Trees. Trees. Trees.

We love trees. But we didn’t fully understand the complexity of urban forests until we started working with City of Boulder’s Forestry Division on their Urban Forest Strategic Plan. Now, when we see our Denver Parks and Recreation crews, we understand the daunting task of preserving and maintaining our beloved tree canopy. We now see the amazing environmental benefits and how our trees play a crucial role in the urban ecosystem– sequestering carbon, providing oxygen, mitigating stormwater runoff and improving our air quality. We also see the imminent threat of pests and diseases, such as the emerald ash borer, in wiping out large swaths of that canopy.

We take them for granted, these giants of our everyday. We tend not to notice them until they are taken down or broken due to crazy winter storms. But when asked how we connect to them, when asked to share a story about that connection, it doesn’t take much to conjure the depth and connections we have with them.

In part of our community outreach, we asked residents of Boulder to share some of their stories. What we received were photographs, childhood stories, poems, and drawings – some of which brought tears to our eyes. And reminded us that we are connected to our very core. Here are some of those stories:


Childhood City Trees

burnt orange bunches of
mountain ash berries
in my first backyard

pink spray of
weeping cherry, the sapling planted
at First Communion,
now topping the house

the so-tall sycamore
between sidewalk and curb
on Seminole Drive
with yellow smooth gaps where
long lengths of bark
sloughed off.

My sister and I peopled the
little moss-covered rooms of
convoluted roots with tiny
sticks and rocks,
a wild doll house

the dogwood in my grandparents' front yard
whose fleshy white petals
we tore, exposing the pink heart
whose low first branches
we clambered up, exploring

leaves arching above me in
our backyard hammock
filtering light into shade
yellow to green
heat to cool

hemlocks sweeping the
ground with soft needles
double-lined with white
inviting us to crawl under
their feathery shelter
each deep snow day

the solemn campus trees
whispering sage advice
casting deep shadow on the quad.

Once a squirrel dropped a
piece of bark right into my
open hand - magic confirmed.

we bring trees in our pockets homesteading
planting a promise
believing in a future of cool shade
and crimson autumn
we share our sighs and
their exhalations

we grow up together in a
tiny forest pocket
arboreal and urban
rooted in this place
where the hell strip
grows green

-Erin Robertson




We often notice trees as stationary plants that only move with the help of wind, rain or other natural elements. That helps us know they are alive. Another option is viewing the energy that trees emit. During the early or late hours of the day, relax your eyes as if you were caught up in a carefree daydream; focusing on nothing, but still capable of observing. View the edges of the tree and at times you can see shades of transparent silver against the sky background. Every living thing emits energy. Trees give us innumerable opportunities to be aware and connected.


-Steven McGaughey

The Three Sisters Tree: 
A Sunburst Locust Tree in Boulder
by Risë Keller

From age 6 to 9, I lived with my family in a tiny house on the alley behind a house on High Street, near Casey Middle School (then Casey Junior High). 

One day, I brought home a couple of the long, reddish-brown pods from a large tree on our school grounds, a sunburst locust. There were two of these trees at Lincoln School (now Naropa University’s Arapahoe campus). My mother and I pried the dried pods open and extracted the pale, tender seeds, which were about the size of my littlest fingernail. We put a few of the seeds in a dish with wet paper towels and set them on a window sill. We kept the towels damp and watched the seeds over the next few days. Some sprouted. 

My mother helped me plant the three strongest sproutlings in the ground. I felt cruel for abandoning the smaller ones we left to dry out and die. Two of the three sprouts we planted grew taller and stronger. Eventually, one became the clear winner. I don’t remember whether we pulled up the second plant or it died on its own, its roots crowded out by the larger tree, which kept on growing. 

Just before my family moved into the little house on High Street where I planted the sprout that became a tree, we had suffered a terrible loss: my little sister, whom we called “Baby,” died in a drowning accident. My mother was pregnant at that time. She gave birth to my new little sister at home. Even though we didn’t have our own telephone, the fire station was across the alley, literally about 30 steps from our front door, so we knew if we needed emergency help, it was right there. The birth went well and eventually my sister and I shared a bedroom. 

One day when my little sister was toddling around, my mother suggested, “Maybe you should call it the ‘Three Sisters Tree.’” At first I resisted. I had always thought of the tree I planted as “my tree.” But the trunk had developed three major limbs by then, so my mother’s idea took hold in my mind. 

By the time we moved out of the tiny house, the Three Sisters Tree had grown as tall as the house and cast shade on hot days. This tall tree still stands, having outlasted the razing of the little house where we once lived, its spreading, soaring branches casting shade over a small parking lot and carport behind a condo development. I still see it whenever I pass by on Broadway or 13th Street, and every time I stop and visit the tree I planted over 40 years ago, it feels like a reward for my childhood faith that a tiny seed could grow into a 60-foot tree.


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