The Wishing Tree

e_p10_streetAs the name implies, this is a tree associated with wishes. This one is located on the south edge of a park at Jervis St. in the West End between Burnaby St. and the alley which eventually becomes Drake St. The written wishes began appearing at the end of this summer of 2016. They are written on cards or bits of paper and are as varied as the authors. Some express universal aspirations of happiness or love and peace like the one in the photo. Others are more personal and can range from wishing for beauty, health, success, or how local people greet one another.

Why this particular tree and location is a mystery except it’s a public place and its branches overhanging a park bench are easily accessible. But this is not an isolated phenomenon. The concept of wishes associated with trees is common throughout many cultures of the world. These trees are often in places associated with something sacred, spiritual or where healing has taken place. Many trees have medicinal properties and roots going deep into the earth reaching precious elements including water.

A wishing tree is often associated with a spirit or spirits. In Ireland, the hawthorne tree, often near a well, is tied with ribbons to ask for blessings from saints, deities or even the “wee people” (fairy folk). There is also an Irish/Scottish tradition of hammering coins into a tree for good luck. Hawthorne, oak and sycamore trees are employed. In India, the banyan tree is considered to be wish fulfilling. In Japan, there is the ancient Tanabata festival where wishes are hung on bamboo. At the 2008 G8 Summit in Japan, the Japanese prime minister asked the G8 leaders to celebrate the festival by hanging wishes, which could then be implemented by them to make the world better.

Closer to home we have the cedar tree, considered sacred to coastal First Nations. Little wonder since it provided for so many basic needs in terms of clothing, housing and transportation. First Nations people believed the cedar to be imbued with a spirit, like all things in creation. It was thought people who cut down and killed a tree by poor harvesting techniques would be cursed by the spirit of other cedar trees. The author of The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben, believes there is a scientific basis proving that trees communicate. He was recently at a sold out presentation at The Vancouver Writers Fest. Being long lived, the cedar tree is a powerful symbol of strength and revitalization. Some Coast Salish groups believed placing afterbirths in the stump of a large cedar would ensure long lives.

Now back to our little tree in the Jervis Street Park. It is commonly known as a California Lilac, or Blueblossom. It is a species of Ceanothus which can grow naturally along the northern California coast up to B.C., reaching 20 feet in height. This one was surely planted, and may be a smaller variety. It is about 10 feet tall and has purple flowers which emit a sweet fragrance in spring. The Ceanothus does have medicinal properties, but I don’t want to be responsible for promoting those. The wishes are now getting a bit washed out with all the rain, but new ones can always be added.