The Closeness that Distance Built

We often say that we bought our house because of the trees. Of course, there were many factors that contributed to this decision, but the trees weighed heavily inside of that equation. These huge maples tower over our home, lining the sidewalk that sits just a few feet from the window next to me.

My husband walked my kids to elementary school beneath those trees each day. Every fall, they still make my neighborhood glow. They also drop pounds of helicopters for weeks at a time each spring, and a few winters back, one of them fell on our house.

On Christmas Eve.

Yeah, that was rather terrifying, and so we tend to monitor the trees.

That’s how we know that the one just outside of our living room window isn’t looking so good anymore. It’s lost most of its leaves, and the woodpeckers have gone to town on it in recent years. Many branches have fallen, and there is a huge hole at the base that fascinates neighborhood children. We’ve called the powers that be. They’re thinking about removing it.

But while we wait…

“We should put something in that tree to entertain the kids,” my husband suggested one night. It was early March, shortly after all of us were driven into our homes and the streets began bustling with walkers. There are a ton of kids in this neighborhood, and suddenly, all of them seemed to be occupying our sidewalk.

And were they ever curious about the tree.

So, we put one tiny gnome inside.

A few days later, someone placed a painted rock there, too.

We left a few more gnomes.

And then? Well, many more children began visiting.

They left little notes and stories and sketches.

They asked us to add fairies, so we made a garden for them. And then, friends helped us add a playground.

 

Nature happened.

Babies were born.

 

We added a door, and I began leaving poems behind it each day.

 

I began leaving invitations, too:

Count the number of ladybugs you see.

Let’s play tic-tac-toe on the sidewalk.

Create a list of names for our baby fairy.

I see stories here.

I really do. Every single day, the small children who visit the tree leave letters and drawings and stories for me. Some leave chapter books. One is writing an entire series of them.

My daughter is home for a short visit, and she’s using her design degree to build a little little free library for our gnome home. I plan to fill it with the books that our little visitors are writing. It is the sweetest gift she’s ever given me. Us.

I’ve never met the children who visit, but I do know some of their names. They scribble them on our sidewalk with chalk. They add them to their work, which just keeps growing.

I think they love to write so much because the fairies and gnomes always write back.

They celebrated the publication of one writer’s first chapter book by erecting monuments in her honor. Each stone represented a significant person, place, or thing mentioned inside of her book.

 

I’ve almost bumped into a few of them several times, but I–quick!–scurried away. I don’t want them to see me.

The tree is magic. 

Their writing is magic. 

And believe it or not, this distance is magic, too.

There’s more: I’ve been sharing fairy tree updates on my Facebook wall each day. My Aunt Patty loves reading them, and so does my husband’s work colleague. She always shares them on her wall, so that her friends can see. A few teachers have started their own fairy gardens, and others are leaving painted rocks in the woods. Some are building gnome homes along the staircases that lead to their brownstones and apartments.

Not too long ago, I spent the evening composing an extra-long fairy update as my city reverberated with flash-bang and the noise of helicopters overhead. The news was terrifying. My friends were afraid. Our city’s children were afraid.

Our Black friends and neighbors–they’re hurting.

Too many of them are dying.

I’ve been afraid.

I’m still afraid.

It’s good to believe in fairies right now. It’s good to believe in gnomes. It’s good to believe in writers and writing and learning and one another.

I’m appreciating the closeness that distance is building.

I wonder how you might create that kind of closeness too.

 

 

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