Beneath the surface of anything we love lies a good story. I love public parks for the physical and mental health benefits they provide. Park use cuts across many cultural divisions, providing encounters with those normally outside our bubble. I appreciate the exposure to new stories as much as I enjoy the physical activity and vitamin D. Our connection to the people and things we love can be amplified, more easily shared with others, and longer cherished, when those stories are put to paper.

A writer’s purpose is to extract that story, shape it, then share it with readers. That external focus cuts across the barriers erected by our social media use and news preferences, providing another benefit to the action of dowsing and sharing stories. The motivation behind our choices of what to love, who to hate, and how to be all depend upon the stories we seek, share, and retell. What’s the most important tool in the writer’s bag of tricks? Asking questions.

Finding answers by crafting questions is a concept obscured by our easy access to Google. We often overlook the fact that for all it’s omnipotence, Google is an immense yet worthless haystack of information until we ask our question. Likewise, people are a confusing jumble of things and ideas. As children, we solved this by asking questions. And then more questions. As writers, we can repurpose this kid tactic into a larger story creating strategy.

Because it’s less than a mile from my house, Andulka Park is a favorite. My daughter likes it because it has the largest sand box in the city parks system. Now, some may dispute this point factually. Others may play word police and claim Andulka’s sand boxes are really volleyball courts. On weekday mornings, when they are crawling with amateur archeologists and pre-K explorers, a functionalist like me says, “If it looks like a [sandbox] and it acts like a [sandbox]…”

And the tree fairy I peppered with my questions on a recent cold but clear day agrees. He (yes, they can be guys) said his name was Paul but I’m sure that’s a cover story when he is with his granddaughter.  Before Paul made his true face known, I learned that he worked at Riverside City College (just like me) and he retired in June (I’m a part-timer so I never will) and he’s not sure he is doing retirement right (I question myself to distraction). He liked Reagan way more than me, but I’ve found partisan differences minimized in parks. The tale he told poked holes in several of my pre-conceived notions about fairies, and parks.

Andulka is a young park; it will be eleven years old this April. As such, this park in the heart of our “City of Trees” was devoid of shade for its debut. The saplings planted in 2009 were skimpy with their sun protection skills. The solution to this dilemma was to make the trees grow as big and as fast as possible. And that is how the tree fairy of Andulka Park was born.

The Tree Fairy traversed the expanse of the park soon after it was finished. The only flaw he saw was its teeny, tiny trees. The strategy was to get those trees big and strong as quickly as possible. He knew the trees could not do it on their own. So with tactical inspiration from America’s first tree fairy, Johnny Appleseed, he set out to hand fertilize every single tree.

It was his way of doing his share, supporting a collective resource vital to the well-being of any city, contributing to the story about our community. It is a story built chapter by chapter with every park we design and every tree we plant. The task was difficult and time consuming. Mixing, carting, and delivering fertilizer to the dozens of trees in the park took days. Like most good deeds, it happened altruistically and outside our awareness.

Fairies are odd creatures.  They typically know a good deal about a lot of things, yet they become known for just one or two key traits – few people realize that the Tooth Fairy can get your car started in a snowstorm and the Elf on the Shelf crafts a sublime PB&J.  If fairies and people found more reasons to talk to each other, it will inevitably improve our lives, and the stories we tell.

This fairies’ tale taught me that acts of goodness are not regaled to “once upon a time”. They are happening all the time. Each return to the park reminds me of this encounter, and the fact that right now is the best time for story time.

This post first appeared in the weekly collaborative column “Inlandia Literary Journeys” in The Press Enterprise