My Old Friend the Juniper Tree

Cutting down an old juniper tree is difficult, especially when it lulls you to sleep.

| February/March 2004

I’ve always felt an affinity for trees. Even as a small child, sitting on low limbs of an old, gnarled Osage orange in the schoolyard while eating my lunch, I felt the tree was alive, holding me up, its limbs wrapped like arms around me.

The years I worked as an artist, trees always were prominent in my paintings and in my pen and ink work. When I first moved to my farm in the Ozarks 25 years ago, a cedar tree (Juniperus virginiana) stood just outside my bedroom window. The tree was 80 or more years old, and showing its age. The top had been hit by lightning. Someone used the treetop for an electric pole, probably when the house was being built in the 1940s. The tree bore the scars from those ordeals, and the old, brown insulators remained bolted into its top, grown into place.

On sleepless nights, as I tossed and turned and thought about life, the tree creaked and groaned quietly, as though it was gently lulling me to sleep. I began to look forward to those sounds every night.

Over the years, I gathered the tree’s bountiful blue berries, using them in a winter potpourri I like to make. Mixing them with chopped pine needles, orange peel, cloves and sassafras limb pieces, I preserved the delightful smells and used the fragrant mixture in the house.

I saved the best berries and used them for cooking or tea. In winter, a cup of juniper berry tea, sweetened with honey, is a regular beverage for me.

I have added on to my house several times, and the room next to the tree has become part of the living room. Sitting beside the wood stove with a cup of juniper berry tea and looking out at the snowy landscape is one of the more peaceful pastimes imaginable. Alongside the old tree I built a new, more spacious kitchen, a deck and a porch that jutted out just under the tree.

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