From a distance, the tree behind the Dalí Museum looks like a willow, its long branches dripping with rainbow leaves.
Come closer and you'll see that it's a Florida ficus, two stories tall, whose thin limbs have been laced with plastic streamers. Slips of paper are knotted along the streamers — gold and crimson, cobalt and teal, a different color for every day of the week. On the back of their admissions wristbands, people from around the world have penned their hopes, do-overs and dreams.
Hundreds of wishes blowing in the wind.
Most are universal: "Health and happiness," "World peace."
Many are predictable: "Win the lottery."
Some are so personal they're painful: "Please let my mom accept me and Eric."
"I wish that my parents would stop fighting and that my dad wouldn't be so verbally abusive towards me."
"That my son Alfie has a bright and bountiful future and turns into a man that I can love again — as I did when he was a boy."
• • •
A small sign beside the trunk says the Wish Tree has roots in Hindu and Scottish traditions. Museum spokeswoman Karen White says, "Yoko Ono has one."
The idea is simple: Write down your deepest desire, get it out, tie it to the tree.
"Writing down your wishes makes them feel more real," says White. "It makes you feel like they're more likely to come true."
It doesn't matter if you believe in God or fate or karma. You don't even have to think the wishing will work. The mere act of adding your individual want to so many others can be a welcome unburdening.
"I wish I will get the courage to do things for myself."
"I wish for him to fall in love with me."
"I wish I could fly."
• • •
The tree was a transplant. "We rescued it," White says. Uprooted during a 2010 storm in South Florida, the flimsy ficus was trucked to St. Petersburg and planted behind the new Dalí Museum, where it blew down again. And again.
Finally, workers shored it up with cables, thick lines spoking around its thin trunk.
"In August 2011, we inaugurated it as a Wish Tree," White says. "Ever since then, it has filled up fast."
Wristbands fill 50 emerald ribbons streaming from the tree; they blanket the trunk and every branch within arm's reach. People have even wrapped their wishes around the roots. Some messages have faded with the weather, some are indecipherable. Many are written in other languages: Spanish and French, German and Greek.
Every few months, museum workers harvest the wishes and type them into a computer file:
"Lots of money, camera, lunch box."
"I wish for a great career in real estate!"
"I wish I would get my first kiss!"
"I wish I was cool like Dalí and had my own anteater. Or could afford to go to Cambridge."
"To lead a friend to meet God."
• • •
On a bright, brisk afternoon last week, dozens of people dallied behind the Dalí, reading others' wishes, recording their own.
A man with a video camera recorded his wife while she scribbled on her wristband, then stretched on her toes to tie her hope high in the tree.
She kissed her husband when she was done, as if to seal the deal. He filmed that too, close-up, a happy ending to their day in the sun.
"It is very positive, is it not? To be surrounded by the good wishes of all people you do not know?" the woman said afterward, as her husband translated. Her name is Oushna Suved; her husband is Yuri. They are both 48 and had traveled from Ukraine to see Florida.
"I felt the energy and wished to leave my own wish," she said, through her husband.
And what did she want?
"My wish is to know English well."
• • •
Each slip of paper is a story. A beginning — or an end.
"I hope that all the mommies get to have babies."
"I wish to be an angel, thank you."
As the sun began to set behind the museum, a dad parked his son's stroller inside the streamers. The baby, 8-month-old Joshua Burke, kept laughing, trying to catch the ribbons. His brother, 3-year-old Ethan, wanted to swing on them.
Their mom watched for a while, enjoying the end of their afternoon, the beginning of their three-week vacation from England. Then Karen Burke, 38, slipped off her green wristband and fished a pen from her purse. She wrote: "Rest in peace, Mum."
Her mother had died two weeks earlier. "Maybe she's looking down right now," Karen told her husband, trying to smile. "That's what I wish for."
She reached up and knotted the note on a branch above her baby's head. He had fallen asleep there, in the shadows of the ficus, surrounded by wishes:
"Jessica's mom to get better"
"For a puppy like Lucy's"
"I wish to finish school and be more outgoing and not worried about people judging me"
"Mad hair styling and make-up swagger skills, success, health, love"
"More than anything, I would hope to make my films to share my own visions with as many as would see them."
"Meet Chuck Norris"
"For Arta, the sugar glider"
"I wish for freedom from my eating disorder and the will for a happy life"
"That those who need help, get help"
"I wish for Alissa to fully recover from Crohn's and I wish that Alissa makes me become a grandma"
"I wish a boyfriend. I wish that my life makes some difference in the world."
"I wish I could return all the flowers I have been given"
"I wish I could be the best singer ever — Jessie, UK, age 8"
"I wish Dave's job would get less stressful"
"I wish for rubber ants."
"I wish I could stop lying to my mom"
"I'd prefer a more moderate level of anxiety"
"I wish Jackie comes home safe, sound and soon"
"To complete myself instead of finding someone to complete me"
"For some really great hugs"
"I wish for time to slow down."
"For today to never end."
"I wish to remember this."
"I wish for everyone else's wishes to come true."
"Is it wrong to ask for 3 more wishes?"
Lane DeGregory can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8825.