There is a hand-painted sign in the desert where my dog and I walk every day. It’s large, a 4 x 4 weathered piece of plywood and the letters, about six inches high, are block shaped, cobalt blue, and easily noticed in the dull brown landscape of New Mexico.
“Please don’t give up on me,” it reads and it is propped against a small Russian olive tree, the only tree in the small walking area off Tramway Road. The patch of land is owned by the city and is protected by the Flood Authority Office of Albuquerque. It’s situated between a housing division and an apartment complex and there are trails and loops used by joggers, dogs and walkers, mountain bikers, and horses with their riders. It is a wonderful place to be outside and enjoy the high desert atmosphere.
I saw the sign for the first time about a month ago. I don’t know who made it or who placed it near the tree along one of the trails. Perhaps it is the same person who put stones around the trunk of the Russian olive or the same one who strategically places large boulders along the path to discourage drivers from operating their motor vehicles across the desert. I suppose the sign refers to the tree, a message to anyone who would run over it or destroy it in some way. Seeing something, especially a tree, survive in the desert can make the most cynical of people become a little sentimental.
I have also considered that the sign hasn’t anything at all to do with the tree but is instead a re quest about a relationship, a plea begging a lover not to leave. I think of some young man, desperate not to lose his sweetheart, making a sign, leaning it against a tree on a trail where he knows she’s bound to walk. It is a message from his heart asking her for one more chance at love.
I don’t know what the sign means, who is asking for what. I only know that it touches me, reminds me of the frailty of love, the unpredictability of relationships, and the delicate balance we always seek of knowing when to hold on and when to let go, when to fight and when to quit, when to say, “I’ve done all I can do,” and when to say, “I will not give up.” I imagine learning that balance takes more than a lifetime and probably more than a few signs to guide us.
Yesterday, I stopped by the tree on my early morning walk. I studied the sign and then poured the water from my bottle all along the narrow, spindly trunk. Carmella, my dog, sat, respectfully observing my small blessing. She sniffed the air, her long golden snout lifted slightly, and turned again to me. I nodded and she stood and we finished our walk and went home.
I’m not sure of the significance of my gift. I’m not sure that it benefits the tree or that it addresses the concern posted on the piece of plywood. It just seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Water in the desert, after all, is always a blessing and maybe that’s all the maker of the placard wanted. Somebody, somewhere, honoring their plea, somebody not giving up. I suppose, when it comes right down to it, that’s really the sign most of us are longing to find.