Opinion: Taos trees hold stories, memories, collective histories

By Myrth Killingsworth, San Cristóbal
Posted 3/28/19

One July Fourth, 25 years ago, my family vacationed in Taos. I was 8 years old, and we came from land that was hot, flat and brown from overuse to Taos, nestled in mountains, shaded by trees and …

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Opinion: Taos trees hold stories, memories, collective histories

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One July Fourth, 25 years ago, my family vacationed in Taos. I was 8 years old, and we came from land that was hot, flat and brown from overuse to Taos, nestled in mountains, shaded by trees and cooled by rivers. We stayed at the Kachina Lodge, and I marveled that I could drink the water straight from the shower.

That night we danced in the courtyard with the Pueblo dancers. The drum and my heart and the earth; the fire's sparks and the Milky Way; my breath and the piñon smoke and the cool breeze--all of it connected, all of it alive.

I climbed the tallest spruce tree in front of the hotel. I walked into it like being swallowed into a green body, its branches ribs, its needles lungs. It smelled of wet earth, tangerine and beeswax. The perfect ladder between earth and sky, its branches draped just far enough apart so I had to stretch but could hoist myself up, up, up. My hands sticky with sap, I climbed until the trunk swayed in the breeze and I had to counter the wind with my weight. At the top, the branches thinned enough for me to peek out, and at that moment, fireworks splashed across the black sky.

When I moved to Taos as an adult, I walked from the Plaza to the Kachina Lodge. The Paseo was not the hill I had remembered, and I wondered if the trees, too, had shrunk with my growth. But the closer I got, the taller and greener they grew. I stepped into the tallest tree's canopy and traveled back through time. Wet earth, tangerine and beeswax. In this last decade in Taos, every time I've passed those trees, I've remembered that though I've lived so many places I don't know which to call home, I have roots in wild places across the earth. One tree, one body taught me this.

Two weeks ago, the Kachina Lodge cut down those trees, I've heard, to make their sign more visible from the road. What a strange world we live in, where land ownership makes it possible for someone to chop down someone else's living memories, to chop down our collective oxygen sources, our air filters, our shade, green at the heart of our town. Where it's possible for people to overdevelop our community, to churn out subdivisions of second-homes and label them "eco-villages." For people to drill into fossil wells and threaten our whole community's water.

This week, Buck Johnston had his own ladder between earth and sky - the drill off State Road 64 - one man, one body, and yet he is taking direct action to protect our water. I hope that our kids inherit water that is clean enough to drink straight from the shower (or even, the river). Trees know that water is life; that ownership is an illusion; that no matter who has the money or the power, we all share the same water, the same air, the same land.

Our trees in Taos hold the stories, even the tough ones, of conquering and revolt, the struggle of at least three cultures grafting themselves to a single land. They also hold the future, show us how to put down roots, commit to a place, build our own soil. They remind us to be mindful of each other and the space we hold collectively, not just for ourselves and our children, but for the animals, plants and air.

Business owners, landowners, know that you hold other people's treasures, our community's wellsprings. Please protect them. Let us build a true community, where people do not need signs, but can stop someone walking under the shade of a tree and ask where the buildings are, and can be answered, "Just before the bend in the Paseo, with the huge spruce trees."

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