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Ode to Smoketree

A local long time desert activist, environmentalist and friend called to tell me about the recent clearing of land in the Joshua Tree area that ended with a Smoketree and other native flora protected under the California Desert Native Plants Act had been cleared so that to make more space for a local business that was expanding. We learned with a little research the business owner did not obtain a native plant permit. Many people who clear raw land do not realize the impact to the flora and fauna. Then there are the folks that feel entitled because they have a deed to land and feel it is their right to do with it as they please without following the appropriate steps.


Psorothamnus spinosus is one of many desert flora listed under the California Desert Native Plants Act it is listed as Dalea spinosa but the Smoke Tree has been moved into a new genus Psorothamnus.


I understand that folks may be unaware of the permit process or even a native plant permit when they want to expand or begin to develop the land. This is why we need to be wise and do the needed research before taking (killing) or relocating native flora. Familiarize yourself with your local jurisdiction planning codes, native plant permits, reach out to the community, native plant society chapters within your region and ask for help, find an environmental agency that will give you some advice or hire them to come to your property to do a survey of the flora.


Below is a poem written by my friend Tom O'Key called The Smoke Trees of Joshua Tree, written June 10, 2017, he shared his poem with me after we talked about the recent clearing of an old Smoke Tree in Joshua Tree. The below first image is not the Smoke Tree that was cleared, rather it is a thriving beautiful Smoke Tree that depict how grand they are if left to be. The other photos are of the clearing done by the business and of the pile of flora they killed in order to expand.


The Smoke Trees of Joshua Tree


When is the past, only, remembered as something that once was?

Are our contemplations of the moments we hold close to us, despite the fleet and fury of time flying by, where our existence, and the existence of every, single, thing we ever knew to be real, falls to change? Where is the point of reference that provides hallmarks to our place in reality?

Is it fair to question our innermost values as attached, more-so, to our potential achievements, than as related to our reveries of what once was, or what might have been? Or, are our values only connected to the places and things that hold the tabernacles of our heritage.

When the old church on the corner was demolished to make way for the new freeway lane expansion, did the bells of remembrance fall silent? With time, the passing of the couples, married within this place where memories were made, pass with them? What about the raucous bingo games that were held in the side-building, where the ladies from the Assistance League gathered and laughed and shared time? Are they gone into the mist of foggy memories mixed in the rubble of fill dirt that shores up the guardrails of the new onramp?

To look and see the things that defined our past, and find them solid, and stable, and real, is that how we know we, ourselves, are real, too? Do we need to know that we have a foundation in our core and past, to make us real? Do we need these hallmarks as reminders?

These thoughts fill a subtle, yet pivotal, idea that alludes to a psychological insight that has, perhaps, real-world repercussions in the way empathy is matched against apathy. That the security provided to our memories suggests we, ourselves, will be, assuredly, remembered. That, because we bring preservation and solidity to our past, we, as human beings, matter.

In an undeveloped, open, field in downtown Joshua Tree, between the buildings and pole line easements framing this vacant and, mostly, natural desert land, something rare and surprisingly ancient, can be found!

Smoke Trees! Hidden in plain sight and blended in obscurity from the average perceptive realization, there are the sole members of the small family of what some might call, otherwise, unremarkable, Smoke Trees; seven of them, in all.

Some are large and more mature looking than the others. Smaller ones seem to be potential recovery victims of previous earthmoving events. Some are new and fresh and speak the microclimate that exists in this unpretentious plot of land that, for some, is fodder for blacktop.

This brings to mind the ideas cited in earlier paragraphs. How do we assess these ancient living beings? Is it fair to think of them this way? Do they belong to us, humanity, or to the developer who owns the right to blade them into oblivion. Are these our past? Is the fact that so few are left in existence a reason for enhanced appreciation and rectitude in what happens to them?

Most assuredly, their moment of fate is in our hands. They stand, only, at the mercy of our intent.s of remembrance fall silent? With time, the passing of the couples, married within this place where memories were made, pass with them?  What about the raucous bingo games that were held in the side-building, where the ladies from the Assistance League gathered and laughed and shared time? Are they gone into the mist of foggy memories mixed in the rubble of fill dirt that shores up the guardrails of the new onramp?


To look and see the things that defined our past, and find them solid, and stable, and real, is that how we know we, ourselves, are real, too? Do we need to know that we have a foundation in our core and past, to make us real? Do we need these hallmarks as reminders?


These thoughts fill a subtle, yet pivotal, idea that alludes to a psychological insight that has, perhaps, real-world repercussions in the way empathy is matched against apathy. That the security provided to our memories suggests we, ourselves, will be, assuredly, remembered. That, because we bring preservation and solidity to our past, we, as human beings, matter.


In an undeveloped, open, field in downtown Joshua Tree, between the buildings and pole line easements framing this vacant and, mostly, natural desert land, something rare and surprisingly ancient, can be found!


Smoke Trees! Hidden in plain sight and blended in obscurity from the average perceptive realization, there are the sole members of the small family of what some might call, otherwise, unremarkable, Smoke Trees; seven of them, in all. 


Some are large and more mature looking than the others. Smaller ones seem to be potential recovery victims of previous earthmoving events. Some are new and fresh and speak the microclimate that exists in this unpretentious plot of land that, for some, is fodder for blacktop.


This brings to mind the ideas cited in earlier paragraphs. How do we assess these ancient living beings? Is it fair to think of them this way? Do they belong to us, humanity, or to the developer who owns the right to blade them into oblivion. Are these our past? Is the fact that so few are left in existence a reason for enhanced appreciation and rectitude in what happens to them?


Most assuredly, their moment of fate is in our hands. They stand, only, at the mercy of our intent.


Tom O'key

June 10, 201