the ancient guardians of Longwood Mall

Trees, especially enormous old ones, make us feel small—in a good way.

beech leaf canopy, Longwood Mall, Brookline

Majestic trees put the brevity of life, and the ultimate frivolity of much of our decision-making, in perspective.

Remember Shel Silverstein’s book, The Giving Tree?


Yes, it’s a depressing read for a 5-year-old (spoiler alert: both the tree and the guy die in the end). But that’s life, right?

Trees beautify and benefit our lives in countless ways. They clean our air, preserve our soil, and give us fruit, wood, and shade on steamy days. It’s a miracle that any of our biggest and oldest trees manage to survive. Being in the presence of an ancient tree makes me feel grounded–probably because trees are so rooted into the earth themselves, a living species that’s truly immobile—unless they grow upwards, of course. There’s a metaphor for you…

Speaking of metaphors, the tree of life has been used throughout human history to symbolize our interconnectedness to each other and to other life forms on the planet. The archangel Metatron is the guardian for the tree of life. More about him another time.

The universal law “As above, so below” also comes to mind as I type this.

The Tree of Life, Gustaf Klimt, 1905

The Tree of Life, Gustaf Klimt, 1909 (

Darwin used the idea of a tree to express the evolution of organisms as discreet branches—a theory that scientists now dispute.

Darwin's tree of life (image from

Darwin’s tree of life (image from

As a city person, I visit parks as often as I can. Trees and greenery are important antidotes to urban life and its less-than-fresh air, stressful energy, and noise.

One of my favorite parks is the stately and serene Longwood Mall in Brookline. It’s on a quiet block between my house and my parents’ place, so it’s a spot I often pass on my bike.

Enormous, ancient beech trees, many imported from Europe in the mid-19th century, line the Mall. The Boston philanthropist, state rep, senator, and businessman David Sears planted some 14,000 trees throughout the Longwood area of Brookline. He later wrote that some 10,000 survived.

portrait of David Sears, by Gilbert Stuart

portrait of David Sears, by Gilbert Stuart (wikipedia)

What have the Sears’ trees seen since then? Who has sat in their shade, or carved their initials in their bark?

David Sears reminds me of a little book we have in our living room called “The Man Who Planted Trees” by the French author Jean Giono.

giono book cover

It’s the story about a peasant who secretly plants a forest in Provence and brings a town back to life.

Last week, I took a break on my way home from work and crept inside the protective canopy of one of the Longwood Mall’s larger trees. Here’s a close up of its giant trunk, its bark scarred by generations of carvings…

tree closeup

I sat for awhile on one of its branches growing up from the ground…

branch bench

have a seat

The tree branch swayed and rocked gently in the wind, reminding me that it, too, was living thing. I felt calmer. I sat and willed myself to be still. After a few minutes some ideas came to me, and I scribbled them down.

As I left the park, I stopped and took a photo of this tree, which looks like an extra from a Lord of the Rings movie. It growled at me.

big lord tree

Lord of the Rings tree, Longwood Mall, Brookline

In case you can’t tell by now, I’m an unabashed treehugger. I’ve been known to stop and throw my arms around a tree to thank it and send it some love–to the amusement of my husband and endless embarrassment of our kids. But I don’t care. I think the trees like it. And I love the trees.