The Trouble Tree

I found an old journal entry from several decades back. At that time I was exploring the language of the natural world while wrestling with love problems, work challenges, self-doubt, and general heaviness in my life.

The setting is the Southwest, among sandstone boulders and cavorting ravens and a canyon head and high desert vegetation. I had visited this particular place many times seeking comfort, and always left feeling full.

…I went in search of a tree to see if I could communicate. I walked to the pour off and found a small bonsai pinyon clinging to the wall of the pour off.

“Is that it?” I questioned. I had in mind a large juniper, all gnarled with age. But this tree had long and hard experience, so why could I not learn from it just as well. I sat next to it and ate my apple. I hesitated a bit, because I really didn’t quite know how to approach it.

First, I walked all around it, and admired its beauty. It was small but vigorous. Its short trunk twisted into a barely perceptible crack in the rock. Several handfuls of brown needles below its branches had collected along with a scattering of windblown sand. Spots of dark moss took advantage of the nourishment there. Its body, all bent and contorted from years of battles with the wind, stood sturdily and proudly gracing that rock slope. The branches spread to meet all available sunlight. Rosettes of green needles glistened. Pure drops of pine resin dripped from its branches; they were its life force and jewelry.

Kristie's pinon
Photos by Kristie Arrington

This tree seemed to have grown in a very inhospitable place, but it expanded joyfully into the world, fully and lovingly. I admired its strength and courage. Even though it seemed handicapped, it nonetheless gave itself to me. I found it hard to concentrate on entering it, but I did reach its spirit in a way. I pressed my forehead to its prickly needles and breathed love on it. I cradled its layered bark and imagined its root traveling for a short way into that rock, dissolving its hardness as it went. This tree was a little old lady, but it was happy to be where it was. It was determined to live its life fully.

Thoughts of my upcoming visit with (a person) invaded my talk. So instead of ignoring them, I told the tree my problems. It listened without judgement.

I called it my trouble tree. Before I left, I felt it would be right to take some of its resin to remember it. Before I put the resin on some paper, I impulsively rubbed a dab on my forehead. I thanked it for its kindness and left…


After reviewing that entry, I thought, I’m that little old lady now. I hope I am as gracious to the young people who seek my ear as that bonsai pinyon was to me.


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