The first piece of dirt had been moved. It was a Southern Georgia January. But our lot is on the point, so the chill was a little biting. My pulse began to quicken as we got closer. As you pull onto our street, our lot is at the end of the cul-de-sac, out on the point. From a hundred yards away, it was evident something was starting to happen at the Jones residence. A little green placard had been hung on a tree making it official. It read, “The Lot of Mr. and Mrs. Jones, Franklin, Tennessee.” This piece of earth was ours. So, if anyone thought they could have this plot of Georgia they were wrong. The Jones had put their stake on it. We would learn later a gentleman came three hours after us to try to buy it. But God had already picked it out for us.
The first thing they had moved were the trees. So, as we pulled onto the lot, our trees laid in piles and the view of the lake was revealed in a way we had never been able to take in before. We felt so many emotions. But, excitement ruled. Disbelief wasn’t far behind. It is this mixture of such excitement and joy mixed with all the “Can this really be?” Along with “Is someone going to come tell me this is all a joke and this really isn’t ours?” All those thoughts were whirling around that lot and in my head as the wind whistled through the trees that remained.
We walked through disturbed red Georgia clay and headed closer to the water. And that is where I could see it. I could see right where the willow tree would go. I could see its limbs weeping over the banks of the lake, and imagine sitting there for the Mourning Cloak butterflies to arrive at the first site of the catkin blooms. Or the honeybees in search of the first spring pollen to delight them and wreak havoc on us. I could see the teak bench beneath it where morning or evening conversations that alter life trajectories could happen. I see my Maggie laid beneath it. Finally having her final resting place. Yes, I could see it perfectly.
I’ve appreciated trees for a long time. One of my first memories of truly taking them in was the first time I saw a weeping willow. I had never truly noticed a tree before, or the fact that there are different kinds. I might have been six. It was the one and only trip we ever took to see my great-aunt, Geneva (Aunt Neva for short, pronounced Knee-va; or Aunt Never, pronounced Knee-ver by most of us because we were so Southern). She was my grandmother’s sister and from the moment I met her she looked old. Weathered. Frail. She lived on acres of land and lining her winding driveway were weeping willows. I had never seen a more beautiful tree.
They draped across the memory-filled dirt driveway like a canopy for the traveler, and something about their beauty caused me to fall in love. It’s said the Celtics believed if you knocked on one you’d rid yourself of any perceived bad luck, thus where we get our old wives tail of “knock on wood.” The Bible mentions the willow tree as well. When the Israelites were taken into captivity in Babylon there is this marked imagery they use to describe their grief. Known as a nation that would worship God in song after great victories, it is now said in Psalms 137 that they have hung their harps up on the willow. As if there would be no more songs to come.
There is a beautiful song that the group Truth sang years ago that redeemed this. “We have the spirit of David. We have the Spirit of Praise… Take up your harp from the willow. Let your praise begin today. It’s time for the silence to be broken. Arise and put on your garments of praise.”
I like that imagery better.
As the years have gone by, I’ve learned to treasure the stateliness of an oak tree whose roots go down deep and pepper the South with their beauty. Then there are the live oaks that surround the squares in Savannah with their moss that flitters across their limbs and disperses sunlight like dancing shadows. There is the romance of a southern magnolia that provides its blooms in spring and its leaves in winter for Christmas tables and wreaths. There is the pine that stretches to the sky and topples easily with the first gust of wind. Or the white fir in Lake Tahoe whose branches reach out like little arms as if they were created for nothing in this life but to hold snow so you could ooh and aah.
Then there are the colors. The awe-inspiring drive through the Green Mountains of Vermont in autumn, where creation refuses you to deny its Maker. Or the aspens in Colorado that cover more terrain in the United States than any other tree, whose white bark and gold leaves demand the photographer’s lens. All making one wonder when God created trees, did He start with their autumn colors first and then go backwards to green?
Trees tell such stories. And my whole life I longed for a weeping willow in my yard to tell my story. Now, after owning seven homes of my own and living in four apartments, there was now the perfect place for that willow. To tell the story of us. The Joneses. We met our builder at our lot to discuss trees. The ones we wanted to stay and the ones we wanted to go. Each tree matters. It determines a view. A detail. A future memory. What friend will sit under it? What grandchild’s swing might hang from it? What initials might be carved in it? What view might it hide? How may it grow in the future? How may it topple in a storm?
So, as we decided on each one, our builder tied a red ribbon around the trees that would go so we could fully take in the ones that would stay.
“And my willow will go there.” I pointed. Our builder nodded. “It will be perfect there.” I announced to him and Philly again in case they couldn’t see it.
“Yes, it will.” Our builder responded.
They moseyed off to talk about something else while I lingered, imagining our willow with my heavenly Father. “You’ve told me this will be a place that will help rebuild ruins and repair breaches. Let it be so…”
“It will be.” I felt Him speak.
It made me wonder what weeping may happen under that willow. What person may try to hang their harp in it? To land in their pain. To think it will be the only pain they know. Then how Jesus will come to them and tell them to take their harp up from the willow, to get back up and to praise. Who knew that Aunt Neva’s trees would do all this? Who knew…