Stories from the corner of 37th and Nicollet

The scenery we cannot yet see

The scenery we cannot yet see


While Minneapolis is well named as a city of lakes, it is also a city of trees. This time of year, the trees have me in awe. I marvel at their colors, get lost in the swirl of falling leaves, and as the bare branches return, remember the views through the trees that have been blocked throughout the spring and summer.  I thank the trees for the bounty of garden cover being provided as they drop their insulating leaves onto my back yard and - if the wind cooperates - gather along the fence row to begin a winter blanket for the flowers that have finished blooming.


At my café’s old location near 36th and Grand Avenue stood a tall shade tree, providing a marker for that location.  The spring buds were my signal that store traffic was soon to increase.  That tree created a calm, cool space in the summer, and a strong, sturdy sentinel for the winters. Its golden leaves would find their way into the shop and create a lively carpet for the sidewalk.  When long-time customers and I reminisce about the old location, that tree often finds its way into the conversation.


In my new location along Nicollet Avenue, a pair of young saplings are starting their journey toward that enviable spot in customers’ memory.  We had one large, old tree on the corner that had marked 37th and Nicollet for a couple generations, but it became a casualty of the reconstruction along Nicollet Avenue and made way for a new generation of shade trees.  This year, their shadows barely reached the patio tables and chairs along the front of the café.  Those trees have a long ways to grow, but with time I’ll hope they too can be markers of a calm, shady front patio where summer conversations linger in the late mornings.  Just recently another new sapling arrived along 37th Street.  At first I was bit uncomfortable about having the tree just show up.  But with a bit of time to consider a full-grown tree in that space, I’m liking the scenery that will be provided!  It may not be in my time, but it’s coming.


Planting trees are one of the ways we think ahead of ourselves.  The trees I’ve planted in my yards are becoming the next generation’s scenery.  I get to enjoy them for a while, but their lifetime is really much longer than mine will be in that particular place.  It is a gift that we are able to give to those we may never meet.  And so it is with a sense of gratitude that I thank those who many years ago planted trees they didn’t imagine seeing full-grown.  I call out thanks to the men and women who helped start out our parks and parkways, who lined the boulevards and landscaped the schools, and those who might have been considered a bit foolish for adjusting construction plans to accommodate mature trees.


As the trees around me shake loose their final leaves, I am reminded of the benefits they provide me through simply cooling my home and yard, adding color and sound to my experiences, providing habitat for animals, as well as food for me.  I try to imagine the unseen gifts of oxygen and transpiration replenishing our atmosphere and keeping us alive.  I run my hands along the wood around me in use in thousands of ways and know that their lives are indeed important to me.


Next spring I will need to remove a large green ash tree from my back yard that has reached the end of its lifetime.  I will miss its place in my sky-view, its form in my windows, and its shade.  I have begun to wonder at what new tree might replace it to provide another generation of shade and beauty.  I know that this next tree will surely outlive me and become someone else’s opportunity to offer gratitude for my family’s choice to plant a tree.  It’s a hard choice!

We can do more than just plant a tree physically (which I hope you will do if you have the space to do so). We can think like a tree when we imagine our purpose and our neighborhood’s purpose.  What we do does have an impact on our daily lives here and now, but it will also be a part of the scenery for years to come, even after we are but memories.  What do we want that scenery to look like?  How are we jumping ahead of ourselves to put in place the kind of place we wish for the next generation?   I am impressed with the scope and vision of the Lyndale Neighborhood’s Development guidelines, it has the next generation’s welfare in mind.  It can help the neighborhood plant deep roots, provide shelter and create beauty for many years to come.

Hugging a tree might not be your style, but perhaps a pat on the trunk, as a sign of gratitude isn’t such a bad move.  I look forward to meeting you under a shady tree along the green path in the days, months, and years to come.