Alligator junipers don’t bite.

Stout, ancient ones mob this trail to the back of Boynton Canyon, Sedona’s most magical spot.

Some are mammoth, four hundred years old or more, their rough hides entwining with the silvery smooth underclothes.

I want to live!

Juniperus deppeana has a tendency to splay into multiple trunks, the fusion making it hard for dendrologists to accurately gauge the rings that would  show a specimen’s age.

A savage mysticism holds sway here, the home of indigenous peoples for thousands of years. Wayfinders at the trail’s start.

There is a word for two conjoined trees, trees that somehow find and make a life together.

Inosculation denotes when trunks, branches or roots of two trees grow together in a manner biologically similar to the artificial process of grafting. It comes from the Latin meaning “to kiss into/inward/against” or “to make a small mouth inward/into/against.” Wonderful, hmn? Trees that do this are referred to in forestry as gemels, again Latin, meaning “a pair”. Usually same species, not always.

What happens is this: the branches first grow separately in proximity to each other until they touch. At this point, the bark on the shared surfaces is gradually abraded away as the trees move .Finally the two connect, what is called braiding or pleaching. I aways look for this phenomenon in the woods, and there are more instances in this southwestern forest than anyplace else I’ve seen. Maybe the trees here simply like each other more than they do in other places. They’re sometimes known as husband-and-wife trees.

Only connect! E.M. Forster wrote that.

Padding along alone you see things you might otherwise miss. A hawk scree-screeing overhead, a quick rabbit, lizards skittering, hummingbirds drinking from thistles.

Underfoot, ants carry their groceries home. Gambel oak.

Someone has been here before me, probing, a sixth sense to find insects.

I’ve always liked the desert balance of dead and living.

Manzanita has that in spades, red twisted with grey. Chewing its leaves can ease a headache.

They call it the pygmy forest, where manzanita spreads out for acres all around.

After a few miles the manzanita and alligator juniper make room for the ponderosas.

I lean close, inhale the butterscotch scent.

S’cuse me while I kiss the sky.

Shagged, panting, I find a boulder, rest. Hikers whiz by. I listen to birdsong. Think of all the ways I’ve gone wrong, all the things I’ll do better.

Get up and get going. The end of the canyon, I am told by some European tourists coming back the other way, is magnificent. Well, they don’t say magnificent. They just sigh, wide eyed. Keep going. You won’t be sorry.

After the final scramble, triumph. The countenance of a hiker at the trail’s end says it all.

You can see forever here.

Sure, I love the view. It is magnificent. But I find I like what is on the ground as much.

I like  being grounded. Going to ground. Contemplating what will come next and readying myself for… whatever. Remembering the tough hide of the alligator juniper, which thrives in difficult soil and manages to find whatever water exists below ground, sustenance only the tree can see.

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