I have been planting trees. Here in the far northwestern edge of Boise, where the curves of Old Hill Road define the edge of the bitterbrush dotted hills and the early floodplain of the Boise River, ponderosa and bristlecone pine, desert willow and syringa seedlings are taking root. Lately I have planted pinyon pine as well, a slow-growing tree of the desert mountains. Some friends are skeptical — after all, it takes a quarter century for a pinyon pine to produce a single pine nut, and I may well not be around for the first harvest.
But my greater fear is that the trees will grow but be forgotten, that the land in which they have taken root will be sold, subdivided, sold again, the paths lost, irrigation laterals buried, the fence lines that once harbored meadowlark and monarchs obliterated. For it is no longer enough for a tree to grow in suitable soil and sunlight — it must also be nurtured by a shared vision of the future. Without such a vision, the landscape will diminish into a jumble of housing complexes and strip malls, lacking the continuity and commitment that slowly grows trees and neighborhoods in the true sense of the word.
Boise is booming, exploding even, some say. One is reminded every day by the impatient edge to traffic, the raw grading of fields and the widening of roads. But toward what sun are we growing? Here in our Northwest Neighborhood, development is replacing pastures at a frenzied pace. More than nine out of 10 housing units are apartments or townhouses. Along Hill Road Parkway, the last spacious farm along the Foothills in all of Boise may soon be swept away in the rush.
I have been planting another tree. It is a marriage of two species: the tough scrub oak of desert canyons, and the majestic, wide spreading bur oak of the northern plains. The child has qualities of both parents — it tolerates heat and cold, it is well formed and drought-tolerant. It is, I believe, the ideal tree for our city — a hybrid that blends vigor with traditions eked out of western landscapes. The bur-gambel oak is a medium-sized tree with attitude, one that aspires to be itself. It is a reminder to grow toward our own vision without sacrificing our roots.
Take a walk or pedal in our neighborhood along the northern route of the Oregon Trail, and you will still see hawks work the ridges and soar over the farmland, the rush of quail, deer watching from the ridges. People may nod a greeting. At night you may hear a chorus of tree frogs, the hoots of owls and yip of coyotes. And then, if these things matter to you, tell our city that we should be in no rush to develop this eddy of tranquility in Northwest Boise. It is an integral part of our city, our tree, root and branch.
Join us on Facebook at Old Hill Road and sign our petition.
Richard Llewellyn, president of Boise’s North West Neighborhood Association, holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry that he applies to solving computational biology problems as well as permaculture techniques on his family’s land.