Tree Stories

What's your tree story?

Is there a particular tree or group of trees that figures prominently in your life? Perhaps a tree where an important event happened? One you planted when a child was born or when someone dear passed away? One you climbed as a child or in whose shade you often sat?


In celebration of Earth Month (April) and Arbor Day (April 28) in 2024, Lexington Living Landscapes joined with the Lexington Tree Committee to gather and share stories of our trees from community members throughout our town. Written, illustrated, and photographed contributions are shared below. Entries were also displayed at Cary Memorial Library through the month of April, and in the windows of participating Lexington Center merchants on Arbor Day weekend.

“He plants trees..."

by Janet Stewart

I have an apple and pear tree that were lovingly planted by the prior owner of my home around 35 years ago. This family moved and restored the old home and planted the fruit trees surrounded by beautiful gardens. Each year when I prune the fruit trees and when I gather their fruit, I am reminded of the past as the trees are located on a hill overlooking my 300-year-old restored home. Both the trees and the home are such a treasure to have (the home was saved from demolition twice). As the new steward of this home and property, I have added a cherry tree and an almond tree in the gardens for future homeowners to enjoy their offerings as well. During abundant fruit years, it’s a joy to share the fruit with friends and neighbors. It’s also fun to watch wildlife enjoy the insects and fruit that the trees provide.

"He plants trees for benefit of later generations": John Quincy Adams motto

The Tree of Life

by Charlie Wyman

When we moved into our house back in 1987, there was a large Norway maple growing between our house and our neighbors. A few years later a new family moved in, with young kids about the same age as ours. The kids became good friends. When they wanted to get together, someone in one house would call the other and they’d agree to meet under “the Tree of Life,” as they dubbed it, and off they would go. 

After a number of years the maple sadly went into decline and we had it taken down. It’s a great spot for a tree and we wanted to replace it, and decided on an oak. We bought a small, bare-root red oak by mail order; we called it our “two-kids-in-college tree” because we couldn’t afford anything more at the time. The young tree just sat there for several years. Bunnies nibbled at it. Neighbors made fun of it, all two feet of it. 

And then something magical happened, and it began to grow. Now it’s a strapping teenager, 25 feet tall and growing to the heavens. Our neighbors have moved away and their kids and ours have grown and started their own lives, scattered from Boston to Denver. But when I pass the spot I think of when they would meet under the Tree of Life, and smile. I hope someday there will be other young kids living in our two houses, meeting in the new tree’s shade to begin their adventures. 

The new Tree of Life

Old Tree

by Marcia Gens

I have an old crabapple tree outside of my office window that may be getting toward the end of its life span. In spring it still shows some vigor with a scattering of beautiful blossoms, however, there are deep holes of rotting wood where limbs had been cut long ago, moss and lichen encircle its branches, and its leaves are prone to wilt and fall too early. It has been suggested that we let this old tree go, that its time has passed, twisted limbs apt to fall at any moment, its bare appearance anything but beautiful. 


The thing is, this tree is the most life filled tree in my whole yard!  Sitting at my desk I often see birds pecking away at the fertile ground of moss and lichen covered branches for insects and then pose to sing their songs. Cardinals, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Finches, Song sparrows and birds whose names I haven’t learned yet, and squirrels (of course). In winter I often see birds visiting its branches to eat the fruit that still clings to the twigs poking out of the snow. In spring its blossoms are still full of bees seeking nectar, buzzing about from blossom to blossom.  As I write this the patina of moss on the branches reflects the afternoon light, inspiring me to take photos that I wish could capture the lovely green glow of the branch in the sun for all time.

Sitting through endless zoom meetings I am often treated to these moments in nature and think of the importance of an old tree to the world; habitat for birds, insects, pollinators, squirrels and yes, one aging human, entranced by the multitudes of life it holds. 

I Remember It

by Richard Reibstein

When I was in law school, I had a colleague who was estranged from her parents. She had been living in the East Village of NYC for years in a dark apartment, hardly any trees around, a funky urban life. I knew she had nowhere to go for Thanksgiving, and I invited her to my family’s house out on Long Island. As we walked to my house from the train station, we passed through the park near my house, where I had played as a child. In that park is a beautiful, grand oak tree, positioned perfectly on a gently curving bit of land, with a glorious spread of roots and branches under which to sit. During the summer, the town ran a free day camp program for the kids in the neighborhood, and we used to always sit under that tree to have stories read to us. I remember it as a great sheltering mother and always loved to see it when I walked home through the park.

Yew caught my eye

by Sara Bothwell Allen

Yew caught my eye

as I was cresting the hill.

I’ve walked this way hundreds of times 

and Yew has been here all along.

Probably looking the same as today:

a slender trunk rising to

a shelf of branches, level with my eyes

and extending outward; needles absorbing the sun. 

A puzzling profile amid tall beeches, oaks, and pines.

Of course, it was winter.

(I can be forgiven for not noticing Yew in summer.)

 Yew caught my eye and stopped by my feet.

Yew has a story to tell me.

I know the first part, how it began

with germination and an apical meristem, investing in a singular path for height.

This part of the story went on for many years, 

with events that once seemed monumental but 

instead turned out to have been mundane: 

a waxwing’s first visit, a summer drought.

But some years ago, something big did happen, 

and the shape of Yew’s life went sideways.

Yew could not continue upward. 

Was there a bending or a breaking?

Yew has hidden the evidence between branch nodes and flaking bark.

Afterwards, Yew grew outwards.

The part I’m listening for

is what guided Yew to extend outward,

as though upward was no longer its impulse,

to continue growing; needles absorbing the sun.

Canadian yew in Willards Woods

Planting our peach tree, and peaches to share

A Destiny

by Lin Jensen

My tree story started before I was born. My mother's family name is Lin (), which she gave to me as my given name. It looks like two trees and means woods.

Before my own family moved to Lexington in 2005, I had never had a private yard. When the pink flowers on the dogwood and pinkish white flowers on the crabapple tree bloomed the following spring, I was in disbelief that something so majestic could be our own. Little did I realize my tree story would also blossom.

When the old fence fell apart, it was a practical decision to replace it with three dozen arbor vitae trees: a picturesque view with little maintenance.

I noticed that during summer droughts, trees shield the grass from the harsh sun and reduce the need for water. So we planted four trees on the south side of the yard (one of which was planted by the town at no cost to us).

We hit the jackpot with our peach tree. My husband and son planted it in front of our kitchen window on my birthday and four days later I gave birth to my youngest child. Every fall it produces hundreds of tree-ripe peaches, an opportunity for us to share with grateful friends and neighbors.

Trees do require a certain amount of care: raking leaves, pruning, harvesting, replacement (sadly the old dogwood was hollowed by borer bugs), and most of all, patience (the crabapple tree has survived disease and is thriving). However, trees are beyond worthy of our effort. I hope to never forget what a marvel and privilege it is to live in the midst of flowers, green bushes, and trees.

It seems like destiny that my ancestors had known to honor Nature’s gift to us all.

Emeralds and Rubies

by Stephen Ervin

Our daughter’s bedroom looks out over two large street trees, a big old sugar maple (Acer saccharum) with its brilliant green and yellow leaves, and a smaller Norway maple (Acer platanoides) with its red and purple foliage.

We always enjoyed making the multicolored pile of fallen leaves to jump into.

One late spring day when she was about eight years old, on a beautiful morning with the eastern sun shining through these two partially overlapping vibrant colorful tree canopies, she said with excitement, “Dad, look, We’ve got emeralds and rubies right in our yard!”

The White Oak

by Elizabeth Rozan

On the street where I live, there is a majestic white oak tree. This giant of a tree has been lovingly cared for over the years by expert arborists called in by the property owners to help them maintain the tree’s health, longevity, and graceful structure.

Though they lived well into age themselves, they did not plant the tree, nor did their parents before them.  But, their father was from Nova Scotia and worked in forestry. After arriving in Lexington with his carpentry skills, he boarded at the house across the street from the tree, and was responsible for building the staircase in that building. Assignments in Virginia led him to meet his young wife, with whom he returned to Lexington to raise their family. They purchased the familiar property on which the oak tree grew. Among other projects, his skill as a finished carpenter led him to restore Boston Harbor's Old Ironsides, the US Naval ship that was originally launched in 1797. He had a deep appreciation for all the practical and aesthetic qualities of trees, which he passed on to his children, who cared for it reverently.

With a circumference of 163 inches, and a diameter of 52, a range of growth factors  puts this tree somewhere between 182 and 260 years old. Using an average of 221 years, this tree would have begun its balanced thrust in 1802, during the good feeling era after the crisis of the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) and the French Revolution (1789-1799), and before the crisis of the Civil War (1861-1865). 

This oak’s hopeful life-force, encouraged by the hidden Lower Vine Brook which runs nearby, has established a presence with strong roots and a glorious canopy. To me, it  symbolizes the quest for freedom and independence.

Falling for Trees

by Barbara Tarrh

This story is not about one tree or even one tree species. In fact, it starts with a dearth of trees and a lack of awareness about them.  

Growing up in urban settings meant very little exposure to trees aside from the shade of an occasional tired oak or elm on my way to school. In my late twenties, I was fortunate to live on a quieter side street in Chelsea. Summer evenings were spent on a screened porch with my landlords where we would enjoy the shade of a magnificent mature Catalpa. Who knew trees had flowers? Or that they could produce leaves the size of saucers? And the long, strangely colored green-bean style fruits seemed from some other dimension. Along with my amazement came a sense of wanting to do the best for this tree, so I happily assumed yard chores in lieu of a portion of rent.

Years later at our home in Lexington, the magic of mature trees and the opportunity to appreciate and care for them really took root.  We lived for 2 decades in a Victorian-era home with an enormous, multi-trunked Copper Beech in the front yard. High on the trunk some young infatuation from decades ago was carved into the bark, visibly recalling how many years of history predated our care-taking of this tree. I marveled at its many ‘toes’ dug into the soil, and how silently the work of getting water and food to upper branches happened each year.

That house became too big for us, so we said goodbye to the beech and our care-taking duties and moved to a newly built home. Here, where the builder was prompted by our Tree Bylaw – or so I suspect – we are helping to raise over a dozen younger trees to healthy adult lives. There are river birch, red maples, hornbeams and a hemlock, among others. I miss the older, iconic trees of past devotion in Lexington and Chelsea, but I’m committed to giving these trees all they need to delight and astound the next generation of tree lovers.

Catalpa artwork from USDA Wetland flora: Field office illustrated guide

Copper beach artwork accessed from

My Magnolia

by Ricki Pappo


I grew up on a small island off the southwest part of Long Island, NY—Long Beach. Our most important natural resources were the beach and the waters, both the ocean and the bay. My home was on the bay and we had a wonderful view of the bay waters and watched ships go back and forth, plus we had a sweeping view of marshland that was between us and the mainland. We even had a view of the NYC skyline. 


Like most homes in Long Beach, we had a postage stamp backyard and it was a treasure for us. It’s where my sister and I played, hung up the laundry to dry, and picked roses that my mother planted. But the emotional treasures in our backyard were two magnolia trees. Our parents told us that each tree was planted for my sister and me, so those were our trees. Mine was on the left. We watched them grow and bloom every year, and I liked knowing that one was planted with me in mind. Honestly, when I think back, they were pretty much the same size, so I don’t know if they were planted 4 years apart, like my sister and myself, or at the same time. In my little eyes these two magnolia trees were an expression of my parents’ love for us. 


I have been back to my childhood home a few times since I moved to Lexington. It is now a rental but looks the same as it did when I was growing up. I can’t remember if the trees are still there, but I know I visited the backyard to see them. So, are they still there? I don’t know, but that tree will always be in my heart as the magnolia tree that was planted for me. 


It makes me smile and feel loved when I think of my magnolia tree memory.


by Elizabeth Rozan 

If you meet a Sycamore

with its royal white crown,

let it protect you.

Let its great arms form a canopy

above you and around you.

Let it hold you.

Let the mottled bark,

falling from its massive trunk,

camouflage whatever must be guarded.

Let its ornamental star pods hang down,

to swing like wind chimes in the breeze,

and provide little cave shelters

for thoughts that have their chaos.

And when it starts to get hot,

wait for its leaves to come forth to fan you.

Let this Persian beauty

remind you of earlier days,

when you floated silently

along the River Nile,

intoxicated by the view,

deeply adrift in peace,

feeling the ripples of the love song. 

From: Orbits and Constellations poems
© 2008  All Rights Reserved

Grandpa’s Ash

by Lisbeth Bornhoff


Ash, you blessed my seven decades.

Yet it wasn’t until this day

When the snow on your branches caught the light

Of the early sun

That I saw you as you are

At the end of your 86 years


Long after I could no longer

Wrap my arms around you,

Darting out as the rain burst forth

With my mother

To fling the clothes off the line you held


Before there were clothes dryers.


Guiding my cat to the roof

To chirp at my window

In the middle of the night

Offering a sturdy anchor 

To fasten my salty dog for a rinse

Witnessing generations of summers

Gardening, sunning, painting, hiding and seeking


There is no ceremony

Just a tiny woman in a bucket

Wielding a chainsaw

Unaware that this Ash knew a time

When a woman could not be a Tree Surgeon

Or a Doctor or an Economist


It is said that Ash is one of the best 

For a steady fire and good heat

And yet you are so much more.

Beech Tree Story

by Kathleen Lenihan

As a freshman in college in 1989, I had the good luck of having a dorm room with a view of a magnificent old beech tree. As I was newly arrived in Providence from Las Vegas, a city not known for trees, that such a tree could exist seemed to be nothing short of miraculous. 

Admiring it from my window wasn’t enough, so I made my acquaintance with it in person. It had the perfect spot on its trunk for reclining to read a novel, study, or just breathe. Sitting under the shade of its leaves had soothing qualities I can’t even begin to describe. 

I remember with such clarity resting my hand on its massive trunk and thinking about what this tree had seen - World Wars, Depressions, the Industrial Revolution, the Civil War, maybe even the Revolutionary War. There it stood, a sentry watching as the world was transformed. I thought about the countless people that came before me and took shelter under its branches, and my problems didn’t seem so big. 

A couple of years after graduation, my boyfriend and I stopped off in Providence to walk around campus. While we were in college he knew how much I loved that tree and that it was a special place for me. That day, it became a special place for both us when he proposed under it and became my fiancé. 

The last time I visited the tree, it hadn’t changed but of course I have. It fills me with such joy and peace knowing that it is there, continuing to watch over us and offering solace to those who seek it out. And maybe even sharing in the happiness of those lucky enough to be proposed to under it. 

A Tree

by Cathy Q.

The Elephant Tree

by Henrietta Yelle

My childhood home abutted Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts and the college campus was my playground from the time I was born. I roamed freely there starting at about age six. Among the many wonderful places to play there, I had a favorite – the Elephant Tree. 

This giant smooth-barked beech tree was the centerpiece of a small courtyard, surrounded by two-story red brick buildings.  One of the tree’s lowest branches was enormously thick and grew almost parallel to the ground – a clear invitation to climb. A couple big branches were wide enough to lie on like a narrow cot, and I spent many hours there contemplating the world. I met friends there for deep talks and laughs and make-believe adventures. The Elephant Tree was sometimes a castle or a pirate ship, and was always a welcoming space. I brought my first serious crush there and was thrilled and relieved when he admired the beauty of the tree. 

I sought solace there and always found it. The tree was a dear companion throughout my childhood and well into my twenties, until finally the giant succumbed to old age. I keep a beautiful drawing of the tree in my living room, created by the artist Vaino Kola who was a Wheaton professor and fortunately immortalized this special tree.  I still miss my friend, the Elephant Tree, more than 35 years later.

My Tree Story

Sasha Rifkin

Even now that I am in college, I remember the towering tree in my old yard that seemed to touch the sky. At the mighty age of seven, I braved my first climb up the tree, navigating its ladder-like branches. I grew accustomed to its height, despite the fact that it was significantly taller than my house. I would shimmy to the top, confident in every step. The journey to the top never got old. Every time, I worked hard both mentally and physically to get there, and was delighted to be capable of something so daunting and exciting.

The top of that tree held an unmatched magic for me no matter how old I was. Seconds before, I was grunting and scraping my knees on branches, slightly terrified of falling, but at the top... Silence. Peace. Noise from the road grew faint. I could see my neighbors' homes and their cars, but they seemed far away, as though they were in another world. Even my own house and life seemed to fade away. It was where I could be alone without a care in the world. The clouds looked close enough to touch, the sky spread wide above me, and everything seemed within reach. In those moments, there was nothing I couldn’t do. 

I have always loved trees...

by Carmela M. Ciampa