When a Willow Falls

On the day that I found out about my new job, a terrible storm was blowing through town. Our little crick was bursting its banks, flattening cattails in its path and creeping higher and higher up into our yard. The wind was fierce, blowing from the west with a menacing intensity. Our little triplex is rather well insulated, and we don’t usually hear the happenings from outdoors when we have our windows closed, but the rain was beating down so hard on our roof and western wall that I had to look outside to see what was going on. And it’s a good thing that I did.

When I peeked out the front door and saw how full the creek had gotten, I also noticed that one of our lovely willow trees had lost a trunk. They grow in clusters from the banks of the crick, and one of the clusters had become one trunk shy. I was saddened by the loss, but I was more worried at the moment for how close our car was to the other willow, and I thought that it might be at risk if the other, larger willow were to lose a trunk. So I dashed out into the rain and moved our car to the other end of the driveway, returning to the house completely soaked from the 10 seconds of exposure to the storm. By the time I had dried myself off, changed clothes and peeked back out the front door to check on the storm again, the entire big willow with all its trunks had fallen over and landed on the exact spot where our new (to us) Saturn had been. I was relieved that our car was safe and that I would be able to get to my new job, but Susan and I were very saddened to see the willow fall.

The next day, our landlord stopped by to tell me that the city would come remove the fallen tree. At that point I got scared. For a moment, I wondered whether the balance in the universe had required me to lose this tree in order to have my new job. But then I thought that my thought was ridiculous. It was a storm that took the willow down–nature tending to nature. It was sad to see such a beautiful thing go, but that was man speaking. To the Mother, the loss of this life would be the beginning of other lives. A tree falls. It rots. New things grow, nourished by its remains. That’s life.

The next morning–the day the city was supposed to come and chop up the willow and cart it away (respectably, they mulch fallen trees and compost them so locals can buy the remains to help their gardens grow) I woke to a realization. I could probably cut some branches off the willow before the city gets there and maybe dry them and learn to weave with them. Then the willow wouldn’t be a total loss to me.

So I hopped on the internet to try to learn what I could about willows and weaving. I found that our local library had some good-sounding books on weaving with willows and rushes. And I learned from several websites that willows are hard to kill and grow really fast and that you can even cut the bare branches in winter and plant them to make new trees (see: living willow). Needless to say, my hope had been heightened. I rushed off to the library for some willow weaving books, stopped by Wal-mart for a hatchet and camp saw and rushed home to harvest some branches.

I spent a big part of that day (my last free weekday before I started my new job) cutting away at the fallen tree. I discovered that the roots were still intact and that the tree would probably continue to grow if left as it was. Being a danger to my car and my neighbors’ cars, however, it would still need to be removed in case the roots gave way. I cleared out a lot of the bulk of the tree–enough to park my car under it, and I salvaged a lot of limbs and branches. I bundled the limbs up and put them on our back porch to dry. The large and long branches, I dragged off to a brush pile in our back yard to hide midst the other brush until such time as they would become usable for building a sweat lodge in the back yard (more on that later.)

The rest of the week went by without the city coming by to take away the tree. I hoped that my good luck would last through the weekend, at least, so that I could cut away more branches before they were gone. And my fortune did hold out. In fact, my fortune got even better. For the past few weeks, my friends have been calling me asking me to join them on a trip to the local farmers’ market, and for as many weeks, I have been putting them off. First, we were still busy with moving in, then Simon and I got sick, and then Susan got sick. Finally, things worked out to where I could go. And afterwards, my friend Luke came home with me so that we could have fun with the willow.

I don’t know too many other people who enjoy manual labor. Mostly, it seems to be the kind of thing people try to avoid. But I have always relished opportunities to put my muscles to work. I worked several jobs during my college years to pay for tuition and room and board: at the cafeteria dish room during the semesters, on a cattle ranch in the summers, and in the winters I helped my dad with his heating and air conditioning business. When we lived in New York, I harvested wildflowers one summer, working for a 42 year-old, half-deaf, gay guy. And all of these jobs, I enjoyed.

My friend Luke is one of the few other people I know who gravitates to manual labor the way I do. Were both college educated fellows who are officially smart enough to be as white collar as the rest of the key-punching world, but for some reason the blue collar jobs seem to fit us better sometimes. So it was no strange occurrence that the little bit of free time Luke and I had as a break from the business of fatherhood we spent working away on a willow tree.

I told Luke of my plans: to weave with the smaller limbs and middle sized branches and to build a sweat lodge with the long poles and larger branches. So we set to work stripping down the wood, turning everything into a wispy switch and sorting them into piles by size. We also had a couple large trunks to cut away, and I realized that I could use these as borders for a little herb garden by my front door to keep the mowing man who comes every few weeks from hacking down my bounty. I cut stakes to hold the logs in place around our front porch, and Luke set dutifully to work striping the switches and sawing the trunks. All the while we talked, catching up on how family life had changed us and reshaped our world views. We talked about nature, especially the local flora and how we could take good advantage of it. It was an afternoon well spent. And in the end, we had several fine bundles of switches to be set on my back porch to dry.

The city still hasn’t come for the tree, and I hope they don’t. Luke and I tried to preserve some muscadine vines that still clung to the bark of the willow. The grapes on them are green and big, and since I missed the elderberries, I’m hoping very much to sup on some scuppernongs.


6 responses to this post.

  1. Well, I think that nature had a plan all along. You never lost the willows. They became something else (or will). And look what you learned and how much good ol’ fashioned work you will do to build a great thing. Yep – it was all planned!

    I hope you have more willows though – cause that would be nice. Old Willows still in the yard and the new struff that comes from the old willows.

    You’re the best!


  2. […] sources, as well, I saw mention of various species of willow.  Since I had quite a few branches of willow in my back yard of various sizes, I decided to give it a try.  The willow passed the thumbnail test, so I […]


  3. […] also offer a nice home for nettles, since they love wet ground as well.  I took some branches from the willow that fell last summer and made stakes to drive into the ground to separate the spearmint and nettles from the rest of the […]


  4. Cheap tools for flintknapping fools

    I attended the Prairie Grove Clothesline Fair on Labor Day.  I found James Howell and another one of the fellows (named John) that I met at JOMO.  They had a tarp stretched out under the shade of a hickory tree next to a booth that sold knapped blad…


  5. Posted by Heber White Boy on 10/03/2007 at 9:06 pm

    I want soo bad to live in the middle of no were. I want to learn how to and what to gather and do all of these cool things that you know how and are learning how to do.


  6. Posted by Rix on 10/04/2007 at 7:35 am

    Living in the country helps, but don’t let living in town stop you, Trevor. I live in a very residential area in Fayetteville. It would probably surprise you to know how wild a city block can get. I bet you have things growing in your yard that you could eat. And, heck, Heber Springs even has an urban deer hunt because the deer populations have swarmed the town.

    By the way, Heber may not be right in the middle of nowhere, but it’s at least on the edge of it.


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