I’ve known this tree since I was 16 or so. The first time I saw it, my friend Kathleen and I climbed up the cliff face. Back then the “Bluffs” was a quiet, seldom visited, mildly wild-and-woolly place. It was Sunday afternoon after church. Kathleen and I went to the same church, lived in the same hood and went to the same high school. We walked to school together every day and hung out on weekends. She had a horse named Irish Luck and a great dog, a Border collie named Ronco. We had a lot of fun rambling around up there and life was (mostly) good.
Life in my family wasn’t so good. My dad’s abilities were deteriorating quickly from his MS, and I was scared about losing him. There were family fights almost every night. I avoided home as much as possible by doing lots of extra-curricular activities at school and getting a job.
So anyway, one Sunday afternoon Kathleen, Ronco and I went up to the bluffs, found a trail, took it until it petered out, saw the sandstone cliff, climbed up and arrived at this amazing tree. I was stunned. Out of the ‘dead’ trunk of this Rocky Mountain Juniper rose a straight new tree, back then about 18 inches tall.
I grew up with poetry and the whole thing of metaphors and symbols. I immediately saw in that tree a metaphor that was useful to me. The tree grows in sandstone. There’s no soil or anything from which you’d think it could derive sustenance. It’s hundreds of years old. Where it looked like it might have been on its last roots, it wasn’t. Right then and there I took the lesson. Whatever’s going on around, you don’t let it defeat you. You just quietly and according to your nature, keep growing. It may seem strange, but that tree became a kind of surrogate mother to me.
From then on, pretty much every time Kathleen and I took a hike, we’d visit the tree for a few minutes unless it was our destination and then we’d go there and hang out. Today, you can drive to it if you want, but back in the late sixties, that wasn’t the case. Also, we walked from home. I’d pick up Kathleen and we’d trounce across a then nearly-deserted Academy Boulevard, run across a hay field, and into the thickets of scrub oak of the lower Bluffs, the neighborhood wilderness. That world is gone.
The day before yesterday, I saw my orthopedic surgeon. He X-rayed the hip replacement, examined me and said, “No restrictions. Go run up a mountain. Go ski. Where will you ski?”
Yesterday, my friend Lois (who grew up in the same neighborhood and also rambled around in the Bluffs with her brothers) and I went to see my tree. I had a lot to tell it. I can’t say I went up the hills like a mountain goat, but I did OK. My only struggle now is a lack of confidence in my footing. I will have to relearn the confidence I once felt on rocky slopes and sharper hills. We got near the tree and noticed a small one, pretty much just like my tree, but younger — maybe only fifty years old! It could easily be my tree’s daughter. They are the only two Rocky Mountain Junipers in this immediate area.
At my tree, I did what I did as a girl. I wrapped my arms around her. I cried, releasing all the emotion of the past several months, and I told her everything. Then, my feelings spent, I looked at her and saw how well she is doing. She has secreted sap and she was loaded with juniper berries. ❤
Have you seen God in His splendors,
heard the text that nature renders?
(You’ll never hear it in the family pew).
Robert Service, “The Call of the Wild”