The Witness Trees of The Emerald Necklace

In Boston, there is a chain of parkways and waterways that connect many of the “jeweled” green spaces and gardens called The Emerald Necklace (ENC).  From Franklin Park and the Arnold Arboretum to Jamaica Pond and Olmsted Park, along the Riverway to the Fens in Back Bay, this corridor makes it possible to bike or walk from parts of Jamaica Plain, Dorchester and Roxbury all the way to the Public Garden and Boston Common all the while in green and forested settings.  I make a point of taking the long way into town whenever possible so I can meander my way along the muddy river and continue the ancient conversations with the more-than-human world which I find helps me cope with the more human-centric elements of “downtown”.


This past winter I was walking along the ENC when I found myself particularly struck by a grove of trees on the corner of Brookline Ave and the Riverway.

To give a bit of context, this area is home to many world renowned medical research facilities and institutions.  Places like Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s,  Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School put this area on the map as a destination for life saving cutting edge medical technology.  This is a place where many lives have begun, ended, or been profoundly altered in various ways.  Right on this very corner once stood Mass Mental Hospital which was once home/prison to many of Boston’s misunderstood castaways.

I was alerted by a grove of trees on this corner.  There was something about the way their branches twisted and reached that caught my attention.  The feeling was swirly and feral.  It was impossible for me not to pause at these trees.  They were loud.  I looked up at the trees as if to say “What is it?!”  I turned around to try and take in what they have been witnessing for many decades when it occurred to me that these trees have been rooted right here while all these hospital buildings and roads have been built, torn down, rebuilt and so on.  I looked down at the roots and the soil and I imagined the interconnections of these trees and this medical industrial complex.  My imaginal sense was tuning into decades worth of stories being released from these hospitals the same way that trees release chemicals.  I pictured the higher branches reaching upward as if to absorb lost energy that couldn’t find its way back down into the Earth.

I’ve since formed a relationship with this grove of what I call “witness trees” and whenever I am passing thru,  I always stop to pay my respects to this sacred little piece of land tucked along this strip of medical industry.

The trees along The Emerald Necklace tell many stories.  They move so much slower than the human world.  They not only offer a greener way to travel through the city, but they also purify the air and are home to many migrating birds.  There is much to explore along the Emerald Necklace.

Join me on June 9th at Olmsted Park in witnessing the “witness trees” of The Emerald Necklace.

This walk is free and sponsored by The Emerald Necklace Conservancy.

Space is limited.


ENC Forest Bathing