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Sept. 22: Columbia City

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Quiet Sketch Reportage: Seattle Trees


7/23/23 Luma, a culturally significant cedar in Wedgwood, and an idle excavator on the adjacent property.

8/3/23 This healthy Douglas fir growing where 
a housing development will be built was cut down
11 days after I sketched it. Maple Leaf neighborhood.
While many of us may think that “sketch reportage” involves being in the trenches on a battlefield (as Richard Johnson, former Washington Post artist, became well known for) or participating in large public rallies, it can be quieter, too. This summer Gabi Campanario, editor of the online publication On the Spot, gave me an opportunity to report on a tree that had captured the hearts of Seattle. Named Luma by its supporters, the 200-year-old Western Red Cedar was slated to be cut down to make room for construction of a housing development.

I’m fortunate to live in a city where trees are a prominent part of the urban landscape, and I always enjoy including trees in my urban sketches (especially when utility poles, wires and other human-made features are involved). Working on Luma’s story, however, gave me a much greater appreciation for the sketch reportage process – that it’s much more than just the fun of urban sketching as I have always known it.

In addition, I learned much about my subject matter: Mature trees like Luma are being cut down at an alarming rate all over Seattle, especially in less affluent neighborhoods. Living a comfy, privileged life in Maple Leaf, I had understood the term “climate justice” only peripherally. Suddenly I was becoming aware of how much is at stake when trees that take a century to grow are eliminated from the landscape. The impact is socio-economical as well as environmental.

8/14/23 In the Roosevelt neighborhood, a resident had ordered this 100-year-old Deodar cedar to be cut down to accommodate a new plumbing line. Tree activists gathered on the morning of the scheduled cutting to raise awareness among neighbors.

Using information I’m learning from the organization
Tree Action Seattle, I’m trying to sketch as many threatened trees as I can, especially those near my own neighborhood. The numbers are staggering – I can’t sketch fast enough, and sometimes I’m too late. But every tree I sketch has become an opportunity to express gratitude to all trees that silently provide service to all of us every day.

8/23/23 While technically protected by city code, a heritage yellowwood tree in Wallingford is in danger of being damaged during construction of a multi-level townhouse on the property. Fewer than 500 heritage trees -- of exceptional size, form or rarity -- still exist in Seattle.  

9/8/23 This redwood was planted in the 1930s by Green Lake Elementary School students. Fencing supposedly protects it from nearby construction activities, but the fencing does not comply with city code, and the tree's roots may be injured. City officials are aware of the non-compliance but are not enforcing the code.

9/9/23 Tree Action Seattle informed concerned citizens about this block of trees slated to be cut down in Shoreline. Unfortunately, I couldn't get there before the cutting. Fliers urging neighbors to voice their concern still hung from the stumps.


  1. This is a much needed wealth of information, beautifully presented, and thank you to Tina Koyama for sharing it. Great Old Broads for Wilderness is an organization which is working on this issue, check them out!

    1. Thank you, Natalie, for your comments! I will look them up!