The singing trees

Burt Baldwin - 11/19/2020

With the unprecedented surge of the pandemic, human social activity has come almost to a standstill. As a senior, I am very particular about whom I see and communicate with in person.

In spite of COVID, I still cherish my hikes into unfamiliar territories. The only real COVID-free zones are luckily, our less inhabited wild lands.

Almost a quarter of a century ago, I traveled south with a friend to explore the high desert around Lybrook, N.M. My friend Ron and I had been doing these sojourns for over the past 40 years. As always, we turned off the paved highway and headed into the interior along dusty canyon roads.

On one particular journey, we reconnoitered a few oil roads east of the Bisti Badlands to find a place that would give us, at least, a modicum of shade. We drove down a slight draw, and to our amazement, we came upon a few cedars and ponderosas growing in a little glen. We even encountered a deer that bolted across the road. Such a sight is rare in the high desert.

We parked the van and took out the cooler to enjoy lunch in the shade of one of the few trees. Ron, wandered off, up a hill, and holding his sandwich shouted back to me, “Over here there are unbelievable trees, petrified trees!”

I rushed up the hillside, and to my surprise there were about 10 huge, petrified cypress trees in various positions of repose. Some of the stone girths were at least 4 feet in width. They were lying as if they had been submerged in a prehistoric swamp. We decided, then and there, that we would eat lunch sitting on them.

Ron walked down to one of the larger petrified trunks and sat down to eat his sandwich and suddenly jumped up. I was grabbing some drinks out of the cooler when I heard him yell, “Can you come up here and sit on this log and tell me what you think?”

I acknowledged his request and leisurely sauntered toward the tree. I sat down and immediately jumped up.

“Wow this tree is vibrating!” I exclaimed.

“This is unreal!” he said.

We left our lunches and headed for several other petrified trees in the vicinity to see if they, too, were humming. Sure enough, each had a distinct vibration you could feel with your hand. One stump in particular was hollow at the end. It must have been petrified after it had rotted in some cretaceous swamp. Ron took his walking stick and probed it. Confident it wasn’t snake-infested, he stuck his head inside. He said he could hear a faint ringing.

We went back to the largest tree and finished our lunch while feeling a strange vibration in our legs while sitting atop the stone giant. Bewildered by the phenomenon, we tried to logically ascertain the reason for the vibration. We first circled the area looking for signs of a spring or an oil pipeline or derrick that may be the cause of the murmuring. Maybe there was an underground grotto where a stream had been running for centuries or maybe the wood was mineralized with iron that would hone some kind of magnetic pull?

Eventually, we decided to leave the mystery be. Packing our lunch scraps and cans into the van, we decided to head to each tree and touch it one last time, as though, just maybe, something was invading our imaginations. We touched each tree and laughed, hoping its animus would give us some luck.

We headed out on one of the many roads criss-crossing the terrain. Over a rise a few wild horses gamboled alongside the van for a mile or two and then disappeared at the next rise.

Ron and I returned to that area a year or so later but could not find the magical spot. We never marked our travels. It was a disappointment but then again, the singing trees grace only the strangers they choose!

– Burt Baldwin

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