Cities as Habitats of Trees.

Every plant has a story to tell. This string of words drifted into my mind as I drove home this morning after dropping my daughter at school. I emailed the sentence to myself at a stoplight, before it had a chance to drift away as quietly as it had entered my thoughts. I can’t stop thinking about plants, trees in particular. I’ve spent the last four days surrounded by thousands of landscape architects and as I drove along the wide arterial, I noticed the trees more than I normally do. This is noteworthy, because I normally spend most of my drive-time noticing trees.

This five-lane road is so vast no desert or exotic species can reach across far enough to mingle canopies with the neighboring trees on the other side. And any that try have rectangles the size of city buses pruned out of them for their efforts. Still, the trees seemed bigger this morning, more a part of the street than they had appeared last week. Landscape architects have that effect on people’s perceptions. They remind us that trees matter. It was landscape architects who at one time or another bent over a drafting table (or in front of a computer screen) and decided what trees to use on the streets I drive down each and every day. I’m grateful to have chosen a career path that surrounds me with landscape architects and those aspiring to this profession. They remind me to notice trees.

In one of the talks I attended during the 2012 ASLA National Meeting and Expo that was in Phoenix this weekend, the panel discussion turned to the importance of the woods as places for children to roam and play. A member of the audience seemed to favor going out of the city to enter the woods.  “The woods can be in the city,” said Walter Hood, a panelist, professor and principal of Hood Studio in Oakland, a place named for its trees. “There are things beneath our feet,” he added. I thought of Whitman and the essays I’ve been posting on this blog. That’s it. That’s what needs to be remembered and celebrated, what lies beneath our feet even in cities…earth.  It’s what often gets forgotten by urban dwellers. Trees remind us of this.

At another presentation about urban planning and design in Chihuahua, Mexico, I was reminded that even when thinking at a scale as big as a city one can make small changes that ripple out and up to meet the grander schemes of urban designers. “It starts in our own garden,” said Gabriel Diaz Montemayor, an assistant professor and partner for LABOR Studio, “the beautiful can be small.” I thought of Emily Dickinson and how much poetry spilled from her in response to her own garden. Or how the sight of one tree can be enough to lift my mind from mundane thoughts.

On my way to the conference on the last day, I pulled over to check my camera battery before committing to the freeway on-ramp towards Phoenix. As I reached for my purse, I looked up and saw a mesquite tree sprawling across the lawn of an office park across the road from where I had stopped. I have lived in this town for nearly twenty years yet had never turned down this particular street. It is an unremarkable road or so I thought before I saw this tree.

“Why are there trees I never walk under
But large and melodious thoughts descend upon me?”
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass