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view of trees with fall foliage colors

Urban Forestry Fellow at the 2023 ISA Conference

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As the Urban Forestry Fellow at Morris Arboretum & Gardens, I visit new places all over the Philadelphia region to see trees in their various states of life and meet the people that care for them. In a short time, I have grown to love these intertwined interactions between trees and people. Recently I had the opportunity to fly to another new place a bit outside of the Philadelphia region, leaving behind the verdant forest of the East Coast for the golden deserts of Albuquerque, New Mexico to attend the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) annual conference. The ISA is entering its 100th year of caring for trees, with its mission statement as follows: “Through research, technology, and education, ISA promotes the professional practice of arboriculture and fosters a greater worldwide awareness of the benefits of trees.” In other words, if you are a tree person, this is the place to be.

A dimly lit auditorium with people both sitting and standing, and a projector that reads, "2023 Albuquerque ISA."
Photo: Matt Walker

I have never attended a conference before, and as the sole attendee from Morris I was nervous about being a good representative of our city and trees. Whatever anxieties I might have had quickly melted away during the keynote address when Florence Williams, author of The Nature Fix, stepped on stage. She spoke about how being in and amongst trees, appreciating their beauty, and being in awe of them can create a cascade of physical and mental health benefits. I sat there thinking about the green spaces in my life, like the grove of dawn-redwoods at Morris, and I could feel myself settling in and gathering excitement for the days to come.

The ensuing time was filled to the brim with talks of trees from experts and professionals all over the world. There were talks about building soil for trees, caring for trees during construction, Indigenous management of trees, fire management and trees, trees and their fungal interactions, and so much more. The air was filled with appreciation for the trees and the work that everyone was doing for them. In between talks, I met new people from different corners of the world and talked about their trees and their people while I described the Morris to them.

An aerial shot of Albuquerque, NM on a bright sunny day with fluffy white clouds in the blue sky.
Trees are an important part of every urban community, even in the desert! Photo provided by Ron Cogswell.

Inside the cavernous convention center gathering spaces there was a noticeable lack of trees, but that didn’t seem to matter. I could still feel the cascading physical and mental benefits of a forest in those treeless rooms. It was the people who were creating a forest-like environment: welcoming, beautiful, and awe inspiring. I was getting my nature fix from people.

The mission of Morris Arboretum & Gardens is to connect plants, people, and place. In other words, it is a place for plants and for people—there is no place if either is missing. The ISA conference sent me back to Philly with a deeper appreciation for the trees that bring people together, and for the people that make being together worthwhile.