Growth Rings

A summer with Friends of Trees

Posted on August 18, 2015 at 11:21 am

My placement with Friends of Trees this summer has been a fantastic learning experience, but in a very different, and perhaps more rewarding way than I’m used to. At all colleges (Duke University being no exception) knowledge is frequently presented abstractly. Particularly in the school of Arts and Sciences, we’re almost never challenged to work with our hands. The only injury we’re prone to is chronically slumped shoulders from computer overuse.

Jack, weed-wacking blackberry

Jack, cutting back invasive Himalayan blackberry.

But this summer I was challenged in a new way. I learned to efficiently cut through Himalayan blackberry with a weed-wacker, identify native (and non-native) plant species, and monitor tree health. In addition to the new skills I learned, I was pushed to look at environmental issues through a different lens. Instead of aloof environmental policy discussions and organic compound lectures, I walked through huge areas of clear cut forest, saw the shackles placed on the Columbia River by its fourteen dams, and replanted fields recovering from invasive species takeover.

Cooling off after a long day in the field.

Cooling off after a long day in the field.

This type of exposure is both sobering and liberating. Instead of ‘saving the planet from impending destruction’ it feels more like attempting last minute rehabilitation after critical damage has been inflicted. I am starting to wonder how much beneficial change can be accomplished working through the  system that caused this destruction in the first place. Can our culture really value the land, trees, and salmon more than a 10% increase in profit? Can people really begin to identify with their own humanness instead of their locations on societies’ hierarchy (i.e. their vocations, salaries, and cars)? While I gained practical, useful skills working at Friends of Trees this summer, I think my experiences that catalyzed these questions, thoughts, and struggles were the most valuable takeaways. What more can ask you for as a summer intern? Thank you, Friends of Trees.

Jack Gavigan joined Friends of Trees this summer through the Duke Engage service program. His energy, sense of humor, insight, and get-it-done attitude are already missed. We wish him all the best in his future endeavors, Duke and beyond! And you heard it here first: We knew him when!

Interns and Mission Statements

Posted on July 28, 2015 at 9:56 am

The confusion kicked in after about ten minutes of hiking Forest Park’s Wildwood Trail. I had taken the MAX, a short bike ride, and suddenly I was out of the identity-stripping hustle and bustle of city life and into a place that had startling similarities to a beautiful, remote nature preserve. To call this ‘a change of scenery’ would be as dramatic of an understatement as I could imagine. I walked down the trail, my thoughts slowed, and I began to notice my surroundings. A calm came over me that I rarely experience living in downtown Portland. On some level, I felt that by entering Forest Park, a place I had never been before, I had come home.

My fingers felt the softness of the thimbleberry leaf, my ears echoed with the woodpecker’s knocking, and my vision bounced from tree to tree, marveling at their height and a sense of wisdom they seem to imbue. But on another more unexpected, and perhaps more profound level, I noticed a connection with my fellow humans that I saw on the trail. We only had one point of commonality; the fact we both traveled through the forest. Regardless, every encounter included some sort of greeting. At the very least a head nod was exchanged, but sometimes, full conversations were sparked. How could this be? These people were strangers, and in a matter of seconds, some had become friends. Did the trees really help bring us together?

Jack, taking it all in at Rocky Mountain National Park

Jack, taking it all in at Rocky Mountain National Park

Before I came to intern at Friends of Trees, I looked up their mission statement: it goes as follows, “Friends of Trees is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit whose mission is to bring people together to plant and care for city trees and green spaces in Pacific Northwest communities.” After I read this, I honestly didn’t have much idea of what it meant. Even after working for two weeks at FOT, it still wasn’t clear. Looking back, I think that at the heart of my misunderstanding was a doubt. I didn’t really believe in the power of trees. But in my defense, mission statements and interns operate on very different time scales. One is permanent and long term while the other is, by definition, transient.

So, I offer this post as a means to help subsequent Duke Engage Interns and first time volunteers at FOT connect with the larger FOT mission. My advice is to not solely read the mission statement- visit it- because at Forest Park, it is manifested in a way that just can’t be ignored. More plainly, before you doubt the ability of the natural world to strengthen individual and community ties, take a trip to Forest Park, or any wild place for that matter, and stay awhile. Make an effort to open yourself to fellow runners and hikers and watch how the forest, nature’s community, destroys the false boundaries society creates and accentuates our deepest and most basic human qualities- the same qualities that Friends of Trees brings to Northwest neighborhoods.

-Jack Gavigan is the Duke Engage Intern with Friends of Trees


Better Living Through Trees

Posted on July 16, 2015 at 1:27 pm

Visitors, In-laws, new residents – One of the first things you’ll hear newcomers to Portland talk about is how green our city is. It’s the trees (and maybe, just a little, the rain).

As Portland continues to become a destination to live, work and visit, we’re going to struggle to add density and continue to keep the things that make our city an appealing location to so many people.

Friends of Trees is currently partnering with a coalition of neighbors in the Eastmoreland neighborhood to save three giant sequoias, each over a 100 years old. Earlier this year, Steve Melkerson of Caliber Homes, reworked his plans on a multi-family project in the Hawthorne district to preserve a unique paradox walnut tree.

Outside the zero-sum thinking that pits trees against density, we need to think how to build for Trees AND Development.

Eli Spevak of Orange Splot, builds new communities with trees in mind. Learn more about Eli’s work and new ways to add density without sacrificing quality of life on his website. Discover how Orange Splot builds communities with trees in mind in the video below.

Tree Match Makers

Posted on July 8, 2015 at 2:25 pm

Here at Friends of Trees world headquarters, we’re in the business of helping homeowners find their perfect tree match for their space (among other things). We do this through a combination of carefully cultivated tree lists (right tree, right place, y’all) and our superhero Tree Callers who volunteer weekly to call interested homeowners and help them choose their perfect tree.

Our planting successes are due in no small part to Tree Callers who made over 1,800 calls to future tree owners last season, inspiring hundreds of additional trees to be planted. Holy cow, 1,800 calls! The goal of our Tree Caller Team is to connect with homeowners over the phone and guide them to make their ideal tree selection through our online system.

A future Tree Caller in training!

We are currently recruiting new Tree Caller volunteers to join our calling team! If you are an A+, #1 customer service rep (or hope to be!), never met a phone you didn’t like, are known to be capable of navigating our online databases, and have a genuine interest in being a force for trees and their benefits, please consider joining us as a Tree Caller.

{Obvious pun alert} As a Tree Caller, you  ‘plant the seed’ for trees and healthy communities! We meet weekly on Wednesday evenings from July – March. Get in touch with Randi today in the Volunteer & Outreach Program to learn more about this role, sign up to be trained in this role, or to simply have a fun chat about trees or other popular topics, like bikes or pizza. Just waiting for you to get in touch!

Randi Orth is the Volunteer & Outreach Specialist

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