The Tree Tunnel

Those of you who live in the Portland area might be familiar with a local landmark that I call the tree tunnel. It’s that one-mile stretch of McLoughlin Boulevard that runs between Tacoma and Insley. At the south end, through Westmoreland Park, the trees are a unified army of oaks, standing sentry at either side of the road. But as you drive under the Bybee street overpass you cross into an area where they become a colorful mishmash.

The oaks at the south end of the tree tunnel

Year round the trees are beautiful. In summer they provide a cool, green tunnel. In winter the oaks are stark, living sculptures against the gray sky. But in spring and fall, this stretch of highway takes on magic that can grip the attention of even the most zombified commuter.

In the fall the tree tunnel is a rampage of color. The leaves drift down and settle along the concrete divider. On a dry day as you rush along at fifty miles an hour they swirl up behind your car like in a tornado.

I’m a bit late in posting this, so right now the foliage is taking on it’s sedate summer appearance, but in early spring, the tree tunnel—particularly the northern part—is spectacular. The leaves begin to unfurl in a beautiful haze of green and red. There were so many varying shades, and the process happens over several weeks. Even at night under the streetlights you can see a hint of color, red, maroon, peach, chartreuse, and green. I can’t drive through there without drinking in every bit of beauty, appreciating the fact that I get to have this experience every year and silently thanking the people who planted those trees.

A blurry shot that doesn’t begin to do the color justice

Creating the tree tunnel was an act of faith. A gift to the future. Trees aren’t like marigolds. You plant one and you know that you may not be around to appreciate its full glory. So many people are caught up in their own lives, their own fortunes, and even if they aren’t actively doing something that will have a negative effect on upcoming generations, they’re too busy gratifying themselves to worry about giving something to people they’ll never meet. Whoever planted those tress didn’t think that way, and because of it thousands of commuters get to enjoy the tree tunnel every day.

Will I ever get a good picture of this color?

For years I enjoyed the tree tunnel on my own, foolishly thinking I was one of the few who appreciated it. But recent uproar over the mere suggestion that the trees might be cut down for the Light Rail gave me a whole new reason to appreciate it. I like it because it provides a sense of community. We all know the tree tunnel. We all love the tree tunnel. It’s part of our separate, private worlds, and yet we share it. There’s something important about the idea that being individuals doesn’t exclude us from being part of a community.

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10 Responses to The Tree Tunnel

  1. Elisabeth Miles says:

    Having grown up in SE Portland and Milwaukie, the Tree Tunnel has been a part of my life for more than 60 years. And it was mature when I first rode through it, before that stretch became part of the extended 99E, known as McLoughlin Blvd over part of its length. Thee used to be more trees, and even further south, the road was lined with Sequoias. MAny are still standing, but they cut down some of them to link in Hwy 224, and thinned more earlier along the East Moreland Park area. AS you say, always wonderful, no matter what time of year.


  2. Roxie says:

    My current car is the first I ever owned with air-conditioning, and that shady tree tunnel was such a profound blessing during those three weeks in the summer when it gets hot.

    Love your photos, but were they snapped from behind the wheel? You daring photographer!


  3. Elisabeth Miles says:

    Arghhh. I just read my comment. and I committed ALL the crimes against writing known to Chrysalids. Mea culpa.


  4. I’m rarely down that way, but I love your description and now I’ll have to find an excuse to drive that stretch just so I can appreciate the trees!

    The sense of community is one of the things I love about Portland. Like how everyone came together to save the White Stag sign facing east across the river. I adore the red nose the stag gets every Christmas!


  5. carlos nordquist says:

    All all of that beautiful writing and the pretty pictures, nothing I could write right now could compare to all of that. Just drinking bitter, muddy expresso loaded with cream, listening to a cat meow mournfully (she’s in heat), looking for her lost love (we fixed the male–thank God). Americal Idol needs to end already, so I can see who wins. Not that I really care–I like Industrial (Wumpscut/16 Volt). Almost moved to Portland once (for cooking school) and used to dream about living in ‘Stand By Me’ land–Brownsville, Oregon. I think that’s where they filmed it. Am enjoying immensly the advice you’ve given on novel writing–your process of Novel writing–its filling in some gaps/problems with my methods/but is also confirmation that I’ve been doing some things right–my process is similar, but not as evolved. Probably because I haven’t written a novel yet.


  6. Alice Lynn says:

    I’ve always loved driving through that corridor. There’s something magical about a path or a road or a river that is bordered by trees. They imply an adventure, a destination, a mystery.


  7. Rose Lefebvre says:

    Cut down the trees for a TRAIN! Ridiculous!! I hope that does not happen!! You described it so poetically!


  8. Katy Skinner says:

    Lisa, you are awesome! I’m proud to get to call you my friend.


  9. Lisa Nowak says:

    Roxie and Beth, thanks for giving me an earlier glimpse of the Tree Tunnel.

    Chris, I didn’t really realize the feeling of community in Portland was an unusual thing. I figured all cities had something like it.

    Carlos, thanks for visiting. You’re right, Stand by Me was filmed in Brownsville, though the junk yard scene was shot in Veneta. That wrecking yard sponsored my race car one year.

    Alice, you are such a poet at heart!

    Rose and Shelli, they’re not going to cut down the trees, it was just a fear people had when they talked about expanding the light rail. But there was such an outcry no one will even consider it. And if they do, I’ll be chaining myself to one of those trees along with everyone who drives through that area.

    Katy, you’re awesome too. 🙂


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