A Saved Tree!
By John W. Anderson
You may feel the same way I do when you step outside and smell or see smoke in the air, or view news footage reporting daily updates on the devastating forest fires raging out of control in Colorado. I’m sure I am not alone when I ask myself how many more Native American Sacred Trees will we lose this time? Perhaps we’ll never know, perhaps we don’t want to know, but we do know we can mourn the loss of a tree.
We can’t save them all, but I think we ought to celebrate every one of our saves! For now, let’s start with this special Native American CMT save by NASTaP member Dean Waits.
BACKSTORY: About five years ago Dean Waits invited me to hike with him to explore a handful of extraordinary Native American Culturally Modified Trees (CMTs) most likely attributable to the Ute Indians and referred to as Prayer or Spirit Trees by Ute tribal elder, Dr. James Jefferson.
These sacred trees were at risk of being removed to make room for a new housing development project north of Fox Run Regional Park in northern El Paso County, Colorado. During a period of months Dean introduced me to the senior leadership of the housing development and even arranged for a site visit where we could explain the cultural significance of these trees standing in the way of their development.
When I drove away from that first meeting with the developers I held little hope that any of these sacred trees would survive the onslaught of bulldozers and homes headed their way. But I drove today through that new housing development to take the attached photograph of one of the most spectacular living Native American artifacts you’ll find anywhere across the ancestral homeland of the Ute.
One of the things that is really special about this CMT is its accessibility. As you can see in the photo, the tree is just off the road with a hiking trail behind it that connects to a winding concrete sidewalk. This Native American Prayer Tree is accessible by car, hike, bike, trike, walk or even with baby strollers! As the photo shows, all the other trees between the fence and the road have been eliminated. I believe this tree would not be standing today had it not been for the perseverance and tactful approach of one man — Dean Waits!
Around this Native American CMT, landscapers have made careful plantings in a small rock enclosure which is surrounded by lush green grass. This CMT has it all: a magnificently curving bent trunk (clearly not crafted by hungry porcupines), tie-down or ligature indentations in the bark, and peeled bark that wraps around the primary trunk and used to girdle the tree and skillfully redirect the tree’s sun-seeking natural growth.
This tree is a textbook example of the horticultural and creative skill of ancestors of the indigenous people of present-day Colorado. It’s also a beautiful credit to the diligent and caring work of our friend and NASTaP member, Dean Waits.