Root Pause

Appreciating Bozeman's Karma Tree.

The most popular trail in Bozeman is the M trail. For my wife Kate and I, “running” the M loop takes about 50 minutes. We usually hike the pretty-much-straight-up-the-ridge-for-800-feet route. Once we reach the M, we take a break to catch our breath. We look out and marvel at the stunning views of the Gallatin Valley close at hand, and off farther to the Gallatin, Madison, and Tobacco Root ranges. It’s a view that regularly includes the low-angle light of sunrise, our favorite time to head up the M. And then we run down—or at least Kate does. I plod, socialize, and take photos.

One day last spring, a most wonderful thing happened. I was jogging down from the M—Kate far ahead, of course—when I rounded a corner and saw a woman with her arms wrapped around a tree. It was the warm hug of joy and friendship and satisfaction. The woman soon released the tree and disappeared around a bend in the trail.

When I came around the corner, there was the woman, one switchback below me. I smiled and called out, “Hey, did I just see you hugging that tree?!”

The woman looked up at me with a sheepish smile. As she began to respond, another woman, unseen and between us, straightened up from inspecting a plant off-trail and said, “Oh no, you weren’t supposed to see that!”

Woman One now looked at me, and I at her, and we both broke out in big smiles. Turning to Woman Two, Woman One said, “Hold it, you mean you hug that tree, too?”

“Every time I come out here,” said Woman Two.

“Oh my God,” said Woman One, “me, too. It gives me such a sense of peace and calm, just to be in the presence of that tree.”

“Oh my gosh, me too!”

It was an extraordinary moment, and the three of us shared a good laugh.

By the time I jogged past Woman Two and caught up with Woman One, it was clear to me. “This may sound odd,” I told her, “but it strikes me that you two are like coyotes marking the tree. But in your case, you two are marking it with karma.”

She said she liked that idea, and would carry it with her each time she came up the trail to hug the tree.

The Tibetan Buddhist Sogyal Rinpoche has said that karma “...means that whatever we do, with our body, speech, or mind, will have a corresponding result. Each action, even the smallest, is pregnant with consequences... [As Buddha] said, ‘Do not overlook the tiny good actions, thinking they are of no benefit; even tiny drops of water in the end will fill a huge vessel.’”

So now I share with you that Bozeman has its very own Karma Tree. It is a place where we can all offer up a tiny positive action. It is a place where we can share our own good karma on those days when our body, mind, and spirit are overflowing. We can leave it at the Karma Tree for those who are struggling, those who need uplifting. Someday, it might be one of us in need of a boost.


Bozeman’s Karma Tree is near the trailhead. You can hike to the tree in very short order, say if you just wanted to share or receive karma with one of your neighbors before tackling the day. The tree is just above the first switchback and the only stairs on the easier way up to the M. It is a beautiful, solid, stately tree directly abutting the trail.

And it takes so very little to share your karma with the tree, and thus with you community. The exchange of karma requires only two things. On the physical level you need do nothing more than give the tree a light high-five as you pass, or stop and give it a gentle hug, holding as long as you like. And on the spiritual level it's even easier: all you need is an open heart.