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A message from arborglyphs — ‘I was here’

Staff Writer

Members of the Chimney Rock Interpretive Association (CRIA) got together Thursday, March 14, for another fun and educational potluck.

This month’s speaker was Peggy Bergon, a local researcher who studies and documents the arborglyphs in Pagosa Country.

In her presentation, Bergon described how Hispanic sheepherders documented their presence on aspen trees through the use of arborglyphs, otherwise known as “tree writing.”

Through her studies of the arborglyphs, Bergon has discovered they are not just “tree writing,” but are ways to document history. Tree bark is carved with exquisite cursive writing, pictures and dates that go back to the early years of the 20th century.

“In my mind, this made every single tree a living history,” Bergon explained.

During the times a shepherd was not protecting the animals from death, injury and disease, he would spend a lot of time wandering through the forest.

“He found that the clean, white bark of the aspen tree was the perfect slate on which to give form to his thoughts,” Bergon explained. The sheepherders were skillful carvers, producing a light scratch on the bark of the aspen trees.

Most carvings consist of names and dates. During her presentation, Bergon showed photos of arborglyphs dating back from 1905-1935. There are carvings that consist just of hands, with Bergon explaining that, “they state so simply, and so elegantly, ‘I was here.’”

Bergon is able to identify people by the way they wrote their names on trees. Some carvings show signs of dyslexia, some were used for games, others include geometric designs and shapes, while some were what Bergon called “aspen erotica.” Primarily, the pictures carved into the trees induce visions of home.

Some of the surnames documented are prominent names in the Pagosa Springs community. Bergon explained that, “one of the most gratifying parts of this project has been to get photographs to family members.”

Slowly, over time, the arborglyphs are disappearing. According to Bergon, the lifespan of an aspen tree is only 80-120 years. She estimates 75-90 percent of the arborglyphs are gone.

Carvings are lost to time because of fungus, disease, death or fires. Some trees have fallen and others have been hauled off for firewood.

Luckily, Pagosa Springs has a researcher like Bergon to document the carvings on the trees and preserve a piece of Pagosa Country history.

Bergon has photographed more than 5,000 arborglyphs. She began documenting them during hikes with her friends. When asked how she found the arborglyphs, she explained it was through “the pull of the trees.”

Melissa.Stedman@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on March 21, 2013.