The juniper tree in the median between the northbound and southbound lanes of Interstate 17 near Badger Springs Road in the transition grasslands between the low desert hot sprawl of metro Phoenix and the high desert above the Mogollon Rim has been, anonymously, all dressed-up for Christmas again. Nobody that I know of knows exactly who does this, or why they chose this particular scrub of a juniper bush, but it happens every year just before Thanksgiving, pretty much forever (in my memory of this place which stretches back almost 30 years).
I’ve got a fraught relationship with this dressed-up desert rat of a bush/tree, as I do with so many things out here on the highways that are my home. For years, it watched over me as I worked roads during the holiday season, doing my best to lose myself in my work and the drugs I spent most of my life engulfed in, doing my best to hide from my own darkness.
That tree mocked me as I worked up and down the Interstate, hauling broken and wrecked cars and heavy trucks during the months of November and December. I was doing my best to escape what that tree reminded me of every time I traveled southbound, downhill, loaded heavy, and again every time I traveled north towards the mountain and my tow yard and single-wide trailer tucked in tight behind barbed wire, tall chain link, and hard-working Rottweilers.
At the same time it’s always made me question, as so many other handmade memorials on the road do, and ask why?
Why this tree?
Why this place?
Did something happen here? Did somebody lose someone they loved so much that it makes them return to this spot every year to share the holidays with their lost? Is the grief and pain, year after year still that raw and strong?
Did someone lose a child? A parent? A whole family? Or, is it just an expression on joy, out here on this quite stretch of highway a long way from anywhere?
Today I still wonder. I still got my darkness but it does not rule me. We still got no Thanks. We still got no Giving. I got no answers. Keep the rubber side down.