What I Learned From a Mesquite Tree

Have you ever eaten mesquite-grilled food? M-m-m! But do you know where those wood chips came from?! While it may not be Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, this story does involve nastiness and bloodshed.

When I moved to Arizona, I bought a house with a mesquite tree in the back yard. It didn't take long to realize why many mesquite owners don't proliferate them. First, they are constantly dropping/shedding/expelling pods, fronds, and other growths. It seems like you're always raking something under a mesquite. Second, they grow like weeds - prodigiously and randomly. And third, when you go to trim that growth, you find that the new growth has razor-sharp thorns hidden along its length! After my first battle with a mesquite thicket I looked like I'd been scourged by the Romans. "Why couldn't I have had a nice kite-eating tree instead?" I wondered aloud.

Over time, though, I came to appreciate some characteristics of my backyard menace. It was incredibly hardy, and the wood was great-smelling! But the truly great thing about a mesquite is its malleability. Because they grow so fast in so many directions, and because the wood is so strong, you can "sculpt" the things like no other tree I know! There is one in my neighborhood that actually looks like the trunk has a loop in it from one angle (the guy who maintains it studied in Japan for a decade).

I know, you're thinking "Mike, if the mesquite taught you to look beyond first impressions, I'm going to hurl!" Don't worry. The mesquite taught me a new perspective on personal development. That's more interesting, isn't it?

Allow me to explain. When you first try to make changes in thought and habit, your mind can seem a lot like a mesquite: constantly expelling negative self-talk, developing a bewildering thicket of opinions and habits despite your best conscious effort not to. And, boy, do those opinions and habits resist change!

When I first started trimming that tree, I was fairly tentative in my cutting. Having lived most of my life in the midwest, the concept of hacking a significant portion of a tree's vegetation with the expectation that it would grow back seemingly overnight was a foreign, nay, alien concept to me. But with some experimentation, I soon learned that temerity was wrong; that by being bold I could do a much better job.

Many of us live our lives timidly, making little changes here and there, afraid that making big changes will jeopardize our very existence. But our minds aren't maples, they're mesquites. Left untrimmed - the unexamined life - they grow into unrecognizable thickets of addiction, confusion, and misery. Minimally attended, they provide decent shade and utility (a passable existence). But it turns out that they can quickly be turned into something magical. You are limited only by your willingness to be bold, your willingness to experiment, and your ability to creatively adapt to evolving growth!

So here is the perspective on personal development that I learned from that mesquite tree:
  1. Start with an overall direction and plan. It may be a far cry from the way things are today, but you'll be surprised how fast things can change.
  2. Deal with specific circumstances as they arise in ways that advance the plan. You can't control every unfolding event. Don't try to; just keep going in the right direction. Unforeseen setbacks will occur, but so will opportunities to advance faster than expected. Be ready to exploit them.
  3. Don't be afraid to hack away at things that don't conform to the plan. This is the hardest part, because it is tough work and the fear of screwing things up is Brobdingnagian! But that's where the transition from "decent shade" to "living marvel" happens. It's okay to start small, but it's even better to be bold and go big! There will be cuts and scrapes and contusions along the way, but the results will astound you.
Ah, the sweet taste of success...

[This post is part of a group writing project concocted by Robert Hruzek.]

posted by Mike at 5:31 AM


Blogger Robert Hruzek said...

Wow, Mike, this is really good - great job! Don't worry, no hurling here...

Thanks for your participation!

12:22 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Thanks, Bob! I tried to live up the the light switch standard! ;-)


12:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Mike

Great tree, great story and great analogy. Am attracted to your number 3 especailly: don't be afraid to 'hack' away, be bold. Learned that lesson last month ;-)

3:15 AM  
Blogger Mike said...


Thanks for the kind words. Your post about being bold is a gem! I second Mark's words about loving how you related your thought processes. How did the show turn out for you?


8:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He Mike

Thanks ;-)
Show was great, dust hasn't settled yet, still working on the follow-up thingies.
We had a great time, we had fun also ;-)
Have a good weekend, I still have to write my contribution for Robert.

9:14 AM  
Blogger Mike said...


You didn't share what you got in response to your bold request to your suppliers. When will you share the results with us?


9:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Mike

Well, 2 out of the three asked responded straight away with agreement to the 'competition' and will 'donate' £ 250.00 to the winner. Number 3 (the only English one ;-)) reacted only yesterday (bit late for the show), and is also willing to give us (our customers) an extra discount for two months.

Our suppliers are always willing to work together with us, be it on marketing materials, special deals or advice. We have selected them on quality (products and service) and we haven't been let down yet by any of them (and neither have we let them down, we're still growing).
It is great to have so much support ;-)

4:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cleverly done...


what would dad say

10:02 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Thanks, GL! Your story was superbly written.


10:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike--very interesting. Am interested in doing just that--plant and sculpt a mesquite--would love to hear more if possible.

1:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You need to harvest those incredible beans and donate them to a willing recipient. Do some research and then contact the Permaculture Guild. They will either give you good information or accept them gratiously.

My guess it that you might just find another wonderful aspect to the mesquite.

9:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Mike,
If you braid them they grow really mean thorns... I don't think they like themselves.


9:06 AM  
Blogger Mike said...


Sounds like time for an experiment...

Thanks for the tip!


2:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My husband made me read this after hacking away what looked to me to be an entire tree (of two we have in our front yard). He was simply trying to prove his point, but really great lesson, nonetheless! Thanks for sharing!

9:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am thinking to plan a mesquite in my backyard. I mean a new tree. Would you do it again if you had a new backyard? I live in Mexicali, Mexico, which has similar weather as much of Arizona, being part of the Sonoran Desert.
By the way, very interesting reflexions.

8:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read Charles Bowden, "Blues for Cannibals"

7:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read Charles Bowden, "Blues for Cannibals"

7:27 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Mike,I planted a mesquite about 6 months ago,I'd never seen one beore but there was somthing about it that struck me, so I bought it.Not knowing what to expect, it's growing like crazy! After checking online I found your letter, WOW I'm in the middle of huge changes in my life and I will think of your words in my new journey while designing my tree. Thanks Cathy

12:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great story!
and all I wanted was info on the beans and making flour. Thanks!

12:41 PM  
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