In the spring of 1996 I headed off to the American west. I
planned on doing some skiing in Colorado before heading to the southern
part of Utah to go mountain biking. I also like to spend time
rock hunting when I’m in Utah. I consider Utah to
be one of the
most beautiful parts of the entire world. There are regions
you can stand on the edge of a 1000-foot deep canyon overlooking the
Colorado River in 95-degree heat and turn around and see a 12,000-foot,
snowcapped mountain. I ended up near the town of St. George,
Utah. Someone suggested that I go to a small recreational
called Red Cliffs just north of town.
Cliffs has some old Anasazi Indian ruins and some canyons (naturally
they are made up of red rocks) and trails for walking. One of
trails follows a dry streambed. I went up the trail and came
around a corner in the rocks. When I went around the corner a
most surprising sight greeted me. A giant cottonwood tree,
six feet in diameter. It was a very unusual shape.
of growing tall like other cottonwoods, this tree was shaped like a
“T”. The massive trunk that split into
two large branches about
ten feet above the ground. One of the branches was about
feet in diameter, the other one about half that size. It
grew tall, but it did grow wide. It was springtime and the
was covered in fresh leaves. I walked around to the other
the tree and saw that it had a hollow in it. Not a small one,
rather one big enough to fit a whole family into it.
I don’t know what it was about that tree, but it had a
presence. It was a comfortable spring day and I decided to
some time sitting on a rock near the tree. I really enjoy
in all its forms, but for some reason, this tree was drawing me
near. No, I didn’t wrap my arms around it and hear
it speak to me
or lay my hands on it and commune with the ancient spirits, but I did
want to sit near it. I have no idea how old the tree was, but
was old. I thought of all the time that it had been growing
. Think of all the people who have passed by this
the cottonwood was still
there. So many changes in its lifetime (now remember, I
say I was talking to it or nuthin’), but this was a
biggest of the other trees in the area were no more than 18 inches in
diameter, this tree was so far beyond all of the others as to be beyond
I sat nearby and daydreamed. Then I would walk around a
bit. Then I would come back and sit a while longer.
didn’t have a camera that day, but finally two women came by
asked them to take a picture of the tree and me. I spent many
hours hanging out and enjoying that pleasant spring day.
Eventually it grew late and it was time for me to go.
I spent some time in the area collecting rocks and hiking
I met someone who worked in a national park. After talking
together for a while and learning of my interest in rocks, he suggested
that I should try to meet Herman Pollock from the nearby town of Tropic
(kind of a strange name for a place in the desert, but that’s
name). He told me that Herman had a small museum and was very
knowledgeable about the local geology. I called Herman and
arrangements to meet him.
next day I arrived in Tropic and went to Herman’s
greeted me at the door and shook my hand. He said to me,
man, are you a Mormon?” I replied,
“No.” He said, “Then sit
down.” And he proceeded to tell me about the
Mormons. Utah is the
stronghold of the Mormon religion and in the smaller towns, the vast
majority of the people are of this religion. I really
familiar with the Mormons and Herman told me of their
wasn’t pushy about it and actually, I found it interesting to
learn. Herman gave me a book of Mormon, as he does to all his
visitors, and asked me to read the Book of Nephi, which I said that I
Herman brought me to his little museum that he had in a building behind
his house. He showed me all of his rocks and told me the
behind them. Herman had done some of the original geological
surveys of the numerous state and national parks in the area.
was a repository of knowledge. He really is a nice guy and
quite happy to have me there. I spent the afternoon with him
we talked of many different subjects.
When the time came for me to leave, he asked me to come back
again. He said, “It’s a little early in
the year as there is
still snow at the higher altitudes, so I can’t bring you
hunting. But, when you come back, we’ll be sure to
go out and
find some fossils, ok?” I enthusiastically said
that I would
return. “Be sure to read Nephi and we’ll
talk about that.”
“You bet.” And we said goodbye.
A few months later, the pictures the two women took arrived in my
mailbox. It brought me back in time. I
don’t know why, but
it made an impression on me. Maybe I can appreciate the
that the plants in the desert live through. Water is scarce,
they survive. Maybe I appreciate the old age that trees can
to. Whatever it was, I didn’t forget that
day. I didn’t
know exactly when I would be back, but I knew it would happen, sooner
or later, but it would happen.
In the spring of 1999, I was back to the west. Once again, I
ended up near St. George to go riding. I met a Mormon family
northern Utah and told them about the cottonwood tree and
The father said, “Yes, I believe I’ve heard about
that brother who has
given away ten to fifteen thousand Books of
that day I headed to Red Cliffs. I wanted to sit under (and
the cottonwood tree once again.
rode my bike to the trailhead and started to walk. I was
excited about seeing the tree again and hurried up the trail.
recognized the large rocks on the trail and knew that the tree was just
around the corner. I hurried up to the tree and immediately
noticed something wrong. There were no leaves on the
I thought that maybe it was too early in the spring for the
Yet the other trees in the canyon were covered in green. The
cottonwood tree was dead.
I don’t understand why, but it left me sad. It had
lived for so
many years, but now the tree was gone. Nothing lives
forever. I took a closer look and noticed that there were a
brown leaves still on the branches. It must have died in the
winter, shortly before I arrived. Even though it was dead, I
still sat next to the tree and let the day pass. I would much
rather have the tree alive, but I could still appreciate it as it still
had that presence.
I wanted to see Herman again and I had read the Book of Nephi in
preparation, so I gave him a call. His son answered the
phone and told me that Herman had died. I really
know what to say to him other than what I thought of Herman.
told him I thought he was a nice person and how the people from
northern Utah had heard of him. We talked a bit about Herman
his son said that he had lived a long full life. It felt
when I got off the phone.
I thought of all the years that the tree had lived. I thought
all the people that Herman had met while giving away his
tried to picture some of the wild things that Herman must have
during his surveys. Now both of them were gone. I
friends that day. They both lived long, full lives.