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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Spotlight On A Tree

There is a unique tree in the landscape around Prescott that is beautiful to behold. With bark shaped like alligator skin, the Alligator Juniper, or Juniperus deppeana, is really something to see. The Prescott National Forest houses the largest in the world, some being said to be over a thousand years old. These trees give such grace to the landscape, with limbs that seem to have been shaped by liquid fire and then half frozen. At certain times of year with the rain, the smell of the juniper is so wonderful, with the bright blue berries plumping up and releasing a scent that really gets the olfactory going.

 This tree is more than just a pretty thing to see, however, there is much respect held for the growth and prosperity of them in our forests. Even in classes through Prescott College, teachers will speak of very old and large junipers as Grandmothers or Grandfathers, adopting age old practices of honoring trees just like the natives who lived on this land for so long. When one considers this honoring, it's pretty amazing to realize how much connection the teachers and students hold for the land in which they live, and it is inspiring to recognize this in the health and histories of every culture. 

"From the earliest human writings and myths, trees have represented the power and mystery of nature. Large, ancient trees seemed immortal, demanding respect and reverence. They could bare huge crops of seed and grow forests full of their own offspring. When struck by lightning or set aflame, trees, even in death, were creatures of worship, awe, and fear - the homes of gods.
Every part of the globe has a myth about this "godliness." From the oak in central Europe, ash in Scandinavia, and Shorea in India, trees were revered. Many early peoples thought that spirits of their ancestors lived in trees. They cultivated and protected holy trees and would beg forgiveness from a tree if it was cut. Some believed that souls of unborn babies lived in trees until birth. In Korea, spirits of women who died in childbirth were thought to live in trees. In Indonesia, vertical slices cut into a fig tree by two gods created man, while horizontal slices created woman. In New Guinea, man was considered a tree that moved! Junipers were planted as protection from thieves and witches..."-Kim D. Coder, professor of Ecology, University of Georgia

There are lots of ways trees have been tied to life and death too. Trees have been known to be planted for births, marriages, and funerals. Even in wars in ancient times, holy forests were often burned over holy temples. Even weapons were made from certain trees in the hope that they would take on certain strengths of a tree. Such a sad thing, but speaking to the power that these forests represent.

In recent times through my studies at Prescott College I was given a book that changed me, called The Man Who Planted Trees, by Jean Giono. This is a tale based on a true story of one man whose reforesting efforts in the Alps in the first half of the 20th century brought back an ecosystem. The land had been ravaged from mining, and mostly abandoned. A hermit, however, stayed and had a practice of planting one hundred seeds a day. From this disparaged land the trees took root and within only his lifetime the land had healed itself, water had come back to create fertile soil, and it was once more a paradise. This story is especially interesting because of what many leading scientists are saying today: Even in the face of all the harm humans have caused to the land around them, with mass reforesting efforts the effects of climate change and earth destruction could be turned around in only 100 years. Only 100 years! Yet, if we continue the way we have been, this time frame will grow and grow, causing mass suffering worldwide. Who knows if only one hundred years is needed, but taking example from this story of the man in the Alps, who is to say we shouldn't try?
Within forests and trees there is something powerful, for the health of the land and the health of the people who live in it. So with this idea, and with my community, I honor this unique tree that dwells in our surrounding national forest. - Brittany Davis


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