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Goodbye, Old Friend: A farewell to a lopped juniper 

click to enlarge An ancient juniper falls to an unknown hand,
  • An ancient juniper falls to an unknown hand,
An ancient juniper falls to an unknown hand,
It once stood as an Old Friend to myriad wanderers that needed a place to rest, a place to search for food, a place for shelter, and a place to just hang out.

When Freemont, the "Pathfinder," and Kit Carson wandered though here in the 1840s, my Old Friend was green and robust. Over the ensuing years it survived countless wildfires. Native Americans and early pioneers somehow passed it by while looking for firewood to cook their game or warm their feet.

It is now nothing but a pile of dead wood, cast aside for some reason known to only the person who cut it down - the delightful old juniper snag on the east side of Highway 20, near the irrigation pivots across from the eight mile post.

I first noticed the old juniper in the mid-1950s, while driving between Bend and Sisters, going to work with Bob Couch and his crew on the old Brooks-Scanlon railroad bed between Bend and Sisters that was being turned into a logging road.

The old juniper was green in those long gone days, but the top was dying, showing that it was slowly on its way to becoming soil again. Thanks to someone with a power saw and time on their hands, that process has been accelerated, but at a sad cost to wildlife and people who enjoy old junipers.

Over the years, mountain bluebirds used the dead top for a lookout. A library friend told me that one winter day she saw 12 of them perched all over the old tree, like Christmas Tree ornaments. In spring, bluebirds nest close by in a hollow juniper where a flicker had left them a home. Bluebirds are relentless insect catchers during nesting time. Even going by at 50 miles an hour, I couldn't help but notice the brilliant blue flash as the male bluebird leaped off the top of my Old Friend and "hawked" an insect out of the air to feed its babies.

Ms. E. Hilton, who lives nearby has this to say about our Old Friend:

"Some will say, 'how silly to feel sad about an old dead Juniper tree.' But silly or not, some of us knew it was more than that, it was a landmark and a Dear Old Friend that will be missed..."

For more than 500 years that old juniper served as a friend to many forms of wildlife. Mule deer found shelter under the old juniper during snowstorms and the heat of summer, and bushy-tailed pack rats called it home. Kestrels and red-tailed hawks used it for a hunting perch.

Red-tailed hawks moved in when the hay farmer nearby put in the pivots. The hawks perched in the top of my Old Friend, searching for gophers. The person who cut that old juniper didn't do that hay farmer any favors; pocket gophers eat hay and leave piles of soil to dull cutter bars.

click to enlarge The giving tree in better times.
  • The giving tree in better times.
The giving tree in better times. A few days before my Old Friend was annihilated, just as the morning sky was turning pink, I saw the tiger of the skies, a great horned owl, perched on the top of the old juniper. It too was watching for a careless gopher, which pleased me to no end; that meant he would leave my chickens alone.

I also saw both Northern and Loggerhead shrikes use the old juniper for a lookout. In summer the Loggerheads nested in the juniper clump just down the road, and in winter the Northern shrike came down from Canada to our warmer climes to eke out a living on small birds and beetles.

Sadly, no more shrikes, owls, hawks, bluebirds will ever use the old juniper again - it now lies in a heap.

Aldo Leopold, the man who is credited with being the "father of wildlife management," said in his wonderful essay, A Sand County Almanac, "Conservation is a state of harmony between Man and the Land."

In my opinion, cutting down that old juniper is an example of someone out of harmony with the land. Leopold also said he wouldn't to live in a place without wilderness. That old juniper was, in its unique way, a form of wilderness of its own. Ms. Hilton and others of us who enjoy the world of nature shall miss our Old Friend.

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