Water is Life: Everywhere the Water Flows, We Can Plant a Tree to Grow…

A crystal blue glacial lake sits at the bottom of Isabelle Glacier, below Navajo and Apache Peaks in the Indian Peak Wilderness
A crystal blue glacial lake sits at the bottom of Isabelle Glacier, below Navajo and Apache Peaks in the Indian Peak Wilderness
These are the headwaters of all the water that flows to the Front Range (and eventually to the Atlantic Ocean) at Isabelle Glacier. Also pictured: Navajo Peak and Apache Peak.

Our own backyard here in Boulder County is the direct connection to our approach to water at Treehouse Learning and as residents of the Front Range Water Shed. At the Western Edge of the county in an area now known as the Indian Peaks Wilderness and the Continental Divide. We’d like to share a bit more inspiration behind some of the “water planting” concepts we’re incorporating into our tree planting and “rain gardening” to grow other food, plants, and living things that these mountains inspire!

The Hills Are Alive…

Last week I had a powerful opportunity to climb to Pawnee Pass, at Brainard Lake Recreation Area. This itself is a huge and rare deal for a busy mama of 4 also running a business, but it happened thanks to a 3:30 alarm clock and a good deal of planning! One thing that made this particular excursion the epic and transformational adventure it was was that on the way to my intended destination at Pawnee Pass, I inadvertently took an “accidental detour” to the top of Isabelle Glacier, where I met the headwaters of the crystal lakes that flow down to our Front Range watershed in the form of pristine glacial lakes and connected waters flowing from the Continental Divide eastward towards the Atlantic Ocean. A Happy Accident indeed!

Important Side Note and Land Acknowledgment: The So-Called Indian Peaks Wilderness

A close up of a rocky glacial valley at nearby to Isabelle Glacier, and below Navajo and Apache Peaks, in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area off of Brainard Lake Recreation Area
During the many hours hiking underneath these mountain passes and peaks, it was as if the stone peaks themselves were like Ancient Stony Grandfathers and Uncles telling the story of the glacial valley and the water source flowing from the mountainside. I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised if any of the cliffs started speaking to me like a Rock Creature out of Lord of the Rings!

Boulder County sits on the unceded Ancestral homelands of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Ute people, as well as many other people from Indigenous nations who continue to hold deep land-based connections to this region. Even the name of the Indian Peaks Wilderness area reminds us of the recent history of colonization and the forcible removal of Indigenous People from these lands through the stony mountain peaks named after Indigenous people groups, like Navajo Peak, Apache Peak, Shoshone Peak, Pawnee Peak, and Paiute Peak, all in the area in which I was hiking most recently and which I got to know as a traveler passing through the valley watching these mountains shift in perspective as I approached.

While I am incredibly thankful for the hiking wilderness at our fingertips as residents of Boulder County, I also notice how much privilege I have in being able to access these mountains! Besides the terrain itself and the privilege of a healthy and able body that can hike up to glaciers and mountain passes, I also have a car for my own personal use, a smartphone (with a GPS as well as a registration app for recreation.gov, the online system for making a reservation to enter Brainard Lake Recreation Area) as well as a credit card. I also have the flexibility to schedule a mid-week hike, as well as a supportive family structure and partner.

This question of who has access to parks, open spaces, and wilderness areas (as well as who is excluded, and how) is an interesting one. For further discussion, consider listening or reading the work of David Treuer, a member of Leech Lake Ojibwe Nation: National Parks Should Be Controlled By Indigenous Tribes, One Writer Argues : NPR or this interview with Ibram X. Kendi: Repairing the Past: Returning Native Land – Be Antiracist with Ibram X. Kendi – Omny.fm

A eastward landscape from the Lake Isabelle region of Indian Peaks Wilderness area showing rocky pools of water
All water flowing down to Boulder County and the entire Front Range works its way down from over 12,500 feet down to Eastern Boulder County, the entire Front Range, and the eastern seaboard, declining in elevation through interconnected systems of lakes, brooks, creeks, rivers, and underground springs.

Hiking to Treehouse Learning Water Source: Singing the Water Song

This experience up to our Boulder County water source at a glacier at the Continental Divide inspired music and a new understanding of the flowing water here on our property at Treehouse Learning, and how it arrives to us.

This water source certainly inspired songs to sing at Treehouse Learning! I hike with a shaker egg (actually, I bring it with me basically everywhere), because you never know when you need to keep a steady beat or make a little rhythm while you walk, or join in for a “Happy Birthday” at a restaurant. On hikes, I also tend to burst out singing like, Julie Andrew’s style from The Sound of Music. (The trails weren’t crowded!)

Out of this incredibly sacred journey to this Water Source emerged a spoken word poem (a rap?), performed at Big Circle with rhyming flowing words echoing the flow of the water itself. All week at Big Circle, our community (even the toddlers) have built a shared story around The Water Song “singing” the story of our water and trees. The song features rhyming language patterns like up, up, up to the mountain top, the lake on the ground with a mountain all around, out of the snow, water does flow, and that water flows down, down, down the mountain to the plains down below… and everywhere that water flows, lots and lots of life does flow, and everywhere that water flows, that is where a tree can grow!  We’ve been singing about trees, observing trees, making art around trees, and of course counting trees! All this talk of trees naturally segways into conversations about care and stewardship for ourselves and the planet too, including our Water Song and our Peace Song.

A green-blue lake sits below rolling mountains in the Indian Peaks Wilderness area of Boulder County
A view of Isabelle Lake from the Pawnee Pass Trail. We are so incredibly lucky to have water that is pure, clean, and protected by Wilderness Areas. The adage to “keep it clean, we’re all downstream” is especially apt: literally all of the eastern-flowing watershed emerges from the mountains this pristine and beautiful!

Tree and Water Cycles, and Treehouse Learning

We are part of an incredibly creative, diverse, and fascinating universe! Regardless of individual spiritual beliefs, the forces of creation that created everything in the universe – including you and me – also created some fascinating things and systems! Mountains like this? WOW! And, just think- every time you breathe in, you inhale oxygen that was produced by a tree! Every time you breathe out, you exhale carbon dioxide that trees inhale. We’re part of nature, we’re part of the same earth. Seventy percent of our body is made of water; the same source of all life that flows down from the mountains, bringing life to all sorts of living creatures, trees, plants, food sources, and even suburban/small-town communities like ours!  We’re not created to be apart from nature. We’re part of nature.

Trees, Water, and Us: All Part of the Same Living Systems

Trees were created to take in carbon dioxide from the air and store it in the soil (a term known as “carbon sequestration“). Trees also were created to take in the groundwater that flows through the ground around us here in Eastern Boulder County, cooling us as that water evaporates into the atmosphere (soon we’ll have a song about evapotranspiration too that will be much more child-friendly than the Wikipedia page). That moisture collects in the air, eventually pulled into clouds that bring snow and rain to the Mountains above us at the Continental Divide. That water flows into crystal-clear, pure mountain lakes that make their way down the mountainside, from Isabelle Glacier and Pawnee Pass into the flowing water that eventually makes its way onto our property here at Treehouse Learning!

Protecting Water: Even a Toddler Can Do it!

Beyond us at Treehouse Learning, this water also flows towards everybody downstream from us, which means basically everybody east of where we live, because nobody is really above us. We are so lucky to live in a place with untouched natural water here in Boulder County. This gift also calls us into responsibility to protect and steward access to clean water– the source of all life–for all. We do this through awareness, knowledge, and relationships with water, and by protecting access to all water, especially from extractive, profit-based industries that disproportionally impact BIPOC communities through pollution, contamination, and the negative effects of climate change. Singing songs and building relationships with living systems and the flowing water that connects us all is a meaningful climate action that our children can participate in, daily. In fact, Treehouse Learning is where children come to learn how to care for ourselves, one another, and our whole planet (this is the essence of our Peace Curriculum, also deeply inspired by the Montessori Approach.

Community-led Climate Action to Build Community

During our upcoming Tree Planting Party / Community Climate Action event to Build Community, we will plant 12 new trees nourished by water from our very own Neighborhood Mountain Glaciers, like the one I climbed. In doing this, we are literally “planting the rain” around us. Rainwater Harvesting and Planting is a concept we learned directly from Brad Lancaster, but these principles all emerge from Indigenous land management practices as well. All of these small and large actions meaningfully impact our local bio-region of land on an otherwise obscure parcel of land that was once next to wetlands and swamps. What a thrill to get to participate in this whole living system that we’re part of!

A picture taken from the side of a glacier at the Continental Divide looking eastwards, with annotated labels pointing to the direction of the water flow, from west to east and up to down
I took this picture while making my way up the side of a glacier that I would soon discover was decidedly NOT Pawnee Pass. Instead, I witnessed the headwaters at the base of an incredible glacial basin surrounded by cliffs. The peak on the upper left is Shoshone Peak.

Embedding Water Stewardship into Learning and Practice

Our landscape plans at Treehouse Learning related to our tree planting, as well as our entire gardening, food growing, and outdoor learning spaces, have been thoughtfully influenced by Traditional Ecological Knowledge and the teachings from many Indigenous people who have managed and stewarded the Front Range for thousands of years. We give special thanks to some particular local partners too, including Harvest of All First Nations and Dryland Agroecology Research.

We also strive to apply permaculture principles and concepts and engage a whole slew of community partners. Our Art and Environment Specialist, Melissa Lam, connects art and environment to children’s learning activities formally and informally, literally and metaphorically digging in the dirt and applying these concepts.

Basically, everyone I meet with at the building eventually gets the tour of the Lake at the bottom of the parking lot, as well as our volunteer pumpkin plants and Pollinator Gardens! Even our contracted landscape company has had to adjust to our holistic approach, as our view of a thriving outdoor landscape moves away from “perfect” lawns of uniform blades of mowed grass that require an absurd amount of water to stay so lush and green! 🙂

The Short Game and the Long Game: Impact of Tree Planting

Within about a year from our initial tree planting, we expect to have some measurable differences in temperature perception as the shade of these trees expands and new wildlife makes its habitat in our little wildlife sanctuary and our ever-expanding pollinator gardens. The tree locations were chosen based on access and proximity to gravity-fed water systems, so they eventually will not require any external irrigation. (Trees take in water from the ground, and then spread their branches all around!) Within a year from the planting, we may even have our first Honeycrisp Apples to taste! Each generation of Treehouse Learning children will have a size benchmark to compare to these growing trees each year!

Net Benefits and Net Data

We’re working with other partners interested in gathering data at a place like Treehouse Learning to support business and policy initiatives too, as well as help us measure the total “carbon offset” as measured by many of the folks we engage with as part of a Colorado Sustainable Business community. But in the end, it is us, the “Citizen Scientists:” children, teachers, and families who will be spending the most time observing and knowing all of the birds and wildlife that gather around us at Treehouse Learning. Children will know the experience of feeling the cool shade of these trees, or the joy of exploring a treehouse we’ll eventually have the Tree Infrastructure to build! We don’t have to know the tons of carbon sequestered in the soil, the gallons of water saved, or the amount of oxygen officially produced to know that these trees have a net positive benefit!

(But if anyone wants to help us gather this type of scientific data, please do reach out, because we’ll probably need that figure to reach our goal of winning next year’s “Stanley Cup” at the Colorado Green Business Network, where even if it isn’t about winning, we REALLY are set on winning! * See form at the end of the post!

Impact for Good: People and Planet

Treehouse Learning is fortunate to be in an incredible position to combine meaningful climate action into all layers of our daily environment, our curriculum, our community, and our business. Not all businesses have the privilege of engaging in the type of work we do in fulfilling our mission and vision for the world through the expression of our values and actions as a program. 

More so, we’re oriented toward the next seven generations of the ancestors who will follow us, to use an Indigenous concept shared in “Iroquois Culture & Commentary.” Each child who learns the names of these new trees, eats a vegetable that they directly planted and watered, notices a bird’s nest on a tree, or recognizes a familiar pollinator is building a relationship with the natural world that we’re part of and actively resisting some of the powerful social, cultural, and economic forces that often disconnect us from our whole selves and our whole living planet.

When we connect this experiential, relational knowledge to positive learning experiences, such as our Community Circle Singing at Big Circle, we are also “recording on their hard drives” a deep relationship with the world around us learned through experience, song, movement, exploration, connections, and the relationships we establish every day at Treehouse Learning. It is a gift to surround children with such an incredible natural world, with the mindset of creating such an abundant, flourishing, and safe environment so every single human being, and our entire planet of living things, can all flourish. 

The Continental Divide and the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, including Navajo, Apache, and Shoshone Peaks,
The Continental Divide and the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, including Navajo, Apache, and Shoshone Peaks, or the mountain names that I got to know best on this journey.

* Love Measuring Carbon Offsets, and Environmental Impact? Let Us Know!

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