Friday, April 14, 2006

Resurrection #4

Molly's greatest joy in life was a warm sunny day beneath her willow tree. It was her special place. The tree's great feathery branches lowered down armfuls of shaded, dappled sunlight upon page after page of her favorite books, allowing her to become absorbed in the adventures of Romona Quimby and Encyclopedia Brown. Its sprawling horizontal branches offered the perfect place to play and pretend. Sometimes the tree would be a tall sailing ship. Sometimes a giant bushy-haired monster. Sometimes an enchanted castle, with secret passageways to hidden locked towers. It seemed that Molly knew every branch, every fork, every knot, every scab of the ancient willow tree. And she could not wish for a better friend.

Indeed, the willow tree was a symbol of the simple life. The quiet life. Sweet air and wide skies and innocence -- all wrapped up in the carefree branches of a monumental weeping willow. Truly, it was a unique tree. Knobby and knotted -- terrifically twisted in some parts and impossibly extended in others -- Molly's tree was a distinct landmark on the rural landscape. It served as a weathervane for the county, pointing away from the wind with its silky arms. It marked the passage of seasons: budding, birthing leaves, scattering slivers of leaves, and sleeping beneath the snow covers in cadence with the natural calendar of the earth. Neighbors gave directions in reference to the old willow. And even beyond the practicalities of the willow tree, everyone admired it for its distinct character; even the grown-ups could easily imagine that it was something from a fairy tale.

So just about everyone was sad to see the uprooted mess on the day after the big storm. It had been one of those viscious, late-summer thunderstorms, where the humid, hazy skies turned green and ghoulish in late afternoon and the radio frantically whispered the words that none of them wanted to hear: tornado warning. Molly's family clustered in the old cellar through the night, horrible crashes puncuating the drumming rain as they tried to rest... And when Molly awoke the next morning, she could scarcely believe the nightmares of the previous evening. When they emerged from the cellar, the sun was shining brilliantly -- as if the sky had never been so clean. The house was still intact, except for a few shingles. The west side of the barn had not done quite as well, but Molly's father calmly intoned that the damage was quite reparable. But Molly's heart sank when she saw the willow tree. Flattened, stripped of its majesty, roots clawing for the soil from which it had been ripped.

The next day her uncle John brought over his chainsaw, and Molly watched in sadness from the front porch as her special tree was systematically reduced to firewood. The long, stringy branches along the extremities of the willow were fed through a monstrous machine that chewed them up and spit out the pulp on the other side -- mulch for the garden next spring. The thicker branches toward the middle of the tree were dismembered and strewn about the yard -- a momentary reminder of the castle towers, very much out of place, until they were later amputated by the cruel teeth of the chainsaw. And the thick, strong trunk that had been Molly's chair, her backrest, her ladder was dissected into a hundred pieces -- stacked along the south face of the house as firewood, to be scorched and burned throughout the coming winter. The arboreal equivalent of a crucifixion.

Perhaps it sounds silly, but Molly cried for that tree. Great gasping sobs of grief and sadness. It was especially hard for her on the sunny days. That August following the big storm was the kind of summer month of which one can typically only dream, warm and fair. And yet every sunny day without her willow tree was like picking a partially-healed scab. Molly found herself neglecting her books. Avoiding her imagination. Moping through the great farm house, bored and lonely.

About a week before school was to start again, Molly awoke with a profound sense of sadness. The sun was streaming through the dusty upper panes of her bedroom window with the kind of promise that Molly knew it would be a glittering day of sunshine and soft breezes. And yet, this made her sad because it made her think of her willow tree. It would have been a perfect day for reading -- her mother had even gotten her a new Romona Quimby book from the library -- yet without the tree, the morning might as well have been that of a rainy school day.

But then Molly noticed something unusual. A surreal smattering of color, on the folds of her bed's comforter, on the floor rug, on the bookshelves... Molly blinked and rubbed her eyes, sitting up in bed to get a better look. Unbelievably, her room was filled with flower petals. Golden-rose-colored petals. They smelled sweet, but subtly so. Surreal. Yet she wasn't dreaming. Rising slowly and with a mounting sense of anticipation, she went to the window to look at what the day has brought. And what should greet her hopeful gaze but the willow tree, waving majestically against the backdrop of a sapphire-blue sky. It was the same old tree, only better. The same characteristic sprawl of boughs and branches. The same familiar knots and curves. The same old willow... only more alive.

Molly ran down the stairs and out the front door, flying over the porch and across the front lawn in her pajamas, and she embraced her old tree. Looking up, she was filled with wonder and joy. Criss-crossed scars were still visible across the trunk and the branches -- where the chainsaw had sliced through the tree flesh -- but the scabs were somewhat smoothed over, absorbed by the character of the tree. And there was something else new and unusual about the tree. Something extraordinary. Although it had never blossomed before, even in spring, today the tree was blooming magnificent flowers the size of melons. Sweet-smelling, warm-hued flowers that filled the tree, filled the air, and filled the surrounding countryside like a royal wedding procession. The old willow was back, to be sure, but it was a supernatural rebirth. A resurrection. And Molly was inexplicably happy.

The giant blossoms didn't go away until winter that year. As they peeled off in late October and early November, Molly gathered up great armfuls of the petals, filling every basket and bowl that she could find throughout the house with beautiful pieces of her willow tree that did not decay or desintegrate -- even in the dry, cold days of February -- and kept her hope alive through the winter. Every year, from that day forward, the spring and summer brought magnificent blooms and sunny days that found Molly curled up with a good book, back against the great scabby trunk of her willow tree, satisfied by a miraculous joy that warmed her memories for all of the rest of the days of her life.


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