W is for Weeping Willow: Our backyard tree. Twenty-third of twenty-six posts in the April 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Endwell: My Elementary Years”— where my genealogy journey germinated. Wish me luck!
When professional arborists go into an unfamiliar forest, particularly in the tropics, they count on local residents who grew up there to help them identify various species.
With no formal training, these locals “just know” the trees they have lived with since childhood — and for me that tree was our back yard Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica).
Propagating the willow
When our family arrived in Endwell, N.Y. in 1957, my second childhood home had no major flora to speak of. There were the grassy yards and some tiny shrubs on one side — but no stately pines or other trees like we had at the farm to cast their long shadows or for us kids to climb.
My dad grew up in New York’s forested Adirondacks region and descended from several generations of amateur landscapers and home gardeners — so he was always up for a horticultural challenge.
And the other dads on our new block were there to help — suggesting he grow a Weeping Willow in a glass of water from a cutting, just like they had done.
Budget-conscious Dad loved the idea — after all, a free tree! — so he gratefully accepted cuttings from other willows on the block and started them rooting. He also took some backyard photos — possibly to plan his planting.
Our willow takes root
The water-loving willow cuttings grew quickly — and before long Dad was able to plant the choicest one in our back yard not far from the swing set in the above photo.
As my younger brothers (and later my sisters) and I grew, so did our Weeping Willow — taller and taller each year, its droopy branches sweeping the ground or whipping wildly on windy days. And best of all it had a three-pronged trunk — perfect for getting a foothold to start climbing!
Nature’s backyard gym
Once the willow was big enough, we kids and our neighborhood playmates would regularly climb the tree — daring one another to go higher and testing the tree’s limbs before inching out onto them. Sometimes there would be several kids up the tree — with more of us yelling from the ground below as we waited our turn to ascend.
This was all well and good when our Weeping Willow was a reasonable size. But as it grew and grew, so did danger of one of us tumbling out of it. So after my brother Jeff fell and required stitches, my parents put an end to our tree climbing.
Mom decided an obstacle was the best deterrent. So she had Dad build a platform where the three trunks met — then installed a large plaster statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary to stare down any child who dared go near the tree again.
Our willow’s sad demise
Dad’s earlier excitement over growing a free tree eventually gave way to aggravation about the willow’s proclivities. For one thing, it attracted beetles — hundreds of them — and they left sticky droppings on the leaves and yard that drove him nuts.
For another, the tree cast such a shadow that no grass grew in its vicinity — messing up Dad’s perfect suburban lawn.
Then came the realization by other dads on the street that the roots of their moisture-seeking willows were now breaking through their water pipes — and soon there were landscapers up and down the block chopping down willow trees and grinding out their stumps.
Our willow tree never harmed our pipes so it survived the mass slaughter — and it was still standing when we moved away in the late 1960s.
Yet although it was later removed by subsequent owners, our backyard Weeping Willow lives on in memory — the tree I “just know” from my elementary years.
Up next, X is for X-pletives deleted: I learn to curse. Please stop back!
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