Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Story of “Alligator” Deedee

1. The Dreaded Alligator Juniper

I’d like to warn you about the dreaded alligator juniper, which is undoubtedly the most dangerous tree growing wild in our area. These trees are distinguished not only by their thick scaly bark, but by their sharp teeth. Especially at night you can hear them roaring and bellowing to each other in their feeding frenzy. Woe to any critter that gets too close to one of these vicious trees! I don’t even want to talk about what happens whenever an innocent little bird happens to land on an alligator juniper branch. Alligator junipers especially like mammal meat, so you humans had better watch out whenever you enter an alligator juniper habitat.

Since alligator junipers grow at higher elevations where campers like to camp and tourists like to tour, they pose a considerable threat to the recreation public. Campers with pets or small children are especially advised to give these bloodthirsty trees a wide berth. In fact, in some areas the alligator juniper problem has become so bad that the U.S. Forest Service has been forced to put up signs warning, “DANGER—ALLIGATOR JUNIPER ZONE.” And if you think I’m kidding about this, just look at all the bones and feathers scattered around the trunk of any alligator juniper tree.

Unlike the oneseed juniper which grows in the low hills around Las Cruces and has stringy bark, the alligator juniper prefers higher elevations (such as the Aguirre Spring area) and has checkered bark that looks like—surprise—an alligator’s hide. These trees can grow to an enormous size—trunks six feet in diameter are not uncommon. The berries are blue-gray, about the size of a large pea, and sometimes cover the trees in great numbers. These berries are eaten by wildlife willing to take the risk, and were also consumed by the Indians, who learned to harvest the fruits during the winter, when the trees are dormant.

It is an unfortunate fact that alligator junipers, being cold-blooded (or cold-sapped, actually) are most active, and therefore most dangerous, during the summer months, which is the height of the tourist season. It’s a miracle that so few people get injured or maimed by these trees each summer. I hope that this chapter has served to adequately inform you about this ever-present menace in our southern New Mexico mountains. Remember: it’s a deceptive paradise out there.

2. “Alligator” Deedee Finds His Nickname

Last chapter I warned you about the dangerous alligator junipers that lurk in the mountains of southern New Mexico. I hope that my warning has served to save people from injury, death, or worse. It is gratifying to have the opportunity to help my fellow humans in this way.

However, I downright pulled a total amnesia job when it came to mentioning Gator Aid. And worse, I forgot to mention “Alligator” Deedee. How I could ever forget “Alligator” Deedee, I’ll never know. Let me make amends:

“Alligator” Deedee hunted alligator junipers for a living. At least he did in the old days. These days, you could drive right past his ramshackle little sheet metal shack, you could drive right past his scrawled “firewood for sale” sign, you could walk right up to him and look right into his sparkling blue eyes, and, if you didn’t notice that he was missing a couple of fingers on his left hand, and if you had never heard the stories he loved to tell, you would never suspect that he once hunted alligator junipers for a living. “Alligator” Deedee was one fierce dude in the old days.

It all started out as a matter of compensation, you see. When he was a boy, the other kids made fun of him and called him “Twiddle” [as in “Twiddle” Deedee, get it? (such being the humor of 10-year-old boys)]. He didn’t like this nickname, and vowed that when he was old enough to run his own life, he would earn himself a nickname more suited to his macho aspirations.

But what to do? He could become a race car driver and be called “V-8” Deedee, but then people would probably start calling him “Juice,” and that wouldn’t do. He could become a rock star and be called “Heavy Metal” Deedee, but then people would probably start calling him “Lead Head.” He could become a cowboy and be called “Cow Pie” Deedee, but then people would probably start calling him “Meadow Muffin.” He could become a pool hustler and be called “Fats,” but he was skinny as a rail.

Try as he might, he just couldn’t find the right nickname. Any nickname he could think of just didn’t quite resonate with him. This predicament lasted for several years. It was a downright identity crisis. He even read through the dictionary and thesaurus in search of a nickname that would truly inspire him. But nothing turned him on. Finally, in desperation, he started through the dictionary a second time... and it was there, while still in the “A’s,” that his wandering eye fixated upon the word, “alligator.”

Zapola! (One thing about resonance is it’s impossible to ignore when your entire being is resonating like a struck gong-g-g.) “Alligator!” he cried. “How could I have missed it the first time through the dictionary?” (The reason he missed it the first time, of course, was that he wasn’t ready for it yet, but let’s not get overly philosophical yet. There’s always time for over-philosophizin’ later.)

So now the question became: how could he earn the nickname “Alligator”? He had no desire to leave New Mexico, and there were no alligators in New Mexico that he knew of, except for maybe a few ex-pets wandering the sewers of Las Cruces and Albuquerque. Such a quandary: to know one’s nickname but not have the opportunity to earn it!

He wallowed in this predicament for awhile until his mind finally flashed on the alligator junipers waiting in the hills. Each alligator juniper was surrounded by a ring of bones, feathers, and dried blood. Alligator junipers could, and would, eat you alive. His skin got so many goose bumps, he looked like a plucked chicken. Cold chills ran up and down his back like prickly icicles. “Not alligator junipers!” he whimpered. “Anything but alligator junipers!”

But it was too late. His destiny had already been activated, and there was no way out but forward.

3. “Alligator” Deedee Meets His Destiny

When “Alligator” Deedee first started hunting alligator junipers for a living, he was sailing into dangerous and uncharted territory. With the exception of a few Indians in the old days, nobody had ever had the courage to hunt alligator junipers before. So he was pretty much on his own. He quickly learned that you can’t just walk up to an alligator juniper and exchange pleasantries—these bloodthirsty trees tend to eat you first and ask questions later, if at all. (After they’re through eating you, they might ask a question like, “Got any companions?”) “Alligator” Deedee lost a finger in his very first encounter with an alligator juniper, and vowed never to be so careless again.

After many trials and errors, he finally developed the ideal way to hunt alligator junipers. First, he would fill a balloon full of Gator Aid. Then, he would throw this balloon at a likely-looking alligator juniper tree. The tree would focus all of its attention on the Gator Aid splattered all over its trunk, leaving “Alligator” Deedee free to sneak up behind the tree and quickly cut its limbs off with his chainsaw. This was a grisly business, and I will not get into the disgusting details here. Suffice it to say that before long, “Alligator” Deedee had alligator juniper hides nailed up all over his barn wall, and the future looked dim if not downright grim for the entire alligator juniper species. But then “Alligator” Deedee had his environmental (and dare I say it?) cosmic awakening.

One evening, after a long day of slaughtering alligator junipers, “Alligator” Deedee fell into a deep and profound sleep. While he was sleeping, he had a vivid dream. In this dream, the trees and rocks and stars whispered his name over and over and over again. Bears and coyotes came up to him and lay down next to him and cuddled him with their fur. He had never been cuddled like that in his entire life. The wind played rainbow colors and shimmering patterns of iridescent light all around him. The sky opened above him and indescribable peace descended upon him and penetrated every cell in his body. The dream lasted all night long.

When he awoke the next morning with the first rays of sunrise peeking into his eyes, “Alligator” Deedee was a transformed creature. His spirit was full to overflowing. He was no longer a hunter and killer and destroyer; now he was filled with sacredness and holiness and nurturing love for and from the entire universe. He put his chainsaw away and never used it to kill alligator junipers again. He smiled at people. He smiled at himself. He planted alligator juniper seeds wherever the habitat was suitable. He told lots of stories, and people never got tired of hearing them. He blessed and was blessed, and the blessings never ceased.

(This story first appeared in the Las Cruces Bulletin in 1988, when Steve Klinger was editor.)


Post a Comment

<< Home