Rainbow trees and totems

For the past few years I have had the amazing good fortune to be in an education program that is working to be proactive in addressing gender identity and sexual orientation issues of discrimination and inequality in public education.

This is the second year I have been encouraged and supported in holding a public educational event on LGBTQ issues in education.  This year the event, UOTeachOUT, will take place on May 9th and right now we are gearing up for that day’s activities.

Recently the College Communications Department’s awesome artists designed and presented me with the poster for this event.  I gave them an overview of what my little committee of educators are up to with UOTeachOUT.  What you see here is a unique design that sprang forth from their imaginations in response to the notion that schools can be embracing, inclusive, and visible places that honor and acknowledge the diversity of their students and families.

A rainbow tree where everyone is sheltered by the joyful shade of difference and community.


Well this is a beautiful image in and of itself.  Yet to me the image resonated with something deeper.

For some 15 years ago, when I was a budding school teacher, I wrote a short story for my young nephew who is now a highschool sophomore.  A story about a rainbow tree.

I never shared this story with the designers of this poster.  In fact I haven’t really thought about all those little children’s poems I used to write for my nieces and nephews in quite some time.

But because of the memory this poster triggered, I pulled this little story out of an old folder this week and shared it with my 8-year-old daughter and she immediately began drawing colorful worlds from her imagining. 

And if you read the story below that I gave my young nephew Sam, perhaps you’ll see why this poster really jumped into my subconscious and took my breath away.   I am so glad I was reminded of it so I could share it with my daughter.  And I am so amazed at how life weaves so much beauty into the unpredictable patterns of living.

Prodder and the Purple Tree
©j.i.heffernan ‘95

written for Sammy’s birthday

I’ll tell you a secret,
and not some tall tale;
But true words to believe-yes,
So climb on and lets sail.

In a place up and down,
In a land black and white;
Was a town edge to edge,
So perfectly right. 

At precisely 5:30,
each day without doubt;
The sun came up shining,
on the rightness about.

Now believe me, I beg,
when I tell you it is hard;
to keep things so Rightly,
it requires a Guard…

Someone to file the edges,
smooth out the bumps…
herd in the wanderers,
and flatten the lumps.

For Prodder, the Guard,
no job was said done;
until every last grass grew,
just like the next one.

In that place up and down,
in that time black and white;
one morning a tree said,
“Why this doesn’t feel right. 

“I need things in color,
I feel in bright red;
I’ve got purples and oranges,
Dancing ‘round in my head.” 

Now it is hard just to know,
what her thoughts must have done;
but those colors burst outside,
toward the bright sun. 

At the sight of such color,
there were giggles and gasps;
all the other trees hushed,
while the flowers all laughed. 

Then Prodder came up marching,
sooo serious and so stern,
he marched up to that tree.

“Now a crimson red tree,
with a purple orange crown;
quite simply,” said Prodder,
“can not be in this town.

For though purple is pretty,
and orange may seem nice;
we all know the danger,
now take my advice:

Go back where you came from,
you law breaking fool;
you’ve no right to ruin,
the black and white rule.” 

In that place up and down,
in that land black and white;
all the creatures sat waiting,
in the midst of this fight.

When finally the tree spoke,
and without any fear;
said, “I can’t go.  I won’t go.
For I came from Right Here.”

“My roots grow so deep,
and this is my sky;
but the rules of my heart,
are what I must live by.” 

“There’s nothing to say then,”
snipped Prodder and spun;
about-face on his heels,
he had work to be done. 

Then a hedge cleared his voice,
in the wake of harsh words;
“Why tree you’re an odd one,
I’m afraid you’re disturbed.” 

Though a little round shrub,
admitted it true;
she had hopes of an odd sort,
in yellow-green-blue. 

But quick as a hiccup,
marched back dear old Prodder,
now an ax at his side. 

“This is no time for chatter,”
he scolded the yard.
“For we all know the matter.
All color is barred.” 

“Now tree, it is time,
to go back to what was;
and I quote from the law books,
the reason…. BECAUSE.” 

But sure as you’ve guessed it,
the magic starts now;
so please hold on tightly,
while I tell you just how. 

That little round shrub,
Pulled her hopes in so tight;
thought yellow-blue-green,
with all of her might. 

And before he could swing,
dear old Prodder did see;
a dazzling bright shrub,
right in front of the tree. 

Two creatures stood stronger,
in the bright morning light;
as they stared down the ax
of the Guard of the Right. 

“You are quite out-of-order,”
Prodder scolded a third;
for the nice quiet house,
was now Pink – how absurd! 

But his anger flew off,
his fear lost to his smile;
and his laughter made music,
baby blue style. 

Then downside turned up,
as the sun grew quite high;
on the new place for sunshine,
beneath a new sky. 

And all inside came outside,
to show with great pride;
that the rightness of all sides,
could live side by side. 

Now up is still up,
and down is still down;
but Between black and white,
lies a beautiful town. 

©j.i.heffernan ‘95



Filed under Uncategorized

4 responses to “Rainbow trees and totems

  1. Lisa

    Great poster! Great story! WOW!

  2. Julia

    🙂 Thanks Lisa! My daughter really liked the story too. She loves to think in full color.

    • Lisa

      Hi Julia,
      I just read your post for today which was well said as usual. It reminded me of an article I read yesterday, that I wanted to point out to you. Here’s the linkhttp://www.pfaw.org/rww-in-focus/big-bullies-how-the-religious-right-trying-to-make-schools-safe-for-bullies-and-dangero