It is a great, gnarly beast, its roots burrowing deep beneath the caliche, its boughs reaching up to the heavens.

Easily 30 feet high, 40 feet across, our lone mesquite spreads a leafy canopy above our patio, while its twisting branches offer temporary refuge to all manner of desert birds.

Yes, those birds are often rude, sending down splats of droppings onto the rocks and concrete below, as well as onto the occasional patio chair.

Meanwhile, the tree itself is in an almost-constant state of shed, its greenery drifting down with the slightest breeze. A broom - and occasional leaf blower - are always at the ready.

Attractive nuisance, many might call it - but one I easily endure. One does not give up a tree like this. Not in the desert. Even at night, when shade is no longer a dividend, I sit beneath its boughs, gazing at the stars twinkling down among the branches. Moonlight, when it comes, is even prettier, casting the outlines of the tree in soft silhouette.

Growing up in the desert, I soon learned the worth of trees - not all of them native. During my childhood, I played beneath the Dutch elms my parents - neither from the desert - planted in our backyard. As I grew older, my chore was to water the elms with the garden hose, carefully placing the end of the hose into an old tin can to avoid erosion.

The elms still died - eventually replaced by a Doughboy pool and a few privets that grew into tree shapes. In the front yard, my parents had planted eucalyptus, which continually sloughed off great shards of bark while at the same time tunneling their roots into the sewer system. These trees, too, met a none-too-untimely end.

So did the giant cottonwood that inexplicably died in the side yard of the first home my husband and I bought. The chinaberry tree in our front yard, however, remained stubbornly alive during our time there, continually pelting its namesake onto the sparse patch of grass below.

Only when we bought our first new home were we able to plant trees of our choosing. Most were mesquite, close to 100 of them, all one-gallon, plopped, one by one, across an acre of scraped-bare desert. Hundreds of feet of drip irrigation linked the trees, welcome replacement for the old watering hose of my childhood.

The rabbits were also grateful, sending up tiny geysers of water whenever and wherever they bit through the drip line. We patched. They gnawed. Even so, about half the trees initially survived, growing into a miniature mesquite bosque of sorts.

Two decades later, we left that oasis for a home surrounded by foothills palo verde, lovingly left alone by a builder who grew up here. Every year about this time they would burst forth into a shower of yellow blossoms, signaling the desert's annual sprint between spring and summer.

A couple of years before we moved yet again, one of the palo verdes died behind our back wall. We replaced it with - what else? - a mesquite.

At the home where we now spend a great deal of our summers, we are surrounded by ponderosa pine and juniper. Still, we planted yet more trees - ones we never knew on the desert floor: aspen and crab apple, maple and ornamental pear.

Except for some elk gnawings on the aspen, all seem to be doing fine. Some of the trees send out glorious blooms in the spring, though we're seldom there in time to see them. In the fall, their leaves turn crimson and gold, signaling that cooler weather is once again approaching.

That's when I know it won't be long before I am back. Back to the desert - and the shade and shelter of my old mesquite.

Bonnie Henry's column runs every other Sunday. Contact her at