I’m very fond of the creosote trees. Our house is ringed with about a dozen lovely deep green specimens, and beyond this ring exist the smaller and yellowed foot soldiers that populate the mesa floor. Creosote trees that ring houses and edge the roadways, on sandy banks, and other areas disturbed by humans, thrive and seem to respond to the human need to observe and describe. They offer in big print and simple pictures the processes the plants employ to survive in an arid and ovenish environment.
When I first laid eyes upon the mesa I saw a wasteland of indistinguishable and oversized weeds, acres and hectares of creosote, a plant no one cared enough about to give a better name. I thought there must be many species of creosote because I noticed that two trees next to each other could look completely different. Still today, knowing as I do that there is only one species in the Mojave, I swear that near our cabin, one tree among all the others testifies to there once being a red-headed mailman who rode his pony out this far. It doesn’t look like any of the other plants. It looks like another species entirely.
The first larrea tree that I loved I named Terpsichore, after the muse of dance. She is about 12 feet tall and has three main branches with many lacy fingers that reach up and sway and frame the sunrise. I love her most because she taught me that larreas share with cats the ability to extract from sameness a limitless variety of personalities. Of course I realize that in saying such things I am applying human conceits to something that exists in nature, that existed before me and will exist after me, swallowing up my observations, with no care as to whether I call it creosote or larrea or shoegoi. But this is how we humans understand, by mapping to the vagaries of nature and creating analogies, and if this analogous imagining can prevent the blading of one acre of mesa then the mapping, however poor and limited and inaccurate, will have been worth it.
|Terpsichore at dawn|
|Notice the little branch in the front left that curves back up into a sprig of leaves.|
This little branch dug this swale.
|Melpomene and her new tenant (right)|
|Notice the rise of dirt kicked out in front of the hole, |
and animal droppings and other detritus directed into the hole.
The lower branches are the deepest green. These are newer leaves, saturated with the strong chemicals that discourage the browsing of hungry rabbits and previously sheep, cattle, burros and others. When animals do eat creosote, which is not often, they prefer the upper leaves in which the concentrations of chemicals has dissipated. Because of the lower branches, the upper remain out of reach to small animals. The upper branches bear the flowers and seeds available to the bees and birds, and later when they fall, the ants who will take the seeds deep into the earth.
|The branch stripped bare by her finches|