We started early, a 7 mile hike in the 77,000 acre Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. The trailhead was aptly named the Devil’s Garden. At 7am it was hot but not as hot as it would be at 2pm when we walked off the trail. The journey was slow and entailed scaling rocks, trudging through sand, heat, more rocks, more sand, more heat and Juniperus osteosperma commonly known as the Utah Juniper.
The oldest Utah Juniper is thought to be about 1,275 years old. Think about that for just a second, that particular shurb poked it’s tiny evergreen self out of the sandy soil in the year 741. Imagine what that plant has had to deal with and avoid to have survived for 1,275 years, and you think you have had challenges.
At mile 3 we found a shady spot next to the majestic shrub above to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and drink some water. As I quietly chewed my sandwich I wondered how this noble plant in front of me had survived in these brutal conditions, heat, wind and very little water. Portions of the plant were dead but still firmly planted in the ground. Around its base, limbs that had broken off in years past littered the ground. The struggle was apparent and very real but survival was important, life in the desert depended on this ladies existence, its leaves and fruit a staple in the diet of the wildlife that called this place home.
I know a little about Juniper’s having pulled some out of our front yard several years ago. They are slow-growing, very hardy and their roots are thick and deep. In the desolate area of the Utah desert these plants offer so much more than just nourishment to the wildlife. By the number of holes in the ground at its base it was also home maybe even a destination amongst the rocky landscape.
Life is about bending and breaking. We all fight the elements to survive. If we are not tattered and torn, bent and leaning I don’t think we are trying very hard. Like the Utah Juniper it all starts with the roots, those things that make us who we are, our love, our compassion, our empathy, our morals, our faith. If our roots are deep, solid and firm we should be able to withstand all that life has to throw at us. Sure we may lose a branch from time to time, but what we lose has the opportunity to make us stronger if we let it. My life has followed the trajectory of this queenly Juniper, twisted, bent and broken but still standing, still living with my feet firmly planted in a life I am thankful I am able to experience and survive.