Suspended showers of gold and green, punctuated by soaring blue fill my sight. I am at my most content, sunk into the comfy oversize hammock under the willow tree, a fresh-baked brownie in one hand and a well-worn copy of Little Women in the other. Though my favorite place to be is wrapped up in the welcoming arms of a book, though this book is one of my most treasured, still I cannot help breaking the surface of my book world every dozen pages to lift my gaze to the canopy of willow leaves almost blocking out the azure sky above me. The unexpected slashes of blue only heighten the gold and green glory of the willow tree, its rough brown branches twisted into bizarre spirals that trap me in daydreams. Where I am, below the willow, I am completely hidden, encased in long, slender branches caressing the ground. I am in my own private world where the golden sunlight filters lovingly between verdant leaves and branches.
The willow tree was our best plaything, better even than the old metal swing set from the drive-in movies, which one time had sent Mom hurtling down the steep slide and landing four feet away, after we waxed it down with car wax. My three brothers and I could play Tarzan on and around the willow for hours. Sometimes we would grab its trailing branches and hang on them, but more often we scrabble up the rough bark to the fork in the tree at about head height, while one of us would grab a fistful of slippery green branches and hand the “jungle vines” off to the kid waiting his or her turn at the fork of the tree, after which said Tarzan impersonator would grasp the bunch of branches and jump into space, howling Tarzan-esque jungle calls and stripping most of the leaves from his or her cluster of willow branches. One after another, over and over again, we would swing out with great exhilaration and critique the height and distance of one another’s leaps.
When we weren’t playing Tarzan, we were stripping the bark off branches to make homemade bows and arrows and aiming our best shots on bowstrings made of strips of bark. We wrote secret messages on the dried and peeled bark after we read that Native Americans used to write on birch bark paper. All too often we stripped the longest green and supple branches and used them as whips. With our words tumbling excitedly our of our mouths in whirlwinds, we created forests, castles, pirate ships, rocket ships and rafts, dashing in and out of the willow’s green circle of branches and up and down its trunk. We sat on the riding lawn mower under the tree and constructed a plan to run away together, because that’s the kind of adventure the kids in our books had. And, one at a time, never crowded together, we would read in the hammock. On August’s sweltering nights, two or three of us kids would bring out sheets and pillows and sleep together in the hammock, with the fresh night air on our faces, mosquitos whining at our exposed fingers, watching stars twinkle at us through the branches and listening to the sound of the branches rustling in the wind.
We had nearly an acre of yard to play in, but the willow tree often seemed to be at the center of our games. It was my favorite place to lie back and let my imagination run, just staring up at the mesmerizing cocoon of green and gold surrounding me. Though it is gone now, I will never forget the feeling of contentment I had at being inside its branches, the smell and feel of rain dripping off impossibly green leaves in the spring, the fires of sunsets that slipped through its branches, the hours of spinning stories of our adventures with my brothers.