There is a tree in the parking strip of a little neighborhood park, near the Salt Lake City downtown area that I had noticed for many years and thought odd. I have vague memories of someone telling me about this tree—that people 'worship' it. It is a big tree, an elm tree I believe, that is technically property of the City.
The tree is noticeable because of the sturdy wood and metal stair structure built in front of it, which is often plastered with pictures of Christian saints. There are always candles burning around it somewhere (those big tall glass ones with pictures of Jesus or Mary on them) and often fake flowers are tucked in various places.
About three years ago — on a whim —I decided to just stop instead of driving past as I normally would do, and walk up the stairs to see what the deal was with this tree. The platform at the top of the stairs was at such a height that at the top of the stairs, I stood right in front of the healed over face of a cut-off branch, which was about a foot in diameter and looked like it was cut off many, many years ago.
I was astonished to find the face (no longer flat, but now worn back and quite featured) containing two holes that were filled with water, like tiny pools. The water seeped over and ran imperceptibly down the trunk of the tree, the bark damp and worn away along the path of the water.
I don't know enough about trees to know if this is something that certain trees do . . . slowly seep water, but it seemed rather amazing to me, having never heard of it before.
There was a framed photo of that same flat branch face screwed onto the tree just above the real, live face —a faded photo where one could make out a small shape of what indeed looked like a Madonna, out of which water seeped.
After that first visit, I went back to see this unusual tree every so often. I would stand on the platform and give gratitude to the tree, tune into her and maybe ask a question. Often answers I heard were very gentle and very wise.
One visit on a winter’s day over a year ago, I was horrified to find a railroad spike and a large nail pounded into the opening where the water comes up. There was no water . . . it seemed to be blocked.
It REALLY upset me, for days.
I was surprised at the depth and ferocity of my anger. I felt as if someone had violated something in me at a deep level—some place beyond my personal sense of self, beyond my one human life.
I felt had to do something. Of course,I tried to pry the thing out—no way was it coming out without some major force.
I asked the tree about how she felt about the whole thing.
What I heard the tree say was, "It's OK, don't upset yourself. The person who did this is in great pain. I am not hurt. Thought you cannot see it, my water will eventually rust iron away . . ."
I visited the tree two or three times that week, to pay homage and give love to her (and me).
Eventually, I ended up writing a note to whoever had perpetrated this crime, and in a lightly falling snow, left it in a ziplock baggie tucked into the tree. I expressed my anger, and I expressed forgiveness toward them, imagining what their life experience must be to do such a thing.
About a week later, I visited the tree and THE SPIKE AND NAIL WERE GONE. There were flowers and balloons decorating the stairway and the tree itself—a grand celebration!!
I was ecstatic! Whoever takes care of this tree had gotten the spike and nail out. I felt great joy, and appreciation for the community who recognized this sacred being in our midst.
I visited the tree last week, as my wedding draws near. I noticed how scarred the once flat face of a cut-off and healed-over branch of this great big tree had become —and even burned it seemed to me . . . something new from last visit. And yet, the water was still there. Now in several pools, spaces enlarged in the wood by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that were bigger now to hold more water.
There likely are MANY stories surrounding that tree, as evidenced by her quite scarred and scraped up sacred face.
Yet the water keeps flowing . . .