Writing – A Celebration of Trees

Winners and Honorable Mentions for Writing

Golden Birch Award – Writing

To the fig tree on Koloĉep Island

By Sam Aikman, 17, Richmond, VT 

When I say “fig”
I do not mean the kind
you get at the supermarket
in a clear plastic tub.
I do not mean the kind
that is shriveled, and brown,
and crackles when cleaved open
by a child with dirty nails.

When I say “fig”
I mean the kind that dangles,
purple and glowing
from a thicket of foliage
above a cobbled street.

Have you ever stood
at the edge of the Adriatic
under the shade of a tree
as old as a country
and eaten the pith of a fruit
the color of the sky at dusk?

What is this sudden urge we call longing?
When, in the late afternoon
of a Saturday in January,
as you loiter under the fluorescent lights
in aisle six, you demand to have the heart
of a past summer on your tongue.

You buy a box despite them being old and dry,
and stand with your fingers in your mouth
at a bus stop on the corner of Dorset,
halfway around the world from the tree
that has not likely been long lost to sun.

When you consider the heat,
and the distance, and all the time
it takes to deliver life (first to your palm and then to your lips),
really, what is the point
of waiting a moment longer before returning
to the fig on Koloĉep Island?
Since when has fruit never been enough of a reason to leave?


Silver Maple Award – Writing

The cherry tree

By Ava Rohrbaugh, 15, Charlotte, VT

I didn’t feel
anything about the
until I lost it,
til the bark cracked
like glow sticks at dusk
and the cherry blossoms
smeared over the axe
like stickers on my cheek.
The dew still holding to the leaves
glowed like wounded lightning bugs
on the heavy metal blade
and the lifting of the axe
like the bat I once raised to
swing at the piñata hanging
from a branch
and it falls again
and again
and again
like the steady
rhythm of my pogo stick
on the concrete
and again
and again
til the tree lies on the ground
and moss supports its head
like a newborn baby
and flowers bloom around the stump
like a funeral
and blossoms still unfold
on the farthest branches
like nothing has happened
and forever is over.
I say goodbye to you
cherry tree again
and again
and again.

Copper Beech Award – Writing

The missing tree

By Max Leibon, 16, Post Mills, VT

A stunted, scraggly tree sat amongst a few crumpled beer cans and soggy fast food wrappers in a small patch of greying and equally scraggly grass by the side of a highway somewhere in New England. A few dewdrops fell from its branches, forming a small, murky puddle at its base. The dreary November morning allowed little sun through its grey, cloud-laden sky, and what did get through, the tree greedily soaked up with the few leaves still hanging on to its thin, gnarled branches. The tree’s roots wormed their way through the dusty and far-from-nutritious soil, lapping up the minerals they found with vigor bordering on obsession.

The tree paid little attention to these things. It was busy making a plan. You see, the tree had been there since it was a seed, and had worked hard to earn itself a place among the ill-kempt grass and Bud Lite cans, only to be ignored by just about everyone. As you might expect, it was rather fed up with it all. It had long resolved to leave, but hadn’t ever quite gotten around to figuring out how to do so. The problem, it thought, was that it was a tree, which, as you might know, is strictly forbidden from moving of its own accord. But it had no intent of letting this stop it.

As the tree thought these things, something happened. This something was not the sort of something you might expect to be especially relevant to a tree, but in this case, you would be wrong. The something was a fight. More specifically, it was a fight between a man and his wife. The wife was tired of him drinking all of their money away, and decided to tell him so, in a manner that involved more screaming and raging than actual telling. The man, quite tired of being called worthless about a thousand times, decided that he needed to visit a nearby bar, to cool off a little, and to waste all of his money, which just so happened to be one of his favorite pastimes. In fact, he passed the tree just as it was beginning to give up pondering how it, as a tree, would move.

A few hours later, the tree had given up entirely, and the man felt drunk enough to go home. He stumbled out of the bar, hopped into his truck, and trundled off. Just as he was passing by the tree, as he had done hundreds of times on his way to and from the bar, a gust of wind wafted by, carrying a few fast food containers with it. These blew in front of the man, who, as it happens, was drunk enough that he couldn’t tell the difference between a piece of trash and a small animal, but just barely not drunk enough that it didn’t occur to him to swerve out of the way. He skidded across the width of the highway, right over its edge, and straight into the tree, easily uprooting it from its place in the rocky soil.

The tree, seeing its chance, promptly got up and walked away, earning itself a few dark looks from its grassy neighbors, who took abiding by the laws of nature more seriously. The man was vaguely aware of the fact that something unusual had happened, but decided it best to simply drive home and hope no one had noticed. Luckily for both of them, few noticed the tree was missing, and those who did mostly assumed it had been removed by a road crew, or some equally unoriginal story. The road crew also noticed it was gone, but had other matters to attend to, albeit ones that were no less mundane than a missing tree.


Honorable Mentions

The tree planter

By Annika Gruber, 16, Charlotte, VT

When my grandpa was in fifth grade he and his father decided to plant a red maple tree in their backyard in Missoula, Montana. My grandpa said he remembered how small that tree had been when it first started growing, “about as thin as a broomstick…”

When he was a kid, my grandpa’s family moved around a lot so he didn’t have the time to see that tree grow up the way that he wanted to when he was younger. Still, he never forgot about it.

Even as the years went by, that little red maple tree was tied to a special memory of him and his father doing something good together, and that was important. In fact, that memory stayed so strong in my grandpa’s mind that 50 years later he decided to go back to his childhood home and check up on that same tree. He said that when he saw it again, he noticed that it still stood just where he and his  father had planted it, except for now it wasn’t small and thin as a broomstick, but tall and beautiful and strong with branches reaching up toward the sun. To see it there made my grandpa proud.

Since that day in the fifth grade, my grandpa has been on a journey of planting trees at every house he has ever lived in. He made a promise that he would do that for the rest of his life, and so far, he hasn’t broken it.

When I asked my grandfather what he thought that trees might have taught him about his life, he said without hesitation that they have taught him about resilience.

“Trees can get through just about anything,” he told me. “They can grow just about anywhere and then stay there for hundreds of years. Animals can build their homes in them, all kinds of weather can hit them, and yet they still stand tall and strong.”

I think that’s what resilience really means, and now when I look at trees, I think about my grandpa. I think about all of the special trees that he has in his life, and how he planted each one of them just so he could watch them grow.

The Apple Tree

By Tessa Gordon, 12, Colchester, VT
(Song, with audio)

Once there was a tree that wanted to travel the land
And see all the things that she doesn’t understand.
She wanted to look at all the flowers
And talk to the waves for hours and hours.
But she’s stuck in the ground on her big roots.
They keep her there with her blossoms and fruits.
She wants to break free, but she doesn’t know how.
She wants to break free and she wants to do it now.

But how do you break free?
How do you break free?
How do you break free?
When you’re stuck in the ground as an apple tree.

Just right then a car pulled up
It said, “Tree, get in, we’re gonna fix you up.
“We’ll turn you into something a kid could enjoy like a shiny brand new race car toy.”
The tree thought that that was a great idea.
She had no worry, no, she had no fear.
She would race around the world giving everyone a smile.
Being turned into something new would be worthwhile.

I’m going to break free.
I’m going to break free.
I’m going to break free.
No longer stuck in the ground as an apple tree.


Tree blood

By Zinnia Hansen, 17, Port Townsend, WA

A tree has blood, thick blood
that fills its cold fractals with slow warmth.

We watch the rain fall.
And tenderly, I brush the water from my eyes.

At the base of my stomach,
is dirt that tastes like the moon.

They planted a fairytale in my belly.
And sang me to sleep until the seed grew into a dream.
My fingers smell like sticky sap and old firewood.
To build a flame is to watch the leaves fall.

You are only a stump now,
Grandma Tree.

I climbed your branches,
I bent you into human shape.
I sang you to sleep.

I want you to hold me,
because the rain has come again.
I want to believe in your blood,
in the fairytale coursing through your trunk.


A tree from lost generations

By Suhanee Mitragotri, 17, Lexington, MA

grandparents walked the homeland.
Their footprints were artifacts in the wet mud,
memories of a time
they found the only patch of land that hadn’t
been consumed by someone else.

In their right hand they held seeds
and in their left a garden shovel.

Those seeds were tucked under earthen
ground, blessed with water above and
warmth below.

They soon blossomed into little babies
who cried for their parents at night
waiting for a cradle to rock them to sleep.
They still needed someone to water them
someone to help them grow.

But these babies became children
and these children became adults
and these adults needed no one’s help
and they wanted to be as far from the soil as possible.
They became bustling city folk breathing in
polluted air and hearing the car horns that
splattered impatience on the busy streets.
They trudged aimlessly along the cracked
sidewalks, never taking a moment to
observe the person waving to them across
the street.

And eventually they needed more space to
stretch their limbs.
They wanted to leave.
They headed for America

where air didn’t smell of gasoline,
where there was space for their seeds
to grow.
Their leaves could finally reach sunlight.
They no longer had to fight for water.
They no longer had to fight for ground


they still found something to fight about.

They realized the soil wasn’t like the
soil they grew up in back home.
They realized the soil was changing their children.
They realized that a tree was growing
flooded with leaves, flowers, branches

but you could no longer see the roots.

The roots were back in their homeland
The roots were supporting this family.
The roots remained with the seed.
The roots are what kept the family tree alive.


Everyone’s and also mine

By Ruth Knox, 12, Essex Junction, VT

It’s everyone’s and also mine,
chipping bark and a hanging branch,
amber leaves that drift to the weeded ground,
a forgotten sweatshirt sits at the trunk

limbs tired from climbs,
from gloved hands grabbing at the too-weak twigs,
from kicking at the trunk
and leaves pulled off by bored fingertips.

It’s everyone’s and also mine
because I am not the only one who sat on the larger branches,
who flicked off small, tired ants
and picked off the red berries.

I wish I could hear its stories,
hear it tell stories from the other kids
who call it their own.
I could listen for hours.

It aged with me
from picking up their older sister
to finally sitting at its base
while waiting for the car to come.

It’s everyone’s and also mine
because everyone called it their own
but it’s still special.


If you can get up, you can get down:

By Gaia Lenox, 16, Cambridge, VT

Have you ever had sour
They’re an angry fruit
that stings your throat
and boils in your stomach
prone to scrunched noses
and tart pies
and being gathered
by girls with blonde pig tails
promising delicious desserts
reaching high into branches
that have so often posed
as castle balconies
or crows nests
leaving splinters and broken
as a parting reminder
of the whispered secrets that
were held hostage by snow
and blossoms
in exchange for
fingers stained red by cherry juice
that would find its way into
the cracks in our fingernails
and the lace of our dresses
that were often decorated
with mud and bark and bad dreams
and missed dance classes
because the shoes hurt
our toes
that were needed to grip
that would push us
that much closer to the
and the sour cherries


Memories of the maple

By Jaxson DeCelle, 9,  Middletown Springs, VT

As I look in our backyard, I see a small, beautiful maple tree. When I was young our dog passed away, and my dad and I bought a small maple tree. We buried our dog beneath the tree and I asked the tree to take good care of him. Over time, our other dog passed and we also buried her under the maple. I asked the maple to take good care of her, too.

One day I found a caterpillar. It was a tiger swallowtail. I did some research on my computer and found out how to take care of it. It loved its enclosure and I had named her Butter. As she got older, she made what looked like a spider web outside of herself and hung for a long time. When she came out, she was beautiful. She had become a butterfly! I did some more research on Butter and found out she would only live for two weeks. I managed to raise her for two months. When she passed I put her under the tree and said goodbye.

A year later, I found a salamander. It seemed like it wanted a friend, so I found another one. I decided to take them with me for a little while. When we got home my sister and I built them a nice size enclosure. While we were building the enclosure one of the salamanders ran away when we were not looking. That left only the one I named Sal. He and I were friends but one day he was on a rock and he slipped and got hurt, so I put him down. When he went under the tree I looked at the tree and said, “Take good care of them all.” Every time I go outside, I look at the maple and smile. I think of all of my animals because the tree helps me remember them. I then hug the tree and walk away.


Why does a willow?

By Jadyn Mardy, 18, Hempstead, NY

Why does a willow bend upside down,
Its branches floating by the ground,
Instead of reaching for the sky?
Who made it droop so low?
‘Twas I.

It happened rather randomly, its branches towards the sky.
(For if you didn’t know this – willows’ branches once grew high.)
Bursting upwards like an oak, as sturdy as a pine,
And under it, when I was small, I’d play there all the time.
This tree and I grew very close, though I too small to climb,
I spent all days and nights by it
Until, one day, it cried.
Its sorrow filled the air itself and brought on golden tears.
Airy songs like chirping doves did leave me wrought with fear.

I didn’t want the tree to cry
As its tears turned mud from soil.
And so I tried some remedies –
‘Twas treated as a royal.
But nothing worked,
To no avail. Whatever could be wrong?
Its branches, long and straight before, now bent with every song.
Its leaves once reaching towards the sky now whipped and kicked and swayed.
The little pond that it sat on would gurgle in dismay.

I covered my small ears at this, as weeping willow wailed
And wondered when the bended tree would tell me of its ails.
My ears would never rest until a potion could be found
To lift the saddened willow’s leaves
From the dirty, grimy ground.

“Sweet tree!” I cried, my own brown eyes now blurred with aching tears.
“Please tell me why you’re weeping so, and I’ll allay your fears!”
I stretched my head far back
To see its branches sway above
And placed my tiny hand around its leaf just out of love.
“I’ve done my best to keep your leaves from turning brown with mud,
But tell me why you cry so low, transfixed by water suds!”

Suddenly I braced myself as the bark than cracked and moaned
The song that lilted on the wind straight to my ears were thrown –
Lyrics in a different tongue with ancient melody,
Softly, madly, crying sadly, told of its story.

Oh tiny child, pigtails bright, I’ve grown attached to you!
Your gentle soul and heart of gold –
My love for you is true.
And yet I can’t protect you like a mother loves her babe.
I cannot stroke your lovely face; all I do is give you shade.
Alas! My leaves do not reach far enough to give a longed embrace.
My willowed heart is broken as I cannot kiss your face!

I tried to calm and soothe the tree,
Upset and wanting hugs.
Its song of sorrow echoed as I touched its earthen bark.
“If only,” I said sorrowfully, “your arms could reach the ground.
Regrettably your oaken shape, like pine, is upward bound!”

At this, the tree made up its mind,
Its oaken shape must go.
Giving one last anguished cry, it willed its branches grow. It
r   e   a   c   h   e   d
s t r e t c h e d
c u r v  e d
itself; its fingered fronds slowly dropped!
Its branches thinning at the tips. A slender graceful swap.
Its glowing heart inside its trunk,
Its soul inside its roots,
Have inverted its willowed top
So that its leaves may droop.
Its branches had turned from the sky, its leaves cascading low
So that the weeping willow tree
Could give me all its love.

It cried for joy, then kissed my forehead
And its leaves then fluffed my hair.
Its golden tears flowed freely as it finally hugged me near.
Its branches sounded of satin
And they flew freely as a silk.
While to it, I felt of clay and earth,
A flower yet to wilt.

From here I picked the willow’s name,
Though its weeping has since gone.
Ever grateful that, for me, it wished to bend its fronds.
And every seed thereafter from this tree has felt it still,
Never keeping oaken form,
But bending down at will.
For willows feel so very deeply, unlike a pine or spruce.
They’d rather care for tiny humans running ’round their roots.
So welcoming, so motherly
They can’t protect from up above.
That’s why a willow bends so low;
To see the ones they love.


My forever tree

By Roxanne Glassenberg, 17, Wellesley, MA

A dogwood tree grows in my front garden. It is small, somewhat peaked, somewhat scrawny. It’s imperfect. That tree has watched me grow up. It watched me grow from when I was nine months old and first moved into that gray house (not the kind of gray that makes you think of dystopian forests of burned out, ash-filled air, but the kind of neutral, welcoming gray on which to paint the artwork of your life). The tree was short and delicate like the body of a baby held in her mother’s arms. It was fragile for a tree, which are usually bastions of strength. This one was small and the New England snow bowed its boughs, yet it kept standing.

I have so many pictures of me as a little kid, dressed in my American flag blouse playing “parade” outside by that tree. When my middle sister came along, we would wrap ourselves in rags from the linen closet and play “witchland” on the driveway, watched over by the tree, and of course by my mother just a shout away. My youngest sister was born, and she would play in the shade of that little tree and create big stories, and the sunlight would catch her dappled blonde hair. My parents would sit on the porch and watch as we played in the sprinkler and built tiny dams in the driveway, and the tree would blossom in the summer sunshine. I never worried and I never thought twice.

Fall came, and then winter, and the tree became bent and twisted under the weight of the cold air. You could see the icicles forming on its branches from my middle sister’s bedroom window. The tree brushed tenderly against the side of the house, tapping, wrapping it in a green embrace. My parents had it trimmed because it had grown as I had grown and had gotten too big. It’s growing up and so am I, only people keep growing and can’t be trimmed no matter how hard you try.

I’m seventeen now, and I go to school here, in Burlington. I don’t see that tree so often anymore, and the days of playing games of imagination in its shade have faded into sunny memory. But still, it’s the first tree I think of when I think about trees. It’s my forever tree, and curled into the folds of its wrinkled bark are the words that write the sentences of my past.


One Tree Island

By Ella Cisz, 13, Waterbury, VT

Alone you stand on your tiny island of weathered grey rock
Surrounded by immense calm water
A mirror provided for the sky to admire its reflection in
A mirror seldom disrupted, only by the stroke of my paddle and my cedar strip canoe
Just passing through silently
As I observe your stillness.
How sad it must be to stand there, windblown pine tree
Oblivious to how your island separates you from the bustling outside world
Yet there is beauty to your loneliness
Beauty in your thick branches that are bent over from the unforgiving wind
Yet that still reach out to the stars, and out to me.

We visit in our flotilla of canoes with shouts of excitement
Eager to see the distinctive silhouette of One Tree Island painted into the sky.
But it’s strange to think that you remain here all alone
Through the silent winter that reaches its icy arms over the lake
And freezes everything like wax figures in its grasp.
The heavens crack open and rain cascades down in sheets
Thunder threatens your frail silhouette from afar
Yet you remain standing tall in resistance to the wind like a mighty soldier
Guarding your precious island.
After the menacing thunderhead clouds disappear without a trace
Over the mountains of granite and pine
Where this blue pearl of water is protected, nestled in the foothills
Maybe then I will sit in the comfortable chair of your branches and get lost in the pages of a book.
When you bask in the last cherished rays of golden sunlight
I’ll lie on the ground in the blanket of soft pine needles that have surrendered to the wind
As I watch the sun fade away and the galaxy come out from hiding
Rotating with its millions of minuscule stars
Each stranded on their own island.

Your roots extend deep down
Reaching desperately to grab hold of only a little soil
And somehow find a way to survive on an island of stone.
It seemed as though you would perish in this inhospitable place
Yet here you are when I return, and I know you’ll be here year after year.
If I peer through the cracks in the ground down to your roots
Maybe I can discover the secret
The secret that transformed a seed carried by the wind into a pine that is so delicate and frail
Yet towering strong above me at the same time.
One day, other trees will sprout
Surrounding you
Shrouding your view of the open water
Creating a ceiling with their endless canopy of branches
But for now, you are all alone in the great, untraversed wilderness
Alone until I return
Alone on your island.


Branches of my youth

By Madeleine Connery, 16, Shelburne, VT

My tree is a razor-sharp memory
Sticky pine and strong, safe trunk
Perched on the edge of a forgotten home
Which all my love has sunk

From four years old I gathered round
Lighting up at pinecones found
Drawing breaths of sticky sweet air
Gathering dirt within my hair

At the age of six, I dared to climb
And found myself stuck in record time
Poised with fear, in need of help
Grampa appeared at the sound of my yelp

Ten years old, I drifted up high
Pretending as if I was one with the sky
Now Grammy was the one to shout in distress
But the tree twirled me back down to be scolded in success

But at age thirteen, I stayed up there all day
Tears trickling down in the beauty of May
And no one was there to be bothered with worry
As I spoke up in grief to my loved ones, words blurry

Later that day I bid a final farewell
To my hidden sanctuary where the echoes of them dwell
No more bold carefree days of sky and sun
I had to care for myself now that my grandparents were done

And still I wonder about the new possessors of the tree
Unknowingly holding power over forgotten adventures of me
For behind reaching branches and wise, wrinkled bark
Is the brilliant soul of my grandparents’ spark


With these roots

By Emma Paris, 14, Putney, VT

One tree
was the tree I leaned upon
while I had my first kiss

One tree
knows that secret
I trust trees more than people

With these hands
I build the soil around you like blankets

With these roots
I entrust each pillowed seed in your spine

With these hands
I force upon you union and temperance

With these roots
I curtsy on every stepping stone

With these hands
I hold the sunshine to my tongue

With these roots
I gather the rain to my skirt

With these hands
I wish you prosperous tides

With these roots
I curl your love into paperchain glories

With these hands
I push you not light but warmth

With these roots
I ask you to be mine