“The concept of the wishing tree is very old,” says Jane Hamel, the “owner” — as some would call her — of the Wishing Tree at 21st and Galer.
“Originally, it’s Japanese, but we saw it first in San Francisco,” Hamel said. She has lived on 21st Ave E since 2013 and says her previous place in California just wasn’t right for the project. After noticing the number of people walking and jogging through the neighborhood, Hamel took a chance and put out her first container of wish paper and markers in November of 2014.
Hamel’s wish tree is a work in progress. The first batch of wishes were ruined by Seattle’s wonderful wet weather and in February of 2015 she took it down. Throughout the spring, people stopped as she worked in the garden. “What happened to the wishing tree?” she said they asked. Some were concerned the tree had been vandalized. Hamel said she realized how important the wishing tree was to the neighborhood but she needed a new system. With the help of a few generous community members, a machine to laminate wishes arrived, followed by a bench for people to sit on while they wished.
In November of 2015, as a gift from her engineer husband, Hamel received a new way to display the wishes of the wish tree using bamboo and wire. Now, she is running out of room for wishes yet again. With thousands of wishes covering the tree, Hamel sometimes relies on passersby to tie wishes while she is out of town.
Hamel said she receives up to 25 wishes per day. “It depends on the weather” she says, “there’s a little girl about four houses down and at least twice a week she wishes for a dog, I told her mother that it’s important that she gets her a dog, because she’s going stop believing in the wishing tree if she doesn’t get a dog.”
Not all of the wishes are as lighthearted. Some delve deeper into topics like addiction, housing, and health concerns for loved ones. In a way, Hamel is a gatekeeper to some of people’s deepest secrets and most desperate wants. It is something she doesn’t take lightly. “I feel kinda blessed. I’m not religious in a traditional sense, but I feel like the universe has given me a gift. It’s a gift, It’s also a responsibility, but it’s a gift. There are many times when I tear up. It’s very intense, and it’s very sweet.”
As she stands with a stack of 20-plus cards, she counts six unique languages. She reads aloud from one of the cards. “I wish my father could be released from the grip of Alzheimer’s and pass peacefully,” reads one. She also remembers a man that came by and said he had “wished for babies and it worked” — twins, in fact.
Hamel has yet to put up a wish herself this year. “I wish people could see the beauty in the world around them,” she says of one possible candidate. “It’s easy for me as a white woman in a pretty house on Capitol Hill to say that, it seems trite, but I mean it in a way that it’s all around us. It’s everywhere, I wish everybody could see a little bit of that.”
If you can’t make it to North Capitol Hill, you can still view the wishes on Facebook. Check out Wishing Tree Seattle for a small selection of the wishes that Hamel photographs before she hangs them on the tree.