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The Scraggly Creosote

I had more than a few hours to take in the Arizona and California deserts during a recent driving trip to a town just north of San Diego and home again in three short days.  As we passed miles and miles of sand, rock, cacti, and scrub, one thing continually caught my eye - evidence of water.  I could plainly see evidence of dry washes, not so much by the path they cut through the desert ground, but by the continual thickness and greenness of the trees and shrubs in the path of those washes.  Water didn't even need to continually run through those desert washes in order to make those threes green - it just had to pass by their during monsoon storms and rainy days of winter.  As we were nearer the coastal cities, though, the greenness was vastly different.  It was constant - but it was also marked by something which gave it a distinctive "direction" of growth - the winds.  All that is except the mighty straight palm trees.  They showed no sign of "bend", but grew straight up toward he sky.  It spoke to me of how fortunate one truly is to be planted wherever it is one can be watered and allow roots to grow deep enough to hold firm whether winds come or rains dry up a little.  


God blesses those people who refuse evil advice and won’t follow sinners or join in sneering at God.  Instead, the Law of the Lord makes them happy, and they think about it day and night.  They are like trees growing beside a stream, trees that produce fruit in season and always have leaves.  Those people succeed in everything they do.  That isn’t true of those who are evil, because they are like straw blown by the wind.  Sinners won’t have an excuse on the day of judgment, and they won’t have a place with the people of God.  The Lord protects everyone who follows him, but the wicked follow a road that leads to ruin.  (Psalm 1 CEV)

There was lots of evidence of growth in the desert - some kind of spindly, but nonetheless quite important.  Other growth actually took place in some of the most unlikely places, like within the crags of entirely rocky places.  Still different types of growth were evident in the tall and mighty saguaro cactus - weathering the dryness of the desert, providing safe haven for the birds, and giving flower in season.  Even the spindly growth had purpose - for those smaller scrub brush known as creosote bush (greasewood) brought a covering to the desert floor which helped to provide shelter from the scorching heat of the desert for wee critters who roam the desert floor, but they have  hidden fault some may not know.  If you didn't know this about the creosote bush, it grows by inhibiting the growth of other things around it!  It is a very selfish plant - choking out other growth to take all the water for itself!

The creosote bush has an unusual ability to grow in sand - not needing stronger soil in which to anchor.  They have a very effective root system that allows them to suck up all the water around them, despite where they anchor.  In the efficiency of this root system, all other potential growth around them is denied any opportunity to take root - simply because the harmless looking creosote bush hogs all the water!  If you have ever observed these plants, you will notice what appears to be "dead zones" around each plant - areas where not even weeds grow!  They effectively squelch all other growth.  Now, that may not be bad for the creosote bush, but if you look at the miles and miles of dry sand effectively in between all these creosote bushes, you begin to understand how those mighty rolling dust storms gather enough dust to create huge walls of sand inhibiting visibility for miles!

The other thing about this creosote bush is how long it lives.  It has a life span which goes on and on.  As one seed takes root, even the branches which die off into "old age" don't bring death to the bush - they just keep growing!  In one valley of the California desert, there is a stand of creosote believed to be close to 12,000 years old!  That is a long time for a stand of bushes to grow!  Knowing that this pretty selfish bush grows so well in the desert sand, it seems that it would almost be impossible to kill it, but I also observed stands of dry, withered, grey dead plants.  Rows and rows, to be exact, almost mimicking someone having planted a start-up orchard of sorts.  So, you know me, I had to find out why!  It takes 3-5 years for the tiny start up bushes to take root and get solid enough root to survive the harsh heat of the desert.  If they don't have the consistent lower temperatures and "rain relief" periodically that a mild summer or strong monsoon season brings, they stand the chance of withering on the hot desert floor.  Death comes despite their selfishness of sucking up all the water around them.

Another little known secret of this bush is the ability it has to not "lose" water when the hot season comes.  It is because of this sticky or waxy substance on their little leaves - causing the evaporation of the water to be minimized and held into the core of the plant. Other plants on the desert floor are not so fortunate and succumb to extreme heat ranges of the summer days.  Those leaves are still sometimes used in herbal medicines, although there are warnings after warnings of the potential toxicity of their use - damaging kidneys and liver by their chemical make-up.  

In general, the trees which grew at the edge of the washes were Palo Verde.  They were also surrounded by many creosote.  Remembering that this little bush is pretty "opportunistic", you can see why it would prefer the edge of the wash to establish a hold. Yet, even though it attempted to choke out the other growth around it, near the washes edge, it had no chance.  Why?  The soil gave enough water for the Palo Verde to establish root - and it has much deeper roots!  The Palo Verde has one other feature - it is drought resistant!  Even its bark is green, allowing the tree to conduct the work of photosynthesis when leaves are withered and fallen!  God sure has created some interesting desert growth, has he not!  One bush chokes out all other growth, while another grows strong and solid, even in the midst of drought conditions which would cause most other trees to wither and die.  

What does this have to do with us?  Let's think for a moment about the creosote.  It has some features which make it "positive" and many others which make it kind of "negative". It doesn't exactly encourage other growth in the surrounding area, making it very unfriendly to anything but its own kind.  God doesn't want his kids to end up like the creosote bush - hogging all the good stuff and choking out all others from enjoying what he sends.  The toxicity which comes from living this way is actually damaging to community, my friends.  The Palo Verde has more than a few stickers on it - making it a little "prickly" when you try to get close to it.  Yet, it knows where and how to take root. It is selective about where it grows, knowing it needs to be able to survive.  God doesn't want us just sprouting up wherever - there are places of provision he makes which will give us deep root. The place we are planted matters - for we can be strong and solid in the midst of some of the toughest conditions when our roots are planted firmly into the places of his provision.  Just sayin!

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