Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The face in the bark

What can I say. I saw this pristine quaking aspen tree trunk over on Park Avenue one day. Did a double take and took this picture of the "cubist" drawing. Note the rakish eyebrow over one of the lady's eyes.

Up in the high country in the Coconino, unmarked trunks are rare. Most of the aspens are covered with a particular kind of graffiti, carved in the past by Basque shepherds. In checking out the subject with The Google, I discovered, among other things, that the U of Nevada/Reno has, can you believe, a Basque Studies Center. One of its newsletters stated that tree carvings represent roughly a one-hundred period in the story of Basque immigration to the American West, from the last decades of the nineteenth century until the 1970s. The Basque sheepherders inscribed thousands of messages on aspens in ten states from California to Montana. (I suspect the reason that Nevada would have the Basque Center is that on many of its isolated mountain ranges, aspen comprise the climax forest, unlike most western ranges where conifers take over from the aspen.) According to another reference, the aspens in New Mexico and Colorado were carved primarily by Hispanic sheepherders. There is something about the smooth white bark that just invites sign making! Oh, yes. The academics have a name for all this: arborglyphs.

Water Hauling: Local readers in particular should find a new post at FreshWaterFootprint of interest. The subject: areas in Yavapai County where residents must haul water -- and why. Probably a subject most of us don't know much about. Another link: the Daily Yonder, the blog about rural America, looks at where the prosperous rural counties are located.

13 comments:

sheoflittlebrain said...

Thanks for the links, GJ!
I worked at Babbets grocery in Williams for awhile about half a century ago, and waited on the Basque sheepherders. They spoke little or no English, so getting the amount due across was a challenge. They were greatly amused by my finger counting and miming and a good time was had by all.
I've always been intrigued by their place in Arizona history. The Aspen marking is fascinating and I'm going now to read about it.

Lucy said...

Basques eh? Are there any enclaves of the Basque language? It's not like any ohter anywhere, and I heard that a clue to it's age is that the word for an axe has the same root as that for stone!
Bro looked like he had a lovely time.

stitchwort said...

There was some DNA research done recently on the natives of Britain which came to the conclusion that we are all descended from Basques in one way or another.
Oh, and some of them got over to North America too just after the last Ice Age.
Tagged again eh? I'll see what I can do.

Granny J said...

Though I had lived in AZ off and on over my younger years, I learned about two new things when the LH and I moved permanently here in the early 80s: 1) the monsoon and 2) the Basque sheepherders.

JesseL said...

I have an aunt that lives on Butterfield Road, just above the 10 Cine', who has to haul water. Many years ago she tried to have a well drilled, but even after going 300' or so down there was no water to be had.

The strange thing about this to me - my wife and I rented a home for a couple years that was about 1000' up the street from my aunt and about 100' higher in elevation. That place had a well that just wouldn't quit. It even gave us enough water for a small garden and a patch of grass.

Quirky water table around here I guess.

Granny J said...

Brain -- when we arrived in AZ for the rest of our lives, we used to breakfast down at the Skull Valley Cafe. In late spring, huge trucks with livestock trailers full of sheep would come up from the desert, headed for the high country. The names on the trucks were of Basque origin -- shepherds who had made it, American-style. We later saw their winter grounds, down in the Hassayampa flood plain. Same sheep, same trucks!

Lucy -- my understanding is that the Basque language is like almost no other except perhaps Finno-Ugric. Apparently most of the tree carvings are in the Basque language.

Stitch -- have they found DNA similar to that of the Basques in some Amerind tribes? Look forward to your 7 fascinating facts!

Granny J said...

Sorry, JesseL -- your comment snuck in while I was writing another come-back! If I recall correctly, the water table over in Wilhoit is about 1000 feet down, tho they have a water company there that's having a helluva time surviving. Locating water hereabouts obviously requires a certain touch!

jarvenpa said...

Great photo and fascinating info.
In our northern California hills my family hauls drinking water from a spring, having unintelligently built our home at the top of twenty acres whilst the water runs way off yonder by the laurel trees.
Good water, though.

RE IN AZ said...

There is nothing better than an Aspen in Fall. Well, except maybe a Picasso Aspen.

Granny J said...

Welcome, jarvenpa! Always the house at the top of the hill is a luxury of one kind or another. You pay in $$$ or perhaps in long trudges for cool water.

RE in AZ, I looked at the aspen trunk again today and saw that I had missed the full picture which was two sets of Picasso eyes.

meggie said...

So interesting about the tree carvings!

smilnsigh said...

Learning more, by coming here. Learning, as well as enjoying your photography. Thank you.

Mari-Nanci

Granny J said...

meggie & SnS -- aren't the tree carvings fascinating. I had known about all manner of diasporas, but never that of the Basques. At least until I had those breakfasts regularly at the Skull Valley Cafe those many long years ago!

 
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