The Baja Peninsula is home to a variety of endemic fauna and flora, perhaps none more strange than the Boojum. Named for a mythical creature in Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark,” the Boojum (or Cirio, as it called in Spanish) is a tree like no other. And we were on the hunt for it.
Docking in the small town of Bahia de Los Angeles, the crew and passengers of the National Geographic Sea Lion piled into a motley assortment of cars and vans to head up into the hills in search of the fabled Boojum Forest. Our 66-year old driver, Mr. Smith (his great-grandfather was from England), was proud to tell us about his three-year-old granddaughter whose white baby shoes swung from the rearview mirror and, of course, how the Seri Indians – the original inhabitants of the Baja Peninsula – believed the trees had special powers and how the experts can not agree on whether or not the Seri deliberately transplanted the Boojums.
Several sources, among them Stewart Aitchison’s “The Desert Islands of Mexico’s Sea of Cortez,” report that the Seri believed the Boojums were once people: “giants who were overtaken by floodwaters.” Other Seri myths warn against harming – or even touching – the Boojums for fear of bringing on wind and rain.
But we did not fear the Boojums, as bizarre as they appeared. With pale green bark and yellow flowers on spindly spikes, the Boojums reached to the sky – their scarce branches twisting around one another as if they were the giants of legend beseeching the gods to save them from the flood, wringing their hands in prayer.
We ran around for more than an hour, searching for the weirdest of the weird, or the Boojum whose twisted arms perfectly framed the pale moon rising in the late afternoon sky. We ignored the spattering of rain drops and the itchy sand as we lay on our backs trying to get the perfect shot encompassing the Boojum’s height. (They are slow growing plants, possibly just a few inches per year; a fifty foot tree could be more than a century old.)
We even ignored the warnings. Okay – I did. Threading my arm through those spiky spindles, I touched the Boojum. Nothing terrible happened. The bark felt sort of like that of a birch. And it felt strong and sturdy. I told the Boojum it was beautiful. (Yes, I talked to the tree…call me weird.) I don’t remember all that I said, but I did ask if it wouldn’t mind sharing its strength and longevity.
Now that I’m back home in the midst of what’s promising to be the worst California drought, I’m thinking maybe I should have asked the Boojum for some rain too.