Tree of Life

Growing up in southern San Juan County was a real blessing for me, because it provided endless opportunities to experience the wonders of this magnificent canyon country.
There are large expanses of public land in Southeastern Utah, and great hikes begin just outside our back doors.
Whether your goal is releasing frustrations, testing the limits of your freedom or simply getting in touch with the unaltered earth, this is the place.
Whatever my temporal need, after a hike in the backcountry I feel rejuvenated, and happy to have experienced the wonders of Mother Nature.
These hikes give me time to reflect on the past, and plan for the future. My perspective keeps changing, so reflection is essential to my evolution.
I feel there is a lot to be gained from contemplating and evaluating my personal experiences. One reflective occasion, which occurred when I was just short of 20, has had a lasting impression on me.
I have forgotten precisely what motivated my excursion that day, but I do remember that a certain young woman from a northern municipality was causing me great emotional and physical turmoil.
Come to think of it, she still has that effect on me. At any rate, it must have been fall because I can still feel the crispness in the air, see the soft, muted sunlight, and smell the rich red earth.
I had driven just south of Blanding to a sagebrush flat that looked as if it might provide sanctuary. I parked the truck and began walking towards a grove of juniper trees; on what appeared to be the edge of a small canyon.
I made my way through the narrow band of trees and emerged onto the sandstone bench at the canyon edge. I was struck by the beauty of the place, or as Joseph Campbell would say, “caught in a state of aesthetic arrest”.
From where I stood, I could see across the sun-whitened and rippled sandstone, which was marked with light green patterns of lichen, into the tops of a grove of cottonwood trees.
There were patches of bright yellow leaves, twisted clusters of darkened branches and the peeling bark of the tree trunks. I could hear a trickle of water from what must have been a small spring at the center of the cluster.
Birds flitted from branch to branch, seemingly as euphoric about the place as I. There was a fertile aroma to the place that was out of sync with the sagebrush and slick rock that surrounded it.
The deep-throated “caw” of a blue-black raven floating above my head brought me out of my trance. As I looked about, I noticed a juniper tree perched on the canyon rim that seemed to be growing directly out of the rock.
Curious, I wandered over to the oddity and circled it clockwise then counterclockwise. No matter how closely I inspected this enigma, the facts showed that the tree was indeed growing out of solid sandstone.
I admired the beauty of the juniper. Its stunted, twisted growth showed the character of many years of sun and sand. The foliage was green and vibrant, and there were no signs of stress or lack of moisture.
As a matter of fact, it looked healthier than its relatives 30 feet away which had sunk their roots into the rust red earth.
I sat down under the full branches of the tree upon the typical debris pile of twigs, dirt and seeds and began to scratch away at it. The compost came away easily and I soon found a root and traced it to a crack in the rock, full of the same material that surrounded the tree.
It seemed that the juniper was attracting and providing itself with what it needed to survive in its chosen location. And what a location it was.
A spectacular canyon oasis to one side, emptying into a much more majestic view of purple mesas and monolithic up-thrusts as far as the eye could see.
As I sat there enjoying the tree’s positioning I heard a sound off to my left and slightly in back of me. I froze in place as I recognized the clatter of small hooves on rock.
I was well screened by my guardian juniper and the slight breeze was in my favor, so I remained motionless, while straining to catch sight of the deer I expected to see.
I was soon rewarded with a group of four very skittish creatures. They were within 20 yards of my hideout and were extremely nervous, as if they suspected a presence but were unable to locate it.
A group of three does were followed closely by a slightly distracted, three point buck. They were heading into the canyon, for a drink of that sweet spring water.
The deer were close enough for me to see their long eyelashes, big brown searching eyes and their quivering muscles under coats of mousey gray hair with black tips. This group was spring loaded; ready to explode in any direction at the first hint of danger.
As the animals disappeared over the edge of the canyon, on an unseen trail, my heart rate slowly returned to normal. The beauty of the scenery, mystery of nature’s gifts, and wildlife were a heady mix that touched my soul.
It was as if I had just witnessed a scene not meant for humans. I slowly, and as unobtrusively as possible, moved from the canyon so that I did not disturb the deer resting in its depths. The scene remains an unforgettable and treasured part of my memory. I often replay it and wonder at the gift I was given.
My brother Steve and I often discuss unusual happenings such as these and guess at their meaning. As we clean up in the mornings, we examine the issues and look for hidden messages.
It is a daily happening that helps me get my mind around new thoughts and ideas. Steve is always good for unique perspectives. I have often wondered at the events of that early fall day, and find that they now stand as metaphors for my personal mythology.
Finding that extraordinary canyon in what should have been a lonely, uneventful location had a positive effect on my mental state. Its visual beauty brought about a focus on the peaceful existence of the natural world.
That odd, self-reliant juniper that was just contrary enough to settle where others would not, had gained a foothold. Its reward was freedom, spectacular views and magnificent light shows every morning and evening.
A close, retrospective and respectful relationship with the real world is something our Navajo, Ute and pioneer neighbors have taught us well. This tree of life refers to my connections to the past, upward movement and growth and future personal expansion of knowledge and understanding.
I find my most memorable and meaningful lessons of life in situations like these; the comfort and well being they provide are lasting and life changing.

San Juan Record

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PO Box 879
Monticello, UT 84535

Phone: 435.587.2277
Fax: 435.587.3377
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