An old friend passes and makes way for the new
There is a snag that has stood watch on this hilltop for as long as I can remember. It isn’t very tall, maybe 30 feet. Its bark was long ago lost to the elements; it stands gray and weathered with gnarly branches. This snag and I go way back, like an old friend that is always there, always on this hilltop. It is just west of an orange granite outcrop that is a favorite sitting spot of mine.
I remember a time, it must be 20 years ago, when I would visit that granite every few days for several weeks, contemplating a difficult family situation I was dealing with. The tree was already a snag then, and it just stood, tall and strong, as I wrote pages and pages in my journal. This old tree was right there with me when I’d sit near its base and think and write and scheme and plan for what would eventually become the non-profit that has provided me with my livelihood for the past 15 years.
There was the time I heard the call of a bird I did not recognize. It eventually landed on one of the snag’s twisted branches and stayed long enough for me to identify my first Clark’s nutcracker. I remember hiking up here one summer morning when it was still dark to watch the sun rise. On countless loop hikes that I’ve guided along these trails, I would point to the snag up ahead to a group of out-of-breath hikers.
“Once we reach that point,” I’d say, “it’s all downhill the rest of the way.”
This spot is one of my usual locations for the “music” part of many Full Moon Music Hikes that I’ve presented over the years. Hundreds and hundreds of hikers have sat on this hillside, listening to my music and watching the moon rise out of a saddle on the ridge to the east. If you put your ear right up against the snag’s trunk, you just might hear a few lines of James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James, a song I’ve sung here many many times. “…deep greens and blues are the colors I choose, won’t you let me go down in my dreams…”
I hiked up here a few weeks ago and discovered that the snag is no longer standing sentinel over this special place. It has withstood years and years of wild winds that usually come roaring out of the southwest, sometimes with hurricane force. Well, sometime not that long ago, a powerful gust finally ended the snag’s reign of standing watch over this part of the park. As I write this little essay, I am sitting not under but on the base of the snag’s weary trunk. It landed on a small but stout pinyon pine, so it is not directly on the ground, but leaning at around a 20 degree angle from the land. It is pointing towards the northeast – evidence that it was one of those southwest winds that brought it down.
No, it is no longer standing tall like it has for many decades – both as a live tree and then as a snag. But there is no need for me to say goodbye to this old tree friend of mine, as it will still be hanging around this hilltop for many more decades. I’m sure that, regardless of how many more years I have left, there will still be the remains of this old tree right where it fell, with the same pretty view of the wild lands to the west that I am looking at right now, long after I take my very last hike. And, then, many more years after that, there will be a new tree growing from this same hilltop. It will be nurtured by this snag as its decomposed remains become a part of the soil and are absorbed by and become a part of that new tree. And many years after that, the new tree will die, eventually fall, and the process will keep cycling, over and over again, just as it has for a long long time.