In The Presence of Trees, Part 1


Walk through most any neighborhood and one feature will be consistently prominent – its trees. In town, in suburbs, or the in farthest outlying regions of a city, trees most likely will be the primary feature. In old, established areas of a city the trees often are very large and deeply loved. The gifts they give are innumerable; shade in summer, habitat for wildlife, beauty, a sense of place and identity, clean air, colorful seasons, and free mulch! There are a few people who would rather not have trees around for a variety of reasons, but those attitudes are for another article far off in the future.

On most of my walking routes, conifers dominate. And I appreciate this because conifers bring enormous variety to a landscape. The blue of a healthy Colorado spruce is rarely matched in beauty. This gorgeous blue spruce (Picea pungens) has served as the 3/4 mark of my daily 3-mile walk for over 30 years. Its health and beauty are a testament to the care the owner of this landscape has given this tree over the years. The blue color is a result of an epicuticular waxy coating on the needles – an adaptation to the trees’ origins in harsh climatic conditions (limited moisture, winds, and nutrient-poor soil).

Picea pungens

A rich, verdant green is one of the most notable features of giant (true) cedars. This deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara) has graced a neighborhood street corner for more years than I’ve lived here. Over the years that I have know this tree, it has offered itself as a perch for swings, home to many bird feeders, a challenge to young tree climbers, and as a shady place for children to play. Deodar cedars are long-lived and durable trees. Large, thick and sturdy limbs sport drooping branchlets that I find to be graceful and almost delicate. I love to stand under this tree on my way home from a long walk. Its cool, dark shade in summer is especially appreciated.

Cedrus deodara

The smooth, light bark of this Eucalyptus is exceptional. I have walked past this gorgeous tree for years and have found myself stopping every season just to look for the subtle changes its trunk offers. Although I’m not sure that eucalyptus are the best trees to plant in a warming, drying climate that experiences summer fires, they are nonetheless truly beautiful trees, and this one is a pleasure to behold.

Eucalyptus, species unknow (to me)

This ancient yew tree is in a churchyard in Downe, Kent, England, on the road to Charles Darwin’s home. My spouse and I stood under it after spending a full day visiting Darwin’s home and gardens. The church it shades was built in 1290. Many of the graves it protects preceed the church, so we were told. Nothing needs to be said about this old tree; its history is there for all to appreciate.

Taxus baccata. Downe, Kent, England

The next time you venture outside, take a moment to stop and observe the trees around you. Appreciate them for all they give. It is often said that trees don’t need us, but we can’t live without them. And even more than that, it is our responsibility to care for them.

Neighborhood Gardens, Part 1

One of my favorite activities besides gardening (and hiking) is walking through my city’s neighborhoods. An enormous variety of gardens exists here in Seattle – from classic, formal gardens to casual lawn and flower bed yards, to unique mini-forests or native-plant landscapes, to yards full of veggie beds or yards full of dandelions (a very beneficial ‘weed’). You name it, we have it. And in many years of walking throughout this beautiful city, I have observed an encouraging trend – most homeowners are replacing their lawns with plants. This is one of the most beneficial acts we can take for the environment: less water usage (unless growing food), greater habitat for wildlife, decreased useage of fertilizers, healthier soil (and soil sequesters carbon), more shade for all, and more interaction between neighbors. Everyone wins.

Below are a few examples of what I have seen while walking. Enjoy!

Embothrium coccineum
Arctostaphylos manzanita
Clerodendrum trichotomum
Oxydendron arborence, Sourwood Tree
Leycesteria formosa, Himalayan honeysuckle

Refuge II

I’ve been a gardener all my adult life. In fact, I think I was a gardener from my first baby steps – I just didn’t know it at the time. And in all my years of working in my home garden, in public gardens as lead steward or as part of a team, I have always found one thing to be true: no matter how I feel at the start of my gardening day, I always feel wonderful at the end.

Following are a few shots from my gardening life:

Calycanthus raulstonii, Carolina Allspice (my garden)
Pulsatilla vulgaris, Pasque Flower (my garden)
A magnificant Pseudotsuga menziesii, Douglas Fir (native forest), and me
A few of my spouse’s Dahlias


I had hoped we would be moving towards a smooth transition by now. I had hoped we would be on the down-side of COVID-19. Instead, we are leading the world in coronavirus cases and deaths. We have an out-going president who is attempting a coup by pressuring a few states he won in 2016 to “throw out the election results” and install electors loyal to him. We have a president who encourages racism, xenophobia, sexism, self-centeredness, and greed. We have a government that runs on lies, conspiracy theories, and false accusations against “enemies” of the out-going president. We have an economy close to the edge of collaspe, millions of people about to default on their rent or mortgage payments by the end of this year, and as of October an unemployment rate of 6.9%. And yet, at least 70 million people in this country support this president – lies and all. And countless people refuse to wear masks and/or social distance because . . because . . . “COVID isn’t real”, because “I have rights!”, because “You can’t force me to do something I don’t want to do!” Because . . .”me, me, me!”

What’s happened here? Certainly, our country has countless faults, and most of them we are just now beginning to sincerely face head-on. Is this strife the birth-pangs of a better, more compassionate country? Or are we sliding back into the Us-vs-Them mentality that many in our country have worked so diligently and so long to climb up from? I try not to become discouraged but when I see the glorification of dishonesty, cruelty, and mocking the “other”, I want to turn and run the other way. Like so many, I’ve been fighting injustice towards the “Other” since I was 16 (I’m 68 now) and in honesty, I don’t see much improvement. And this is tragic because, as a species, we are capable of kindness and compassion. We have all the equipment needed to learn to trust and accept those we perceive as different. We are able.

But, today, right now, right here, so many people are exhausted. We work and work and work. We try. We love. We lose someone we love. We watch someone we love suffer. And we try to help. We try.

We try. We always try.