The Basque Arborglyphs of the West— Carved Messages, a “Porno Grove” and Memes from the Past

Shelby Herbert searched two states, five counties, two National Forests, a National Park, a library and a bar for answers about the cultural value of Basque tree carvings in the Mountain West.

Iñaki Arrieta Baro, head of the Jon Bilbao Basque Library at the University of Nevada, Reno, pictured with one of the library’s arborglyph samples.
JT’s Basque bar in Gardnerville.
An approximation of the remaining locations of Basque tree-carvings throughout the American West. Data acquired from: the United States Geological Survey, National Parks Service, and Speaking Through the Aspens by Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe.
“We couldn’t leave the ladies’ room empty,” says Lekumberry. “People would get upset, of course.”
UNR’s Jon Bilbao library hosts several arborglyph specimens, as well as many other items and literature related to Basque culture in Nevada.
Marie-Louise Lekumberry with photos of her late father Jean’s carvings. Jean would habitually carve his name with the current year.
In 2001, the USDA began reporting on “Sudden Aspen Decline” (SAD), the widespread and long-term reduction of aspen forests across the American West (https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/35850). Evidence indicates that climate-related drought conditions play a primary inciting role in this role, and that diseases and insects are killing drought-stressed trees.

“You cannot fight nature. You cannot preserve them. The value is in documenting them. This is not to discourage you.”

Reporting by Shelby Herbert for the Reynolds Sandbox

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