The Wishing Tree

We all love a good wish. We wish on stars and recite time honored rhymes while doing so to make it extra official. We throw pennies in fountains and down wishing wells. Every year we blow out birthday candles as we make a wish. We wish people a happy birthday and send our best wishes in cards and correspondences. We wish people good luck. Leprechauns and genies grant us three wishes. So I hear – I have yet to encounter any. The wishbone is greatly sought after a Thanksgiving Day meal. People wish on eyelashes, a full moon, acorns, falling leaves, and feathers. The wishing culture is alive and well. I’d like to think this is because we are hopeful rather than dissatisfied.

We also wish on trees.

The Riley Wishing Tree is a phenomenon that popped up along the Military Ridge State Trail. Area middle schoolers started it as an art project in the middle of summer and it’s still going strong. Hundreds have anonymously posted their wishes on an enormous cottonwood tree to be shared and read. A plastic box filled with tags and markers is kept on a round table near the tree. The tree provides hope, inspiration, and a sense of community. It is a beautiful and powerful image to behold.

I headed out to the wishing tree with my friend Kristin on an afternoon late in October. We’ve biked on this trail before and enjoy the farms, woods, wetlands, and prairies provided for scenery. Our sole destination for this visit was to take in all the wishing tree had to offer. Discovering new ways to enjoy an old activity is delightful. We drove separately, parked close by, and approached the tree on foot. Future bike rides will evoke memories of the wishing tree long after the wishes have been removed. Maybe one of us wished for more rides.

The wishing tags are remarkably waterproof. I had suspected that over time the wishes would be blurred from rain and time out in the elements. The legibility of wishes has held up over time. I find it unexplainable. I’ve always been one to think unbelievable things are possible. Just maybe this wishing tree was magical.

What types of things did people wish for? There were lots of wishes for good health. Cures for cancer, a vaccine for COVID-19, and healthy children were repeat wishes. Wishes for peace and a better world circled the tree multiple times. Many wished for people to give trees the attention that is given to screens and computers. There were wishes to carry on Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s legacy, equality, Black Lives Matter, and the outcome of the presidential election. It appeared the tree had distinct political leanings, but it’s more likely that the tree gets visited by those who want to make the world a better place. I didn’t see one single wish for more greed and fear in the world.

Kristin and I began reading some wishes aloud. It was another way to honor the wishes. One woman wished her husband would have more compassion for other people. We both wanted to know the backstory for that wish. One tag simply stated the writer would someday marry Amanda. That’s darn romantic. I hope long into the future the couple tells their grandchildren about the time Grandpa wished on a tree to marry Grandma. Wishes penned in children’s writing hoped for pets. One wished for no allergies so the writer could have a dog. Some kids wished for fun bike rides. All were moments in time captured by individuals meant to project into the future. There was something sacred about reading wish after wish. It was a moving experience that left me feeling more connected to nature and humanity.

To put hopes and dreams out in public is empowering. Wishing can help us identify what our hearts are yearning after. Wishing can help motivate us and lead us to take action. Wishing can be the first step in making it so.

Prior to arriving at the tree, I decided I would phrase my wishes as intentions. Phrasing an intention with “I AM” where I already have what I’m seeking would give that intention more energy than a wish. Already having something is more powerful than wanting, needing, hoping, dreaming, and wishing. Yet, reading all the wishes in the presence of this magnificent tree seemed to give them extra power. I wrote some thoughts expressed as intentions and some as wishes. It’s good to cover all bases.

Wishing is universal. Folktales have themes of wishing carefully. Some are cautionary tales that we need to be careful what we wish for or not to wish foolishly. A few have even been written about wishing trees. Many cultures have traditions involving wishing. Another friend shared with me that the wishing tree reminded her of traditional wishing kiosks at temples in Japan where wishes are made at the start of a new year.

I have lots of wishes. You could probably guess a few of them and be right. I will actively work to turn those I have any control over into real life realities. Wishes with actionable steps transform wishes into achieved goals. Maybe they were goals in the first place. Seeds of ideas take root somewhere just like a seed did that grew into the wishing tree.

Wishes are tender expressions of our hearts. We wish for love and kindness. We wish the best for ourselves and wish others the best. I know people who hug trees. I am one such person. To me, the wishes hug this special tree like a person could. Our invisible arms are wrapped around it and one another. We hold ourselves up as we hold up one another. And we keep wishing.