.”

“Ah, regret,” sighed the Grand Designer, “One of my most subtle mysteries and gifts to these humans. You see, unlike the Nature that envelopes the planet, humans were given the gift of free will to use wisely. Unfortunately, from their very birth they often choose to use if foolishly. And because of this, humans continue to suffer from their three greatest regrets. Unlike the Aurora Borealis who dances to its greatest passion, humans choose to never explore their greatest passion – be it a person or mission. And unlike the grand twilight sunset who shares its deepest meaning with all, humans never realize the deepest personal meaning in their life. And unlike the mighty oak that remains true to its central purpose, humans all but deny their grandest purpose. Sadly enough, it is these three regrets under which most humans are yoked and burdened.”

“So what then shall we do, Grand Designer?”

“Leave it to me,” declared the Grand Designer, “I must reflect on this matter and prepare a subtle message to these humans.”

In the blink of a human eye, decades passed and the Guardians was reassembled to witness the unveiling of the Grand Designer’s plan. All Guardians were exuberant, as each past assembly and unveiling was grander than the one before; the Grand Canyon, the expanding Universe, human emotions, and love – just to name a few of the most recent unveilings.

The Grand Designer proclaimed, “I have created and packaged my message to the humans, so whenever they enter these forests, they will be reminded of the grand life they are called to live.” And with the swoop of his grand brush… a somber but showering tree appeared before the group. The Guardians grew very puzzled, but quiet.

“This is your message?” asked the senior Guardian sheepishly, “Pardon me for asking, but how, Grand Designer, will this help our problem with the humans?”

“You don’t see the majesty in the simplicity of this message, my friends?” asked the Grand Designer, “I have created a new species of tree never before seen; a hearty and lively tree and it will be called the Willow. It is a wood that will thrive in the northlands and be found peacefully growing near water’s shores where humans often go to find their solace.”

“Notice its trunk, my friends. Its trunk would always spawn three major branch trunks as a reminder of these humans’ three greatest regrets: one’s greatest passion never explored, one’s deepest personal meaning never realized and one’s grandest purpose denied. The outward branches of the willow will yield to its own weight and bow to the earth, as humans often bow to the regrets that shackle them throughout their life.”

The group remained silent as the Grand Designer continued with his unveiling and explanation.

“And while the tree will appear gentle with its attractive flowers, its branches would sprout raspy buds that would pull at the face and hair of any person who walks beneath it; a reminder of the constant pain caused by harboring such personal regrets.”

“Will the humans find this new species comforting?” inquired the senior council member.

“Under its weighted branches, humans will sit and feel safe. Many will never realize its message but they will unknowingly find solace. The lucky few will walk away transformed. And as a sign of great hope I have in these humans, I have also designed the tree to have the ability to quickly shed its branches, as a reminder to them that they are able to shed their regrets in life, if they so choose. It will be a tree that will readily take root from its own cuttings and prosper across many habitats and soils – its message to be spread far and wide to any and all humans…”

“Is the story true, daddy?” asked Emily, as she stared unbelievingly into my eyes.

“Whether or not the tale is true, Emily, it is a wonderful reminder that we each must never fear our greatest passion – be it a person or mission. It is what fuels our very heart. And we must never close our eyes to the personal meaning our life holds for us. It is what fuels our spirit. And finally, we must never turn our back on our grandest purpose and journey in this life – it is what weds our heart to our spirit. So, the next time we pass through or sit under a willow, Emily, we will always be reminded of the sadness that comes from a life lived with regret and, at the same time, the glory of a life lived with no regrets at all.”

“And I can pass this story on to my children someday, daddy.”

“Yes, Emily, and the best way to pass on this story is to begin living a life of no regret.”

“Can we start right now, daddy?”

Suddenly, sitting peacefully under the branches of this grand willow, leaning against the large rock where the wooded bog meets up with the peaceful lake, and holding on to my dear child, it was clear to me why this is my favorite place. A place and a moment forever filled with no regret… one of the lucky few.

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