Bag of Wishes
The other day I took my son to a park in our neighborhood to climb an old tree. It has no branches, therefore it has no limbs or leaves. It is just a trunk broken off at the top, but its base is a twisting mass of bulbous bulges and crannies so wide that it nearly doubles the circumference of the trunk of the tree, encircling it like a beautiful yet grotesque girdle that reaches from the ground to my eyebrows.
The tree isn’t much of a tree anymore, but to my six year old son it is a mountain to summit and demand photographic evidence from me to attest to his triumph. It is situated just over a sidewalk where the heights seem more perilous than when facing away from the street, where the drop off is halved in size and the surface a plush grass, cool to the touch even when everything else is hot.
Where its roots have outgrown the soil there are squirrel-sized caverns that lead deep into the earth, a dry and shady shelter for who knows what lucky critter and its family. The upper trunk is hollow but only a small hand can fit through the vertical crack, or a hive of bees, or a small bird possibly. It seems old enough to have housed thousands of creatures, once in its branches and now beneath and between its bones.
I ran my hands along the only verdant part of the old oak where a sable of vibrant lichens and moss covered one of its old shoulders, inspecting each curve of the tree for rot so that my son could safely maneuver to scale this giant when I felt a soft spot where a pile of dead bark and leaves and soil had accumulated. I pressed down to make sure it was solid to step on and brushed away a bit of the debris when I saw I had uncovered the corner of a plastic bag. The boy was rounding the corner and I didn’t know what might be in the bag, but I knew it might be something he shouldn’t see so I palmed it and allowed him to pass. After a quick glance at my hand, I saw that it seemed harmless- no syringes or other vices- just a folded up piece of stationary and what looked like flat seedpods or feathers.
Now, I’m an adventurer, a writer, and a mad reader, and when I saw that it wasn’t just trash, but probably a letter, my mind took off on a wild chain of ‘what ifs’…
What if it was a love letter, written by someone who had left it there after providing a clue to their admirer, but something had gone wrong- the desired had no interest and never sought the hidden confession, yet the desirer, though decades had passed and now old and widowed, still to this day woke up with the sun to hurriedly walked to the tree to see if their letter had finally been received.
What if the letter had never had a particular recipient- that it was meant for whoever came upon it and took that second glance to distinguish it from an empty wrapper. Someone with an affinity for mystery had decided to leave an important account of their life, impart a wisdom, or a poem, or to share a secret with the universe that could no longer be kept by one person.
My son had spotted one of the massive herons that nests in the trees of our neighborhood and decided to try to sneak up on it while it pecked at the ground for various insects. I took that moment to open the bag and take out the letter where a fluttering of feathers spilled out onto the tree and I quickly gathered them back up. They were heron feathers, obviously gathered from the area by whoever had hidden the letter. I unfolded the piece of paper and gave it a quick scan, and saw that it wasn’t very old, and the phrases were those of an everyday conversation- how are your cats- I like the stories you tell me- and ‘here are some feathers so you can makes some wishes.’ It seemed to be written by an older person, I’m guessing a male, and his English was a touch broken.
After I saw that I had stumbled upon a sweet game being played between two people who were strangers to me, I felt very anxious to put everything back as I had found it so that I didn’t ruin the game somehow. I made sure all of the wish-feathers were safely tucked back into the folded paper and made triply sure that the bag was sealed and fully hidden under the shroud of mulch and dead leaves, but not until after I’d snapped a photo of my findings. After all, while the writer hadn’t penned the letter to me, it was still exciting to have discovered it; and while some may say I should have left it there, undiscovered, I say, “What if I hadn’t opened it? How could you expect me to sleep at night wondering what it was about, or if the person it was intended for ever came for it? I would be up with the sun to this day, since I first saw it…”