Driving through city streets to Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain is not a ride meant for an out-of-towner. Snaking my way out of congested Harvard Square, I pass over the detour-ridden BU Bridge and finally onto the Arborway, where other motorists nearly squeeze me out on the narrow turns.
But when I finally park the car and step into the lush forest in the city, I can’t help but be transformed. It is the same aaah moment you experience when you pass through the gritty underbelly at Fenway into the gorgeous lush green of the ball field on the other side. You just can’t help but smile.
The Arboretum is so serene and languid it seems imaginary. On a warm summer day, dogs and runners and bicyclists all share the nearly silent space under the shade of giant and rare trees of odd shapes and sizes. On Conifer Path, raspberries grow under a Ponderosa pine. The tree’s five arms jut out from its central trunk, looking oddly like the spokes on the wheels of the bicycles that pass by. The crimson-colored trunk of a Japanese red pine is conspicuous in the depth of its color yet at home among other rare conifers on Bussey Hill.
In 1872, Benjamin Bussey bequeathed the land to Harvard College “for the creation of an institution for instruction in farming, horticulture, botany, and related fields.” His philosophy continues to this day. Signs along pathways read “Experiment in progress” and “What’s going on?” instructing visitors who might be curious about why branches of bushes are wrapped in plastic bags, or why they shouldn’t step on newly planted moss.
If you listen carefully, you can hear the cars buzzing along the Arborway, but mostly you hear the birds, the wind, and the soft laughter of the other visitors, transformed by the beauty of the Arboretum and our shared good fortune of experiencing an aaah moment in the middle of a crowded city.