Ponderosa, Pinon pines and Juniper Trees in Northern New Mexico
One of my very first friends was a tree. I know it's a little strange, but let me explain.
You see growing up my family did everything outside. Sure we had a home, but if the weather was nice we ended up outside. For instance, on an average day after breakfast, my mom would take my brother and me outside to help her tend to the garden, sweep the porch, and hang the laundry. By midday and throughout the afternoon she had us under a tree reading a book, playing games, or nestling down under the shade of a tree for nap time. Most evenings, meals were prepared outside on the comal (flat griddle) over an open fire, and afterward, my father would take us on walks, where he taught us how to look for fossils in the limestone mountains of central New Mexico.
On weekends we went camping. Always to a river or lake, so that my parents could fish and my brother and I could run around wild, barefoot with our toes in the mud, away from the judgemental gaze of others.
“Take your shoes off. Make your feet tough. Go grow some roots.” I can remember my dad saying.
"Talk to the plants and animals. Introduce yourself, make friends.” I can remember my mom saying.
So naturally, when I was about 3 or 4 years old, I made friends with a juniper tree. I named this tree She-Ra Princess of Power! She was a gnarly and twisted juniper, with bark that looked like brown and grey tresses of hair loosely clinging to her trunk and branches. Most importantly she had lots of hairy branches for me to climb onto.
Gnarly old juniper in southern Utah
I have often heard that people tend to befriend others that are similar to them in looks and sensibilities. This was definitely true of me and my juniper tree friend.
The two of us pals, with our brown outer coverings (my skin and her bark), a testament to our ancestral history under the desert sun. Setting our roots into the sandy desert soil, or precariously along a cliff wedged between a couple of rocks like most desert dwellers have to do to survive in the desert southwest. All while doing our best to create cool microclimates by spreading out our branches inviting others to hang out with us.
As I got a little older I realized, juniper trees were friends to many people, not just me. While I was climbing all over She-ra my mom was gathering juniper berries for their medicinal value and broken branches for firewood. Juniper trees are welcomed into many homes by many people.
Now, that I am grown I think back on this friendship and how it has continuously drawn me into the wilderness. Seeking nourishment in the landscape, not just for solitude and peace, but for how that nourishment has produced life long friendships with humans and non-humans alike. The fruits from my roots!
My friend Diana Greymountain (left) and I (right) inside a Baobab tree.