Archive: A Circle of Trees

By Jeanie Robinson
April 1, 2012

This post has been moved from its original location at and archived here, so you can continue to access it.

April in the northern hemisphere is the month when blossoms bud, warblers return from their long migrations, and people become convinced that winter is finally over. It is a month filled with earth-centered celebrations such as Earth Day and Arbor Day.

Joining in these celebrations, our April Circle Tale shares the beautiful, tree-saving work that The Circle Way colleague and friend, Jeanie Robinson, is doing in Bothell, Washington. Being a Keeper of the Trees is not easy, as Jeanie’s story shows. So far, with her help, the forest she loves is standing strong.

Jeanie received her Masters in Theology in Spiritual Direction from Seattle University in 1993 and has facilitated retreats and worked with individuals in spiritual direction since then. Jeanie and her husband Tom live in Bothell and have four grown children and grandchildren.

My circle tale began almost 30 years ago when I joined a support group in Bothell, Washington that helped me get through a period of depression. This circle of friends was everything I hoped for, diverse and inclusive, non-judgmental and constant in their support.  They were also unique since they were not human. This urban forest “circle” that lived behind our home, was made up of 64 acres of trees, birds, and animals.  

Each day when I put my youngest children down for naps, I would sit on the couch and try to pray.  My usual methods weren’t working and my depression turned me inward.  My sustenance came from staring out the window at the tall cedar trees edging the forest.  I didn’t know what to call the relationship I was forming with them. I only knew that I was receiving a wordless offering of peace and fullness, assuring me that I would be okay. This began a long and deep connection to nature, a place to find the Divine, a holder of nurturing energy. It’s hard to find words to name this.  

About nine years ago, a sign was posted at the edge of the forest that devastated me: “Proposed Land Use.”  A developer had proposed a zoning change and made plans to build hundreds of homes where the trees stood. While many people went to city council meetings to voice their concerns about traffic, the loss of a noise buffer, possible flooding from building on steep slopes, I sat in the meetings, heart pounding, thinking, “But what about the trees and wildlife? Who will speak for them?” I felt heartsick, as if someone I loved had been diagnosed with a terminal illness.  On a daily basis, my neighbors and I began to mourn the possible passing of the forest.    

A grass roots effort began to convince the city council of the environmental value of this 64 acre forest.  Influenced also by the plunging economy, the developer abandoned his plans in 2008. We were overjoyed as we now had a strong chance to pursue preservation. One neighbor convinced the city to apply for a grant with which a part of the forest could be purchased and preserved as a park. The challenge: the grant required matching funds be raised within the next year. The mayor said simply, “The city doesn’t have the money. Why don’t you raise it?”

That week, I went out to my forest circle, leaned against “Grandmother Cedar” and asked her for help.  The rings within her trunk seemed to radiate energy through me and out into the community.  The forest welcomed more people into her circle:  “Friends of North Creek Forest” was formed in January of last year. We met twice a month with a goal of raising matching funds and grants to enable the city to purchase the first 35 acres of the forest. We became aware that something bigger than us was at work here; namely the advocacy we continued to feel from the forest. On several occasions a few of us went to the “prayer tree” and asked for help. Each time was followed by some surprising breakthrough or event, a new grant or endorsement. We were held in a spiritual circle by the forest itself.

In December 2011, through grants and money we helped raise, the city of Bothell was able to acquire the first 35 acres of the forest for conservation. There is still work to be done with 29 more acres to protect.  But we have a powerful secret. The circle of green that saved me thirty years ago is helping us now to save itself.

Thank you Jeanie! For more information or to endorse Friends of North Creek Forest, go to their website.

Another The Circle Way colleague (and Jeannie’s friend), Nan Collie, has also done powerful spiritual work on behalf of a stand of trees near her home in Oregon. She was not able to save these woods, and shares photos and stories about her love, sorrow, and witness in her blog.