A decade ago, the first drought-caused beetle invasion struck a hillside near my studio and killed about a dozen of the small, stout, twisted piñons that seem able to survive anything—but not the beetles. They drove into the bark, sucked up what little moisture the tree had pulled out of the ground, and caused the needles to turn brown and fall off, leaving twisted black skeletons. Advised to cut them down to prevent the beetles from spreading, I had that done, the trunks and branches burned, the beetles put to route. That was the end of the invasion. It was also the end of what had been a nice southwestern view of trees on a hillside.
But it was not the end.
Somehow the dead piñons had been able to seed before they were cut down. The seeds lay on the hard unforgiving hillside, not quite alive but not quite dead, waiting for a chance to grow. They could have lain there for dozens or even hundreds of years, waiting for the right opportunity, which would only come once. If the seeds guessed wrong (guessing being something we don’t usually attribute to seeds) and sprouted in a still hostile environment, the hillside would remain denuded.
That is what I expected to happen. As the drought continued, with brief intervals of a little rain and even less snow, I believed that this hillside I walk past every day would remain desolate, the first evidence in my life of global warming.
Oh, ye of little faith!
Several years ago, I noticed that tiny piñon seedlings had pushed through the arid, grainy soil.
This is, after all, their natural habitat—where piñons have grown for hundreds if not thousands of years.
Still, we had almost no moisture, and it seemed to me unlikely that these tiny things would survive.
This is a tree that grows very slowly and lives a long time, never getting very tall, never at all spectacular—a pilgrim of the desert.
I just noticed to my amazement that the little trees are several feet high, perfectly shaped Christmas trees in miniature.
Beyond them, the valley of the Rio Grande is now always shrouded in smoke from forest fires and pollution from the increasing herds of cars.
My little piñons don’t care about that. Surviving on a few annual drops of moisture, they persist, they grow—asking nothing better than their natural habitat, this arid hillside.
A lesson for me in persistence and patience.