Word Sketches

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Aspen


I see a forest of quaking aspen – white-barked boles tattooed with black scars caused by injuries. The tiny tender stems twirl flat, waxy, round, rough-edged leaves, even when no air movement seems present. Yes, I have carved my initials and calendar dates into the paper-white cover of several of these forest denizens. It was an effort for immortality -- a futile effort, of course. Trees die, burn, or are cut down and removed. My crude symbols have surely disappeared long ago. Disturbing, isn’t it?

An aspen glen is pure refreshment in a gentle breeze. The movement of the thousands of tiny leaf fans is pleasant to observe; it makes me believe the air is cooler than it really is. The flickering leaves reflect sunlight into the dark shadows -- shadows which are also created by the same leaves. Curious, isn’t it?

All of the tree trunks in this area are connected by common roots; this entire forest is composed of a single tree. Is this one plant aware of the death or disfigurement of one of its member parts? Does it feel a sense of loss? Has it noticed my act of carving into its woody tissue with my sharp hunting knife? Does any destructive action go unnoticed by this arboreal wonder? It demonstrates no signs of pain or discomfort. Amazing, isn’t it?

The color-turning trick of the aspen entertains us each autumn. Why do certain small branches hold leaves that become brilliant orange, while others adjacent to them are golden, green, red, brown, or black? Perhaps this is a method of communication among the trees, with the color arrangements holding meanings that are incomprehensible to us. Do these semaphore patterns signal data to other aspen forests? Haunting, isn’t it?

How can these deciduous plants lose their livelihood each fall and expect to return to life each spring? Of course, some do not complete the cycle, but most do. The miracle of life is strongly present in these groves. Reassuring, isn’t it?

Gerald McDaniel, October 2003

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