Arboretum News

Befriending a Tree

Connect with a tree to be present and savor the moment.

An oak tree in autumn at the Arboretum. Archive photo by Lester Hughes-Seamans.

By Jean Larson, manager of the Nature-Based Therapeutic Services Program at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Do you know the word Arboretum comes from the Latin arbor or “tree,” and the suffix ētum or “place” making the meaning “a place of trees?” And what a place for trees it is! 

You can admire so many of the trees in our collections along the Three-Mile Drive, or as you walk among them in the maple forests, or even just looking out a window from one of our many buildings. Perhaps you have a working knowledge of trees – what they are made of, their parts and what they do –  but what do you really know about trees? 

I do not think the answer to this question is something you can learn in a class, or find in a book or a scientific journal. Nor is it a broad search on Google.  I think the answer is found within a relationship to trees and an understanding of them as living beings.

There are a number of very special trees on the Arboretum grounds, but one in particular is the oak found at the Learning Center.  This oak, with its large leaves waving and canopy vastly greater than my field of vision, whispers some ancient oak language to all who will listen. 

I came to know this tree some 30 years ago – when I first started working at the Arboretum.  At the time, I remember being so impressed – I put a hand out to feel its nubby bark, and thought, “Now here is a repository of life!” as I circled its broad trunk.  Looking up into its branches  I wondered how a tree could support so many leaves, twigs and acorns. Then remembering – it is the roots beneath, invisible to my eyes, that holds the foundation for its magnificence. 

I continue to visit this tree over the many years of building the Nature-Based Therapeutic Services. It serves as my grounding.  At times, I will lay down in the grass, watch the birds up on the highest branches, and then take off into a blue sky. Or I will sit and lean against its trunk as the squirrels scurried away with the acorns. I watch, year after year, how the leaves turn brown and wrinkled, falling to the ground each fall. I check the tree after windstorms to make sure it was still standing. I celebrate how its beauty is featured in the “Under the Oak” tree exhibit and watch as countless children and families share in the joy of its beauty.  

Under the Oak exhibit at the Marion Andrus Learning Center in 2011. Photo by Roger Pavelle.

Some days, I bring my lunch and take a needed break from work, some days I bring work outside with me, other days I only bring myself. It was those times – when I was alone – I listened to the tree. In listening, I hear how important it is to be present, letting go of what is not here, savoring the moment. Existing alongside the tree and letting that be enough.

During this period of fall, as the leaves change into spectacular color, I invite you to befriend a tree somewhere on the Arboretum grounds. Sit against the trunk or lay beneath the branches. Know that the tree above you welcomes the change of season; the roots below you are the faithful and patient anchors to the place. Simply be present and see what emerges.

2 comments on “Befriending a Tree

  1. Sarah Jackson

    Fantastic post, Jean! This is just beautiful!

  2. I have really enjoyed the nature notes and what you write.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: