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Shelter: A Love Letter to Trees
Shelter: A Love Letter to Trees
Shelter: A Love Letter to Trees
Ebook50 pages40 minutes

Shelter: A Love Letter to Trees

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars



About this ebook

So many of us have a tree we treasure in our lives or a preferred stretch of woods to retreat to, especially during these long and confining pandemic years. Ada Limón, award-winning poet and beloved host of the popular podcast The Slowdown, has kept a catalog of cherished trees that have grounded and inspired her throughout her life; trees that have marked time and place and have expanded meaning about what it is to be alive on this planet. Here, in a piece that is equal parts a tribute to nature’s power and mystery, boldly confessional memoir, and honest reckoning with our world’s beauty and its many upheavals, she takes the reader on a tour tree by tree, from California to New York City, from Cape Cod to Kentucky.

There’s the grove of eucalyptus that recalls the sweet turbulence of first love; the mythic bay laurel, “sexed and sensual,” that fills the valley where Limón grew up; there are seeds of trees that traveled to the moon and back on Apollo 16 and are now fully grown and rooted here, acting as if they are no different from any other tree; the fruit trees—pear, peach, orange, apple—that “everyone in her bloodline” has picked to survive, and that her family now grows on their own land because “to own your own tree, to own the fruit you pick, is a big thing.” There are the trees—western hemlock and Sitka spruce—that have helped her through seismic losses, and others—like the otherworldly Yoshino cherry, whose life span is comparatively short—that remind us that everything has an end. And, crucially, there are the many benefits of trees: what they teach us about silence and stillness, about healing and hope.

In twenty-three intimate vignettes, Limón demonstrates, through the force of her passionate intelligence and stunning lyricism, how connected we are to nature and how it better connects us to ourselves and one another. She proves herself to be the visionary of biophilia we all need now, as we confront the ills of climate change. Like the very trees it celebrates, “Shelter: A Love Letter to Trees” is a sensory refuge, and in keeping with the best nature writing, it invites us to slow down in these turbulent and ever-accelerating times, and affirms, often with ecstasy, our place in a natural world that has shaped and sustained us over the centuries.

Editor's Note

Walk through the woods…

Take a leisurely walk through the woods and across the country in this homage to trees from U.S. poet laureate Limón. This personal essay — told in brief and bittersweet vignettes — pays respect to the power, beauty, and mystery of our strong and silent companions. “Shelter” is perfect to read in the shade of a tree on a summer day.

Release dateJun 27, 2022
Shelter: A Love Letter to Trees

Ada Limón

Ada Limón is the author of four books of poetry, including Bright Dead Things, which was named a finalist for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Kingsley Tufts Award. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, and American Poetry Review, among others. She lives in both Kentucky and California.

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Reviews for Shelter

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

36 ratings4 reviews

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  • Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
    The worst boring book i ever read!!! Nothing special...0 stars
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    Such a good read about the symbolistic concept of trees involving stories of every day living.

    1 person found this helpful

  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    Loved listening to this book, great narration and cozy chapters.

    1 person found this helpful

  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    I liked the trees. No really. I liked the trees.

    1 person found this helpful

Book preview

Shelter - Ada Limón

The Valley Oak

The first tree, of course, was not the first tree, but the one I remember most. A California valley oak with a black tire swing hanging from it—an actual tire that filled with rain and worms in the spring. It looked like one of the ugliest of humanity’s inventions hung on one of nature’s most beautiful. But once it was emptied, I could balance myself on that ugly tire and watch everything spin, the world of leaves above me, each branch leading to some new ecosystem.

That tree, the way I could bend my body backward, the way I could watch how it swayed even as I spun in circles, I loved it. My brother would spin me until I was almost sick. How funny to think of getting sick on trees. I would steady myself by staring at the trunk, I could see the striated bark come into focus, could feel my legs find their roots again and come to standing.

When I had flying dreams I often flew over that California valley oak. I liked flying dreams best, not just because I was flying but because I could see the trees more clearly.


When I was only five years old, a program called Hug-a-Tree was established. As I remember it now, we were supposed to hug trees to feel better. I remember doing this on some nature excursion—really hugging a tree as hard as I could—and then suddenly being worried that I would break into tears. The tree was so sturdy and warm. I loved the tree so much it hurt.

But like most things I remember, I have remembered it incorrectly. The Hug-a-Tree program was established to find lost children in the wilderness. In 1981, a nine-year-old boy named Jimmy Beveridge was lost on Palomar Mountain, 60 miles east of San Diego. He was on a Saturday hike with his two brothers when he was lost and 400 searchers, including 200 Marines, combed every inch of the area before his curled-up body was finally found four days later. He had died of hypothermia.

The full name of the program was and is Hug-a-Tree and Survive. A child was supposed to find a tree and stay there. The idea being to stay put, to not wander farther off into the woods. The program was established in Jimmy Beveridge’s honor by a man who was on the search team and who was a Border Patrol agent for three decades. He chased down immigrants trying to cross the border. He could spot a bent twig, a rock out of place, and know how to track someone. He was a human tracker, used to getting his man. He couldn’t find Jimmy though. I don’t know why I don’t remember the survive part of the program. Nor the story of the lost boy. I just remember that if something was wrong, a tree was supposed to fix it.

The Yellow Plum

The mirabelle plum tree was my first lesson in the problems of abundance. A tree from Lorraine, France, it produces a sweet yellow stone fruit, and in a good year, it felt like we had thousands of them, so sugar-filled in the summer heat, it was like tree candy. I fed them to our dog, Dusty, a yellow Lab the same color as the golden plums themselves, until we both got sick.

When the tree

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