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A hook in the tree

Aspen trees grow in families. Just try to dig one up; their roots go from one to another. Where the first tree was planted and where the other ends, it is anyone’s guess. Aspen trees are hard to come out of the ground, their roots interlock deep below the surface.

I recently showed a painting of aspen trees with gold leaves on my Facebook page. I painted it in a series and called it “The Message Trees. “I didn’t think much about it; I was just categorizing my paintings on my Blog when a friend e-mailed me.

She sent a copy of an old photograph of herself standing by a tree holding onto a large hook that had been embedded into it. She writes, “This is proof that my family has been here.”

My friend, receiving my Facebook update, shared her story with me. “Every fourth of July since 1950, myself, my husband and four children have gone to the church camp in Chama, New Mexico, then we added one by one our grandchildren. We camped out, cooked outside, making homemade tortillas and beans. We screwed a large hook in one of the trees and hung our mirror on it, and now years later, memories. Every year we looked for the old tree with the peg and made our campsite there. In amazement, one of the family members will always say, “The hook is still here!”

I fired back a thought to my friend. “That peg you are holding onto is holding your children and grandchildren close to your heart. They will remember those days. It’s their history; it’s just a hook in a tree, but it gives them a deep belonging. It is a hook they can hang their hats on and call home.”

The Message Trees I painted are familiar to many of the oldtimers, who remember stories of the days when the cattleman drove their cattle along a pathway from New Mexico into Colorado. They left messages in the trees for others coming that way. The dates goes back to the 1800s.

Lovers carved hearts into the trees with their initials. An arrow showed a direction for someone to follow, and others have written their signatures, saying, “I was here.”

Did they know when they made their mark on the side of a tree, it would be the conversation today? I don’t think so. They were doing what they do; herding cattle from New Mexico to Colorado. I just remembered seeing an article written about these trees, it struck me and I knew I needed to paint them.

The trees are still standing and growing today and the cuts in their bark witness stories of years ago when passersby left their history for others to see. I am sure if anyone has passed by recently, they will be tempted to carve their initials too.

My friend and the Lucero Family only knew to do what they needed to do to preserve their family. They weren’t thinking of leaving a hook in a tree as a legacy which has remained over sixty years, they were just being family, loving and caring for each other.

Today, when anyone talks to the family they still talk about Chama, the jokes come out about each other and all the memories. I can hear Benny ask, “Is that hook still in that tree?”

This family has gone many ways and lived in many places across the Southwest. I have known and loved this family for over 21 years. I have seen the harsh winds come insisting on pulling their family down and their roots up. This family is rooted, connected, and have interlocked themselves with each other. They are family. When the mention of Chama comes up, it is one of the ways of saying, “We belong and have roots in the Lucero Family.”

As families we have all left hooks in trees. They are those places in our hearts where we have met with each other, joked, laughed, cried and just been family. It is a blessing for me to stand along side The Lucero Family’s Tree. I am blessed. Hopefully this article is carving a remembrance of their roots and a strong conviction for the next generation to live their legacy for others to see.

The tree with the hook still stands today. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. If you are walking along the Chama River, you might witness it and wonder, “What is that tree doing with that hook? Someone has been here.”

Final brushstroke: Just as we look back on those message trees that stood silently along the cattlemen’s pathway, we are still sending messages in an obscured way. We are linked and connected together just like a family of aspen trees.

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Artist’s quote

Let’s choose today to quench our thirst for the ‘good life’ we think others lead by acknowledging the good that already exists in our lives. We can then offer the universe the gift of our grateful hearts.” — Sarah Ban Breathnach, author.