24" x 30"
Wetland Conservation Area, Florida, United States
Rocky Mountain Junipers (Juniperus scopulorum) are readily available from nurseries in the Western states, but they don’t look like this one. Nursery trees are usually cultivars, selected and pruned to a single trunk and compact form like Christmas trees. Most of the naturally growing specimens in the semi-arid Southwest, where I found this tree while hiking, were much messier but also shrub-like. Their small size is not surprising considering their slow growth rate. An average 80-year-old tree is only 18 feet (5.5 m) tall. This one was closer to their maximum height at 30 feet. I could easily walk under its lower branches. It could have been over 300 years old. Only a tree of its great age could have the twisting and arching form of the branches and trunks that I found so enjoyable to paint.
The other feature I found attractive about this tree was its complexity. It had not been tidied up. The small dead branches that curved through the canopy in bright arcs and the grey stumps of fallen branches would surely have been pruned off if it had been in a garden. One of our dinner guests, after looking at this painting for a long time, made this single comment, “It looks very dry.” His comment was very gratifying. It confirmed the impression I was trying to create. The shrubs and other plants in the foreground are typical of the region, growing at a distance from one another out of competition for water. And the pines peeking out over the hillside are pinyon pines, another drought tolerant group.
Although Rocky Mountain Juniper grows in moist environments in its northern range, along the west coast of N. America from British Columbia, its super power is its ability to survive in the semi-arid regions of Arizona and New Mexico where it receives only about 10 inches (254 mm) of annual precipitation.