The Best Tree in Harvard Yard


First Treetise



Buckle up, beeches— I’m about to treet myself.


It’s my favorite activity and about 30% of my identity. Whenever I’m feeling a bit grim about the mouth, I look around for a nice tree to climb into, and it never fails to leaf me happy. Some trees are mainly for perching, reading, and people-watching; some trees are a tantalizing challenge just to get up into; and some trees are great for climbing really, really high. I am intimately familiar with almost every climbable tree around Harvard, although I’m constantly discovering more. I’m writing this in order to share my tree knowledge with you all, in the hopes that you will notice, appreciate, and maybe even climb some of the amazing trees hidden around Harvard.


I figured I’d start with my favorite tree within Harvard Yard. I call it the Emerson Tree; it’s the large tree on the northeast side of Emerson Hall, between Emerson and the gates that face Sever. I think Ralph Waldo Emerson would really dig this tree— it really stands out. Most of the other trees in Harvard Yard are very pruned, small, and have branches that sort of shoot diagonally upwards. These aren’t very good for climbing, which is exactly what Harvard wants.


The Emerson Tree escaped their shears somehow. It’s some type of evergreen, and it’s way taller than most of the climbable trees within the gates of the Yard, none of which are as easy to mount. Once you start noticing the types of trees in Harvard Yard with an eye for evaluating climbability, you will come to realize how special the Emerson Tree truly is; and needless to say, you will try to climb it.


Emerson Tree is one of the only trees in the Yard that has tons of unpruned branches which extend parallel to the ground, making it extremely easy to climb. I call this a Beginner Level Tree. You can climb right into its low branches from the ground with minimal effort, and from there you can ascend wicked high, no difficult moves required. Just keep stepping onto a higher branch and using your arms to pull yourself up. It’s like using stairs, if stairs required you to use your arms. I’ve been climbing tall trees like this since I was little, so I’m used to it, but a lot of people tell me that they get scared. I promise, as long as the branch your weight is on is as thick as your wrist, you can 100% trust the tree. Evolutionarily, we’re mostly monkeys, and we are more adapted to trees than we are to cars or desks or treadmills. This is what you were meant to do. Try it. It’s so much more fun than you might think.


I didn’t sleep last night, so after my first class today I was super exhausted. I went outside and it was lightly drizzling, so I went to the Emerson Tree and sat down underneath it, where the ground was basically dry under the protection of branches. Trees are an amazing habitat for us in so many ways. I leaned against the tree for a while, resting, at peace. Eventually, I decided to climb. I hopped right up easily into the lowest branches, then kept on climbing up, circling the trunk as I followed an easy progression upward. I got a bunch of tree sap on my hands as I got higher, which you can easily avoid if you look where you grab. Personally, I like the sap.


Eventually, I was as high as I’ve ever been in this tree, which had me about level with the third floor of Sever, and well above the inscription on Emerson Hall that demands to know What Is Man That Thou Art Mindful Of Him. I stopped when the branches got too thin and the trunk narrowed. Way up there, you have an amazing view of Memorial Hall and William James, but the real treat is the ability to survey the whole Sever Quad area, as well as Quincy Street. It’s nice to watch people pass by on paths that you’re usually glued to as you go from task to task.


No one ever sees you way up there, but, to be fair, no one ever sees you even if you’re halfway down the tree, either. Harvard students never seem to look up. I would know, since I taped $10 to a packet that says OPEN ME on one of the lower branches of this tree about three weeks ago for a friend’s charity initiative (Kindling for Kindness). That packet is still there after three weeks; it has been entirely visible this whole time for everyone walking towards the Sever gate. It’s literally in the field of vision, and if some student were to ever tilt their head even 15 degrees above their immediate goal, then they’d stare straight at it. I’ve walked past it many times, and it still hasn’t been claimed. People don’t expect anything to be in trees, so they never look. That’s part of why climbing trees is so fun. Of course, climbing is fun in and of itself, and it needs no justification besides our DNA. Give the Emerson Tree a climb next time you find yourself passing by the Sever gate. It’s a great way to clear your mind and kill 15 minutes, as well as a lifetime of unnatural social conditioning.


Aidan Fitzsimons ( identifies as a Stationary Vagabond