The thing about Joshua Trees …

This weekend is a big weekend of running for me. I am running both the Snow Canyon Half Marathon (St. George, Utah) and the Joshua Tree Half Marathon (Joshua Tree, California) on Saturday. As I’ve pointed out before here on the bloggy blog, I am not just running two half marathons in one day, I am also running my name!

Pretty cool if you ask me. I mean, how many people can say that they can run their name in a day?

Now if I could find a Hansen race …

But, in all honesty, under “normal” circumstances I probably would be just running the Snow Canyon Half Marathon on Saturday. Doing two half marathons in the same day is kinda crazy. Doable, but crazy. But, I have to do the Joshua Tree Half Marathon.

There’s no question about it.

I just have to.

There’s a fascination, a love, that I have for the Joshua Tree. Yes, it has a lot to do with my name — but, it’s much, much more than that. There’s the whole story behind how they got their name, the plant’s anatomy and how that all relates to me. I find it very fascinating and very allegorical — not just to life, but specifically my life.

When you break down the history, anatomy and personal meaning it has to me — it makes sense. It’s been a source of inspiration to me and hopefully you too with a broken down view of it …

NAMING OF THE JOSHUA TREE

The scientific name of the tree is Yucca Brevifolia — not a very sexy name. And, if it wasn’t for a group of Mormon Pioneers trekking through the Mojave Desert, we’d probably know these yucca plants as something like — desert daggers, palm tree yucca or yucca palm.

Legend has it that as the Mormon settlers made their way westward into California the plants reminded them of the prophet Joshua in the Old Testament with his out stretched arms in supplication to the Lord. Because of the specific elevation and location that these trees flourished their sighting also signified that the half way point of their journey.

The name stuck.

The name was further entrenched into the national lexicon when President Franklin D. Roosevelt designated the area as a national monument. Almost 60 years later the monument was elevated to a national park — the Joshua Tree National Park — that we know today (23 years ago yesterday to be exact).

THE JOSHUA TREE’S ANATOMY

I didn’t know much more about the Joshua Tree until I was in college. I mean, sure, I knew what it was — but, the anatomy and story behind the plant was just something I didn’t bother to learn about. Why did I? A Joshua Tree was a Joshua Tree in my mind.

When I was at Southern Utah University I had to take a biology class, and not wanting to take human biology (I kinda hate science), I aimed to take the easiest class possible — which I was told was Southern Utah Flora.

I’m not going to pretend that it wasn’t easy. It was. It was a five week class that met once a week for a 4-6 hour field trip. We’d go down to St. George, Snow Canyon, Mesquite and the Arizona Strip along I-15 and a few places closer to Cedar City.

Each place we stopped our professor would stop and talk about some plants, we’d have to write them down and take a picture of it and then put it into a notebook — which was our semester final and only project.

I told you it was easy. And, yes, I got an A.

I don’t remember much from the class, besides a few yucca plants, differing sage plants and, of course, the Joshua Tree. When we stopped on along the Arizona Strip the area was home to a number of Joshua Trees — and we got the story and anatomy lesson from our professor.

He explained to us the life of a Joshua Tree. It relied on the adversity it endured in the harsh desert climate to not just take root, especially since it’s root system was rather shallow and the base of the plant large and extensive with it’s many branches. That adversity endured in infancy strengthened it and made it the sturdy — nearly unmovable — plant in it’s adulthood.

DRIVING THROUGH JOSHUA TREE

Another reason why I love Joshua Trees is more personal than the previous two. When I was a kid I spent a lot of time in Southern California. A lot. Each summer my family would visit aunts, uncles and cousins who lived (and many still do) in the Orange County area. These trips would always entail a trip to Disneyland, Sea World and of course the beach. Some of my most favorite memories from these moments as a kid.

Being a large family we never flew, we always drove. And, I remember that trek from Salt Lake City to Orange County. I dreaded it. So many long hours in the car — way before the advent of DVD players, iPods and smartphones.

We would make the trip in our large red van with an individual box of coloring books, gadgets and candy (which mine was usually gone by Cedar City) and my my Dad’s box of cassette tapes of Beach Boys, Beatles, Neil Diamond and classic rock. Those drives were brutal, but that’s also where I learned my love for good music — not just classic rock — from my Dad.

Even if we split the trip up in St. George or Las Vegas it was not a very enjoyable ride for me. But, once we were past Las Vegas and we’d hit a patch of desert with hundreds of Joshua Trees I’d always put away what was distracting me and just stare out my window. Not only did these hundreds of trees mesmerize me with their twisting and turning branches, but they were “MY TREES” as I liked to call them.

Well, and then of course there was the part that they were also a sign that we were getting MUCH closer to our destination of Disneyland, family and the beach.

But, even today when I am passing through a desert area with Joshua Trees my attention is caught by “MY TREES” and I can’t help but stare in wonderment. Especially coupled with personal feelings of them now.

MY LESSONS FROM THE JOSHUA TREE

There are many, many lessons that I’ve learned and applied to my life over the years. When I was a kid the association of Joshua Trees with family vacation, California and even music will always stick with me. I feel many of those same feelings even now at 36.

But, after my class in college I started taking what I’ve learned about the Joshua Tree to heart. At that time in my life, I had a lot of uncertainty and commotion whirling around me. Knowing that I could take that commotion — or adversity — and turn it into a positive force was really life changing for me.

Realizing that, I started facing my life differently — I embraced those trails and looked for the good in them. I saw a similar partner in struggle, determination and growth. The Joshua Tree was truly “MY TREE” in many aspects of my life.

Even in the very nature of how it got it’s name is a lesson of the importance of prayer. Just like Joshua of the Bible my arms should always be raised in supplication to the Lord for guidance. I am sure Joshua could have managed life quite well without the Lord’s guidance — he was one considered one of the greatest military generals in history.

But, nonetheless, Joshua relied on the Lord for his strength, knowledge and direction not just as a military leader of the Israelites — but, the spiritual leader as well. And, there’s a lot that can be said about Joshua, but that’s a post for another day.

There are many lessons we can learn from the Joshua Tree, but the biggest thing I take away from it is — really — anatomy of the plant and how adversity in our lives can be of benefit. The adversity of life strengthens our roots, resolve and outlook. And, we should really embrace that as much as possible, because we can all grow even in the harshest of circumstances.

Because, that’s how we grow.


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