Over the last month, I’ve been collecting tree stories. Tree stories from folks in New Baltimore to Pleasant Ridge to Traverse City to Northport. From Lake St. Clair’s Anchor Bay to Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay. The occasions included a book reception, a library book presentation, a philanthropic women’s organization meeting, a wonderfully unique reading with three writerly friends in an unusual venue (more–including a visual–on that later), and a workshop for the Michigan Writers.

The Ask

I received the tree stories in response to handing out a sheet of paper titled “You & Trees.” On the spring-green handout, I asked three questions:

  • When you were a kid, did a tree ever hold a special place in your heart? (Followed by 7 thought-starters)
  • Currently, does your life include a special or favorite tree? (Followed by 8 thought-starters)
  • What’s your tree story? (Followed by a bank of blank lines on which to write a tree story)

Of White Birches and Willow Wands

You may recall, I featured writer Mary Robertson‘s tree story “White Birches” in this space four weeks ago at the conclusion of the post titled “The Wonderful Book Party and the White Birches that Grew from It.” This past weekend when I was in Traverse City for a reading and a writing workshop on consecutive days, I was invited to spend the night at Mary’s lovely Northport home. High on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, the view from all her lakeside windows includes North Manitou Island floating on the horizon. And birch trees. Saturday morning, we walked her property where the her white birches, many of which are in the final stage of their life, still gleamingly punctuate the spring green beginning to leaf out.

Maureen Shaughnessy, as a guest blogger, shared her tree story “Willow Wands” in this space two weeks ago in the post titled “A Tree Tale Told by Another Maureen.”

A Handful More of Tree Tales

I include the note on the tree-story handout that “no one has to see this unless you wish to share.” Four people chose to share by leaving their stories behind anonymously. I only know who wrote the fifth one because she handed it directly to me. I’ve supplied titles for their pieces below.

Apples and Pastimes of One Kind or Another

As a kid, I climbed the apple trees in my grandparents’ yard. As an old man, I sit under our crabapple tree, listening to music and, perhaps, ruining my liver.


What a Peach!

As a young boy, I communicated with my non-English-speaking grandfather through a peach tree in his backyard. He pointed at a peach, and I picked it. Afterward, I would sit with him on the porch that stretched the width of his house and eat the peaches with him. Occasionally, he would give me $20, which I saved. Those savings turned out to be the money I would use for supplies in college.


Tree Question

Do you know “the Tree of Souls* is a sacred site for the Omatikaya Na’vi clan and their closest connection to Eywa“? It “is a tall willow-like tree with long, bioluminescent tendrils and a large root system that radiates out” (from the website for the movie Avatar: The Way of Water).


*Tree of Souls

“According to Jewish mythology, in the Garden of Eden there is a Tree of life, or the “Tree of Souls”,[1] that blossoms and produces new souls, which fall into the Guf, the “Treasury of Souls” . . .

“According to Rabbi Isaac Luria, the trees are resting places for souls; sparrows can see the soul’s descent, explaining their joyous chirping. The Tree of Souls produces all the souls that have ever existed, or will ever exist. When the last soul descends, the world will come to an end.[2] . . . The mystic significance of the Guf is that each person is important and has a unique role which only he or she, with his or her unique soul, can fulfill. . . .”

* From the the Wikipedia entry “Guf

Which Would You Choose?

In 1978, when we lived on Fairwood in Pleasant Ridge, a tree in our backyard needed to be treated, to have medicine put into its trunk. The cost of this treatment was going to be $1000. We were young and new homeowners. Our driveway needed to be repaired. Also a $1000 job. We could only afford one. We chose the tree.

–by Lauran Howard (4/26/23)

A Hope

While living in Malawi, I grew a baobab tree from seed. When we left three years later, it was over four feet tall. I hope it grows for 100 years. [Maureen’s note: See the featured photo above to be reminded of what a baobab tree looks like.”]


“Mothering Trees”

That last story, “A Hope,” was left on the chair I’d been sitting on when I wasn’t at the podium on April 29th. That Friday evening–Arbor Day 2023–four of us had met to present a reading program at the Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park in Traverse City:

  • Anne-Marie OomenAs Long as I Know You: The Mom Book (2022); Love, Sex, and 4-H (2015); An American Map: Essays (2010); House of Fields (2006); Pulling Down the Barn (2004); Uncoded Woman: Poems (2006); and with Linda Nemec Foster, The Lake Michigan Mermaid: A Tale in Poems (2018); editor of Elemental: An Anthology of Michigan Creative Nonfiction (2018)
  • Teresa J. ScollonTrees and Other Creatures (2021); To Embroider the Ground with Prayer (2012); Friday Night the Whole Town Goes to the Basketball Game (winner of the Michigan Writers chapbook contest, 2009)
  • Alison SwanA Fine Canopy (2020); Before the Snow Moon (2013); Dog Heart (2011)
  • And me, Maureen Dunphy Divining, a Memoir in Trees (2023); Great Lakes Island Escapes: Ferries and Bridges to Adventure (2016); All About the Great Lakes (2020).

Our program was titled Mothering Trees:  Poets and Writers Respond to the Forest. Anne-Marie had written up a very satisfying description of what we were aiming for by asking some great questions:

  • Are trees mothering forces in our lives?
  • Are our human mothers akin to the mother trees of the forest?
  • Is it our sacred human task to “mother” trees? 
  • And how does this metaphor open poets, writers, and all of us to thinking more deeply about both trees and our deepest kinships with family?  

The four of us shared passages from our work in eight five-minute segments–two each–separated by a question from the audience. It made for a very lively program! (Brilliant design, Anne-Marie!)

We all had a lot of fun together and with our audience in a beautiful setting with a full house of people who love and care about trees. What could be better?

And then we went out to The Rare Bird Brewpub in downtown Traverse City. And raised our glasses to each other with the subtext, I dare say, of toasting trees, mothers, writing, and friendship. A most convivial evening!

“Mothering Trees” poets & writers at the Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park