Walter has some friends who don’t know each other.
There might be half a dozen people, maybe even up to a dozen. Or maybe just me and one other. But none of them know who the rest are.
Not even Walter himself. Because he’s dead.
(Note: I’ve changed Walter’s name as I have no way of getting permission from his family to tell this story.)
Earlier this spring, a friend and I were coming down a steep trail on a local mountain. As we came around a huge boulder, we suddenly realized there was a woman on the far side of it. Sitting with her back against the boulder. Sobbing.
To one side of her, there was a small green tree. A pretty little tree, but not what I would consider a native pine, spruce or aspen. It looked more like the decorative evergreens that florists use for contrast in a pot of blossoms.
A small white sash hung around the tree: “This tree planted for our son Walter.”
I squatted down at her eye level. “Your son?” I asked.
She nodded. “He was just 33.”
“I can’t get over it,” she said.
My friend and I shared a glance. “You never will,” I said, sadly, and explained, “We’ve both lost sons too.”
A few more moments of silence together.
Then we left her to grieve alone, with her son’s memorial tree.
Every time I’ve taken that trail since I’ve poured some of my water bottle onto the ground around that little tree. It has been a long dry spring and a very hot summer. The tree will need help to survive. So I also built a ring of rocks around the tree, to retain more of the water – if and when it ever rains.
But I’m not the only one who cares.
Someone carried a four-litre jug of water 1,000 feet up the hill, and left it, for watering the tree if it looks dry.
Someone else brought a second jug.
Someone else left a note: “Tree watered June 27.”
Amazingly, in this blistering hot summer, the unlikely little tree seems to be surviving. It has gained height and has filled out.
I don’t know, I can’t know, if Walter’s tree will survive the “heat dome” we have been living under.
But watering that tree still matters, even if it succumbs to heat and drought.
There’s no reason why strangers should care about that tree. I doubt if any of them ever knew Walter personally. Certainly, I didn’t.
Watering Walter’s tree is just an act of kindness. And not some “random act” – lugging a full jug of water up that slope has to be intentional.
Watering a tree that may not make it anyway, for a person we don’t know, may not make much sense. But still, I think it’s valuable.
Because every act sets up other acts. On the negative side, an act of greed incites another act of greed. An act of hate tills the soil for another act of hate.
If one act of kindness fosters another act of kindness, then, no matter how insignificant that act, watering Walter’s tree will honour his memory in ways his mother couldn’t have imagined.
Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country.