A broad, squat rocky mountain juniper sits on its patch of dirt. It survived the winter. It’s survived every winter. Countless people have walked by and paused to enjoy its relaxing scent. Some have come to harvest its needles, bark, and berries to make various medicines and drinks. Its waxy, tightly bundled needles trap every spec of moisture it can grab, and doing so lets it survive. Eventually winter ends, moisture becomes more available, the sun shines brighter, and the blue grama, the cheat grass, the columbines, monarda, and all the other grasses and perennials come back to find that rocky mountain juniper waiting for them.
“Sunshine, snow, whatever,” the juniper thinks to itself. “ It’s just about efficiency. Find moisture, trap it, use just enough. Keep producing chlorophyll, absorb light when you see it, hold on to moisture. Moisture and chlorophyll, moisture and chlorophyll, grab a little sunlight, moisture and chlorophyll, moisture and chlorophyll.”
The juniper repeats its mantra every hour of every day. Grasses come and go, flowers bloom and die, while the juniper repeats – “light and moisture and chlorophyll, moisture and chlorophyll, moisture and chlorophyll, light and moisture and chlorophyll. This is how I stay efficient. This is how I survive year after year after year after year. Just keep going”
“Excuse me,” a sprout pipes up one day from beneath the juniper’s lower branches. “I’m just a little sprout trying to get started. I see there is a lot of moisture and some spare nutrients here that you’re not using, and so I will be appropriating this surplus in order to better stimulate my growth, and in doing so, increase flower and seed production. This will stimulate the growth of our ecosystem.”
“What?” The Juniper has trouble understanding. “I absorb moisture, a little light, and some nutrients from the soil. I hold moisture and make chlorophyll, I hold moisture and make chlorophyll. I am efficient, and I survive. That’s how it works”
“Great! Then you won’t mind if I take what you’re not using,” the sprout responds.
As summer wears on however, the juniper doesn’t feel like things are great.
“Light and moisture and chlorophyll, light . . . and moisture and chlorophyll, moisture and chlorophyll, moisture and . . . I feel slow. I am . . . not efficient. My needles are . . . yellow?”
The juniper halts its line of thought to respond to the sprout. Except the juniper does not see a sprout. Instead it sees a spiraling, sprawling network of thin stems with dull, arrowhead-shaped leaves. The stems are tightly wrapped around the juniper’s branches, squeezing them. The occasional white flower peeks from between the clutching stems.
“You’re covering me,” The juniper says
“As I have said, it is in our ecosystem’s best interest that I continue my growth. After all, on of my plants produces up to 500 seeds, which remain viable for up to 20 years. My efficiency and continuous growth will ensure that our ecosystem will continue to grow and prosper, and so it is in our ecosystem’s interest that I deposit my excess alkaloids into the soil.”
“You’re dumping your -” The juniper begins to say, before the sprawling sprout interrupts.
“I am depositing excess alkaloids to allow for the faster and more continuous growth of our ecosystem.”
The juniper doesn’t respond. The summer continues. More of the juniper’s needles are yellowing. It still survives though. After all, it is very efficient. “Just a little light, hold moisture, make chlorophyll. This sprout is still growing. It’s okay. I’m efficient. I can survive this, the next winter, this again, and the next winter. One day however, the juniper is feeling even slower and less efficient. It looks out to the rest of its patch of dirt. Instead of seeing patches of blue, red, pink, and purple flowers strewn throughout the pale, silvery grasses, the juniper discovers a continuous blanket of dull arrowhead-shaped leaves and small, white flowers.
“What do you do?” The juniper asks.
“One of my plants produces up to 500 seeds that are viable for up to 20 years. We can ensure the continuous growth and prosperity of this ecosystem.”
“Okay, but, I smell nice. People harvest my bark, needles, and berries. What do you do?”
“I am ensuring the growth and prosperity of our ecosystem.”