Juniper dreams and stolen plunder
There is something rare and notable about spending time in places not transformed by civilization; far out places where you can be alone. I’m not talking about the jewels of the country, a Yosemite or Grand Canyon. I’m talking about the places that some might consider ugly or barren, that don’t draw the crowds, and which more than likely require dirt roads and contingency plans to visit. These places are the ones that most have never heard of and even less will ever see. In a sense, they are secret places held in trust and loved by locals.
There are large swaths of “unremarkable” land that are our last hope for refuge and sanctuary, that are not loved and visited for their majestic peaks and valleys but rather for the blessings they bestow on the visitor. And while going to these places is a physical experience, it is not just the act of being there that is special; it’s the power of the place to seep into your soul that is most salient. All the notes and nuances of such places strum the spectrum of senses and produce a music you can only hear there: the sound of silence below a high wind blowing in the trees, the scent of unspoiled earth and vegetation, the sensation of being alone, but not. It is those things that stay with you and haunt your dreams long after you are gone and which leave a longing for the impossible: a reversal of time and a repeat of what has passed in order to feel it again.
The good fortune of being able to encounter such places, depending on what happens there, determines the experience of reliving them because they are both wonderful and dangerous, which is what makes them so enticing. I would echo what Gandolf said in The Hobbit but with a twist, “There are no safe paths in this part of the world. Remember you are over the edge of a remote, vast, rugged, and virtually inaccessible wild now. But there are pockets of wonder that exist here which seemingly only exist in literature until you discover them. And you are lucky to be here.”
I’m not sure if it was fate, destiny, or just plain luck that got me out to such a place, but I found myself in a far-away forest of juniper, pinion, and ponderosa pine high up on a desert plateau. The sound of a dozen chainsaws ripped through the still air and released a fragrance that only mythology can describe. While everyone worked, their minds far away, lost in the physical labor of cutting, I was intoxicated by the scent released from the freshly cut softwood of juniper, my mind grappling with the juxtaposition of the mechanized saws and the natural and surprising scent that followed their roar.
As I worked pulling branches away for my sawyer my mind dove into the pages of literature. I recalled Edward Abbey’s description of burning juniper and argued to myself that if burnt juniper rivaled Dante’s smoking censers in paradise, fresh cut juniper must rival ambrosia of the gods, a divine exhalation of the earth meant for immortals. And of course being mere mortals we must cut it open to get it, plunder to steal for ourselves that which is meant for the gods. Oh the mysteries Prometheus revealed when he stole fire.
I let myself sink into the thick, sweet, and sticky air, nearly drunk from the pungent aroma rising off the trees at my feet. It smelled of birth, of time, and awoke in me the visceral act of inhaling life and being filled by it. It’s a scent that visits you in your sleep and elicits a longing for damp earth and shaded forests. I closed my eyes and thought, everyone should be so lucky.
My stay in the juniper fields ended in a hazy, fire induced sunset that acted like a shade tree cooling off the sultry landscape. The physical ache in my muscles and the smell of juniper stuck to my skin was proof enough that I had really been there. But would I ever smell it again? Perhaps. Perhaps only in slumber. When I zipped into my sleeping bag, exhausted and ready for sleep, I let loose a wish that Morpheus would periodically ride in on the cool breeze and fill my dreams with wind-swept dirt roads, quiet meadows and the scent of juniper.
Posted on July 19, 2015, in Nature and the Environment and tagged ambrosia, Americana, cutting project, dirt raods, fire protection, mythology, open spaces, prometheus, public land, solitude, the scent of juniper, wilderness, wildland fire. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.