It began a few years ago, with three small figurines — a white winged angel, a faceless blue woman and a replica of the Venus of Willendorf — all tucked into the tree’s head-high hollow. Ann and I noticed this tableau as we made our way uphill past a right-hand row of Italian graves and sarcophagi (this is your only clue about the tree’s location), and paused. “Somebody made a shrine,” we said. “Cool.”
After a time, and many walks, the blue woman disappeared, to be replaced by a folded dollar bill. The angel also took flight, as did the Venus, but a St. Christopher’s medal took their place along with a handful of coins. Ann, excited that the shrine was becoming a Giving Tree, wanted to make it official. So she created a “Love Hope Joy” stone reading “The Giving Tree” on one side and “Please leave a gift for the tree — a community project” on the other. After placing it prominently in the tree’s hollow, the offerings poured forth.
A stuffed (replica) goldfinch was soon added to one of the branches, along with some Mardi Gras beads and a faux zebra-skin ribbon. Some time after that, a star-shaped Betty Boop medallion was hung from a jutting piece of bark. The dollar bill was long gone at this point, but we figured the person who took it needed it. (At least, that’s what we wanted to believe.) A creepy Polaroid of a half-naked bearded man was also resident for about three weeks, as was a twice-disappearing (and thrice-appearing) toy hand emblazoned with the word “TRUTH.” Sea shells, an arrowhead, crystals, a peso note, a small plastic snowman, gold and silver jewelry-chains — all of these have been there and gone at some time or another.
One day Ann was thrilled to find that someone had added another painted rock to the shrine: this one reading “For it is in giving that we receive.” The “coexist” sign was installed after someone left some missionary tracts at the base of the tree. (The tracts only lasted a couple of days, but the sign endures at this writing.)
The idea of a secret treasure hidden in plain sight — and one that’s maintained by an unknown number of people — is something both tenuous and wonderful. Seeing what’s new now is a highlight of our walks. I wonder — what will be there next?