That birch trees gotta be around here SOMEWHERE
That birch tree's gotta be around here SOMEWHERE Matt Baume

“We should do something together,” you might say to a friend you haven’t seen in a year, or to a hottie you met on a dating app, or to a visiting relative who expects you to drop everything and entertain despite the fact that we can’t all take our vacations at the same time, Debra.

But what should you do? You should download the city's Seattle Tree Walks app and then go a-wandering. For catching up with friends; for going on dates; for avoiding awkward silences because you’ve run out of subjects to try to have something in common about; it is the perfect local any-season activity, and it's free free free. Seattle Tree Walks turns the spotting of trees into a kind of scavenger-hunt game that sends you bouncing all over the city.


I gave it a shot this morning, and I can confirm that the experience is refreshing, invigorating, inspiring, and … I’m sorry, but if I’m being perfectly honest ... slightly erotic.

For my sampling of the saplings, I headed over towards the vicinity of Pony and Diesel, where the app offered a 22-stop Central District Tree Walk that features “an interesting mix of common Seattle street trees and several unique species.”

The first stop: Three birch trees with peeling white bark, standing handsomely amidst some bushes. The app provides a short bio for each of the attractions, and I glanced at the text, expecting to receive some dry scientific data. Things took a darker turn than I anticipated: “Enjoy these Paper Birch trees now,” Seattle Tree Walks urged, “before the Bronze Birch Borer, a parasitic beetle with an increasing presence in Seattle’s warming climate, destroys them all.”

But lest the mood get too dour, the text went on to describe the tree’s dangling reproductive organs. This, I would discover, would become a common theme — nestled amidst the information about the Turkish Filbert, the Japanese Black Pine, and the Kobus Magnolia are frank descriptions of the trees’ progenerative habits. Plants are extremely horny, and this is the season for them to strut and preen and fling the tree equivalent of sexual substances into the air. When reading about pendulous dark nuts, seed-bearing structures spreading to a wide 180-degree angle, and the spreading of pollen, it’s hard not to feel a little saucy.

That having been said, I don’t want to oversell the naughtiness. It’s there if you want it, but the walk is certainly not like slinking through Times Square in the '80s. Mostly, it’s a fun treasure hunt: The app tells you, for example, to look for a tree with leaves that radiate out like fingertips with pinkish flowers and reddish bark; then you prowl around the block until you locate it and are treated to a bit of trivia.

I’ve been playing a lot of Resident Evil Village lately, and minus the undead monsters, the experience is not entirely dissimilar. Exploring a new environment, discovering little highlights, getting treated to a story; it’s nice. The treasure hunt requires an awareness of your location, which means you’ll be gazing up into the sky and also scanning at ground-level — really getting to know your environment — and I found myself stumbling across pretty little sidewalk gardens, a small pocket park that I forgot existed, and a concentration of hummingbirds.

And delightfully, as I was staring like an idiot at a pine tree, trying to figure out if it was the right pine tree, a masked passer-by stopped to say hello, and I had a moment of disorientation before I realized it was a friend I hadn’t seen in months. We did a quick catchup while birds chirped and poked at pinecones overhead, and I felt like part of the world in a way that I haven’t in months.

There are around thirty of these walks in the app and even more that are provided as PDFs — a charming way to reconnect with the city as we stagger towards post-quarantine. And while knowing a bit more about local trees is nice enough, the true appeal isn’t becoming an amateur arborist; it’s the simple pleasure of once again having something to do.