“There is a tree. At the downhill edge of a long, narrow field in the western foothills of the La Sal Mountains — southeastern Utah.
A particular tree. A juniper. Large for its species — maybe twenty feet tall and two feet in diameter.
For perhaps three hundred years this tree has stood its ground. Flourishing in good seasons, and holding on in bad times.
“Beautiful” is not a word that comes to mind when one first sees it. No naturalist would photograph it as exemplary of its kind.
Twisted by wind, split and charred by lightning, scarred by brushfires, chewed on by insects, and pecked by birds.
Human beings have stripped long strings of bark from its trunk, stapled barbed wire to it in using it as a corner post for a fence line, and nailed signs on it on three sides:
NO HUNTING; NO TRESPASSING; PLEASE CLOSE THE GATE.
In commandeering this tree as a corner stake for claims of rights and property, miners and ranchers have hacked signs and symbols in its bark, and left Day-Glo orange survey tape tied to its branches.
Now it serves as one side of a gate between an alfalfa field and open range.
No matter what, in drought, flood heat and cold, it has continued.
There is rot and death in it near the ground.
But at the greening tips of its upper branches and in its berrylike seed cones, there is yet the outreach of life.
I respect this old juniper tree.
For its age, yes.
And for its steadfastness in taking whatever is thrown at it.
That it has been useful in a practical way beyond itself counts for much, as well.
Most of all, I admire its capacity for self-healing beyond all accidents and assaults.
There is a will in it — toward continuing to be, come what may.”