Hiking through the dry desert to see the incredible natural sandstone arches found just outside of Moab felt a little bit like a death march in the heat of the day. There were people along the way that just gave up, hunkered under brush or pressed against a rock desperate for even just a bit of shade. My shorts and shirt ensemble became a makeshift bikini as I made my way back down having removed my shirt to drape over my head, rolling the legs of my shorts up and the waistband down to somehow feel cooler; which by the way is the opposite of what one should do.
At the beginning of the trek when I was still young and naïve, I was happily walking along, “oooing and awwing” over the beauty of burnt orange sandstone and fascinating plant life, pausing time and again to photograph all of the wonder. Meanwhile, the sun was rising higher and shining more brightly with each passing moment. I can imagine its rays whispering, foolish, foolish girl, but I trekked on determined.
One form of plant life in particular caught my eye at every turn. This incredible piece of art with its twisted and gnarled body, often growing right out of the sandstone looking half dead with intermittent bunches of green. Initially, I thought it was dying, but observing each one in the same state ignited my curiosity.
The resolute Juniper thrives in the most hostile of environments. This resilient tree grows out in the open under the baking sun with minimal water and nothing to protect it from freezing temperatures and feral winds. Truly a wonder.
How do they do it? How do they thrive despite formidable conditions? What magic do they possess that they continue to grow while other plant and animal life deteriorate and perish?
It’s what we don’t see that sustains them.
The mystical Juniper with all of its dead branches and patches of green has an extensive root system that accounts for two-thirds of the tree’s total mass. It tenaciously stretches deep and wide penetrating hard surfaces in search of life sustaining water. It self-prunes cutting off precious nutrients from going to certain living parts so that other more important parts can be preserved. The wisdom in this even allows the tree to produce fruit to share.
When we reach for and engage in practices that enrich our lives, we develop a hearty internal root system. This practice (and it does take practice) coupled with the cutting away of branches like relationships, behaviors and thought processes that do not nourish our personal growth but deprive us of meaningful root development will lead us to discover not only are we able to survive, but also thrive with enough abundance to give into the lives of others.