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BELLAIRE • MEMORIAL • RIVER OAKS • TANGLEWOOD • WEST UNIVERSITY

The Wishing Trees

In Pumpkin Park, trees carry dreams

Jennifer Oakley
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Alexandra Knight

BEST WISHES The project Alexandra Knight envisioned has come true with the creation of The Wishing Trees. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

Once there was a tree…. and she loved a little boy. – “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein

Two years ago, while undergoing treatment for sarcoma cancer, Alexandra Knight wished for trees. Inspired by her two young sons and Shel Silverstein’s poem, “The Giving Tree,” Alexandra dreamed about trees that would make people happy. And then, in a turn of what some would call kismet, Alexandra came across a story that crystallized her wishes.

As she was recuperating from chemotherapy, Alexandra saw a segment on the NBC Nightly News about a woman in San Francisco who transformed a tree outside her front door into a wishing tree. The woman said the holiday season brought her down, and she wanted to turn the tide. So, she strung lights on her tree, provided ribbons and pens and tags and offered them to the public for free. What started as a way to cheer herself up morphed into a steady pilgrimage of people who traveled to her tree to write messages of hope and love and dreams.

And every day the boy would come and he would gather her leaves and make them into crowns and play king of the forest. He would climb up her trunk and swing from her branches and eat apples. And they would play hide-and-go-seek. And when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade. And the boy loved the tree....very much.

Lying on her living room couch, Alexandra looked out her front windows towards River Oaks Pumpkin Park and she envisioned Wishing Trees in place of a concrete slab that had once housed Cinderella’s Pumpkin Coach. It seemed fitting that a park named after a fairy tale would have trees that sprout wishes.

“When the idea came and I saw the video, I was actually in the middle of treatment,” says Alexandra, the elegant and graceful owner and designer of Alexandra Knight, Inc., a small luxury-goods accessories company. “I had 11 rounds of chemo that lasted over 10 months, for sarcoma cancer. It was a very trying time for me physically and mentally, but an aggressive treatment was recommended because of the second sarcoma. I believe I was the one really who needed the hope and the wishes, so why not make a tree grove across the street to offer them up.”

Thomson and Truett Knight

WISHFUL THINKING Thomson and Truett Knight (from left) help take care of the Wishing Trees in River Oaks Pumpkin Park. They also frequently pen their own wishes. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

“I wish I could have a better life,”  “I wish people would accept us all, for whoever or whatever we are” – anonymous tags on The Wishing Trees

Alexandra shared her idea of planting Wishing Trees with husband Brady and sons Thomson, now 10, and Truett, now 8. The boys, who attend River Oaks Baptist School, loved the concept and they decided the trees would become a family affair. Together, they planned to get the trees planted, the materials available and then tend to the trees so that park goers would always be able to enjoy them.

“It’s been an amazing experience to watch it all unfold,” says Brady Knight, owner of Knight Planning Corporation. “The trees represent an outlet of hope, love and optimism. I feel like our community and nation are starving for something, anything positive. The trees capture a person’s curiosity and puts a smile on their faces – that is a definite positive in today’s environment.”

Once the Knight family decided to be “all in” for the trees, Alexandra knew who to query for help. She asked friend Susan Cooley, whom she calls “the Grande Dame of River Oaks parks,” to assist with the legwork involved.

Cooley, president of the non-profit Friends of River Oaks Parks, says she was on board the moment Alexandra started talking about the Wishing Trees. “I thought about these trees and thought, ‘This is so fabulous.’ Because the Cinderella Pumpkin had been removed to be refurbished, there was this perfect space – and that is a magical place and something special had to replace it.” It took less than a year to work out the logistics. (The renovated Cinderella Pumpkin eventually was moved to the park’s play area and unveiled in March 2016.)

While Alexandra worked on signage and pulling together tags, ribbons, scissors and colorful pens, Cooley worked on city permits – and finding the right type of trees to be planted. The trees needed to be sturdy enough to hold the tags but also small enough so that children could reach their branches. Cooley settled on a trio of Apricot Blossom Trees, which are also considered to bring good fortune.

“I wish she had loved me back,” “I wish someday that I will find my birth parents and be able to talk to them” – tags on The Wishing Trees

Cooley says that the three apricot trees have been a focal point of the park from the moment they were planted. Planted with some space between them, there is room for the branches to expand and grow, making room for all the wish tags.

“The trees in the park are a gathering place,” she says. “They open up conversations. I have met so many people out there, and they start up the conversations.” Cooley says both children and adults write out their wishes. “There are a lot of themes written on the tags,” she says. “There are a lot of themes about regrets and unrequited love. And a lot of prayerful gratitude.”

Alexandra says they intentionally created an easy process for park visitors to write their wishes. “There are instructions on the side of the supply hut and on the back of the large sign we made explaining the trees,” says Alexandra. “All you need to do is write your wish, note of gratitude or dream on the tag and hang it on the tree. You can embellish it with different color pens we supply, we have lots of different colored ribbon to tie it on – we try to offer creative supplies to help craft their perfect wish tag.”

The supply box is situated next to the trees and works on an honor system. Visitors take the items they need to write their wishes, but don’t take the materials out of the park.

And for those who cannot visit the trees in person, Alexandra has made wishing a virtual reality. The trees can be followed via social media on Instagram at @thewishing_trees; Facebook at The Wishing Trees at River Oaks Park, the website thewishingtrees.org and email at wishes@thewishingtree.org. “We created these for people who could not physically visit the trees but want to take advantage,” she says. “They can email us their wish and we will write it and tie it onto the tree on their behalf.”

wishes

River Oaks Pumpkin Park visitors write on tags and post their wishes and dreams. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

“I wish I had many friends,” “I wish for no more animals in cages,” “I wish I could ride a real horse” – tags on The Wishing Trees

Alexandra believes that the simple act of taking pen to paper can be transformative for people, allowing them to voice their wishes in a tangible way. “I really loved the idea of children and adults alike having a place to go together and make wishes and write about their dreams and what they are grateful for,” she says. “I think these trees bring happiness to so many in different ways. Every time I visit the trees they give me something for thought and I leave rich, full and a little better every time.”

Southgate residents Jaime and Greg Cnossen recently brought their daughters, Bree, 6, and Emily, 3, to the park and became enchanted with the trees. “My daughter saw the trees when we were walking up to the park and discovered they were wishing trees,” says Jaime Cnossen. “It is so neat to see this in the neighborhood – the trees are magical.” Bree promptly posted wishes to have a horse and to fly.

The Wishing Trees have been open to the public for a little more than a year now, and Alexandra says that she loves to watch how visitors react. Last spring, right before son Thomson’s Post Oak Little League baseball team was to start playoffs, Alexandra invited the team to their house for a party. Alexandra gave each player a tag and a pencil and then took them across to the Wishing Trees. The boys immediately gravitated to the trees but their wishes surprised her.

“The tags were so moving,” she recalls. “I expected every single one of them to say, ‘Let’s win the playoffs,’ or ‘I wish to be a MLB star,’ and I was amazed because the tags read, ‘Thanks for getting us this far in the playoffs,’ ‘I wish to have coach Wiley again next year,’ and ‘Thank you for supporting my family,’ along with some heartbreaking ones that gave a glimpse into the pressures these children carry and hold on their shoulders to be the best. Sharing this with our coach created such compassion, love and support around the players, and many of the boys have been back several times after.”

As with the Trevi Fountain in Rome, where tourists throw coins in while making a wish, visitors have steadily been making their way to Pumpkin Park to make their wishes. To keep up with the traffic, the Knight family spends most Sundays replenishing supplies and recycling old tags that get time worn. It’s a way to stay connected to the trees and keep giving back to those who want to wish.

“It makes me feel really warm inside because we are making a really big impact on people,” says 10-year-old Thomson Knight.

Alexandra Knight

Alexandra Knight writes her wish to hang on one of the Wishing Trees in River Oaks Pumpkin Park. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

“I don’t need very much now,” said the boy. “just a quiet place to sit and rest.
I am very tired.” “Well,” said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could, “well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest.” And the boy did. And the tree was happy.”

“I love ‘The Giving Tree’ poem because the tree is selfless,” says Alexandra. “I want to create more happiness and love legacies in life. When people have the courage to write a wish, they are one step closer to having it come true.” Alexandra’s face lights up when she looks at the trees. “I love to watch those tags flutter in the wind,” she smiles. “Those are the wishes at work.”

Editor’s note: To donate to Pumpkin Park, see houstonparksboard.org/projects/. For more information, email FriendsOfRiverOaksPark@gmail.com.

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