By Dr. Aoidhne de la Foret (a.k.a. Forrest Ketchin)

Dear Zapata Friends and Neighbors,

Many of you are aware that many Ute Prayer Trees live among us on the Zapata Subdivision. I’m writing to suggest how you might greet and interact with them as you walk and hike in the beautiful home we share with them. 

Scientists call Ute Prayer Trees “Culturally Modified Trees” or CMT’s -- Trees peeled or shaped for cultural reasons. “Peel” means that the outer bark has been removed in a limited area of the lower trunk to give access to the nutritious and medicinal sap in the inner bark, or cambium (and for other reasons). “Shaped” means the tree has been trained much like a Japanese Bonsai (also a ceremonial tree) into specific shapes.

CMT is a broad category that includes ceremonial trees created by Indigenous Peoples all around the world. The Ute ancestral homeland included the San Luis Valley and the Zapata Area. “Prayer Tree” is the English name used to talk to the general public about their special trees.

Most Ute Prayer Trees in the subdivision are Ponderosa because the Ute prize this species for Prayer Trees. Several living here are older than 500 years. Pinon and Douglas Fir also were peeled and shaped, and provided multiple gifts. Juniper cedar are very important, also, for different reasons. 

You may have encountered Elder Ponderosa and noted their amazing presence. This is one reason the Ute valued them. In addition they are “giving trees”, offering a long list of utilitarian and ceremonial gifts, along with environmental and spiritual information. They served then, and still serve today, as carriers of living Ancestral Prayers.

You may also have encountered stone features. Stone features and stone tools may be associated with Prayer Trees: circles, spirals, cairns of a certain style and shape, propped and placed rocks, low stone alignments or “walls”, “arrow heads”, and more. Some of these may be hard to distinguish from those made by settlers and ranchers, so please avoid moving rock from any stone feature. 

Dr. James Jefferson, a Ute Elder, has visited the Zapata CMT's and stone features. Dr. Jefferson asks that we remember the Prayer Trees carry the prayers and ceremonies of the Ancestors, which are still alive and active in the Trees. He asks also that we stay a respectful distance away (20 feet), greet the tree and introduce ourselves (silently if you like). Its important to let the Tree know our intentions are friendly and respectful. The Prayer Trees should not be climbed upon, or trimmed up to look “neater”. They should be left alone to carry the prayers as they always have. A similar approach applies to the stone features. All contain important information about environment and culture and should not be disturbed.

Please check the Member site in upcoming weeks for more information.

Thank you so very much! 

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