Aspen Gaspin’

(A classic column becomes a blog post.)

Fall is the time of year when trees dress in their best and demand our undivided attention. Two magnificent maple trees are rooted in my memory. One stands outside my childhood bedroom window in Tennessee. I call it my “thinking tree,” because I spent hours draped in its limbs pondering life. The other was dubbed “Mom’s Tree,” because for four years I sought it out on my son’s Midwestern college campus and took its picture. I’m sure it’s still there, watching over the backpacked students shuffling by with their minds on anything but leaves.

Those of us with such trees, such multi-colored falls, in our memories are fortunate. Yet those of us in Colorado try not to let those memories diminish our enjoyment of our fantastic Colorado falls. After all, other people have to motor for miles to marvel at the contrast of an expanse of golden aspen against the deep evergreen of the pines. We live here and can be gaspin’ at the sight of a stand of aspen in minutes.

Certainly these trees deserve our respect. When aspen gaspin’ season arrives, they have to put up with a great deal of abuse. Imagine the conversation two aspen trees might have when they first see the line of cars and RVs snaking its way up the mountain pass:

“Oh, boy. Here they come again. Start quaking.”

“I’m quaking…I’m quaking. There’s that couple with the yippy dog climbing out of their RV. Didn’t we see them last year?”

“Yeah. Gee, they’ve put on some weight. Maybe they should climb up here to see us instead of standing by the road with their binoculars.”

“Not with that dog! Hey, what’s a peak? According to these people we’re always before it, at it, or past it.”

“Who cares. I’m just glad they all leave before we’re standing here stark naked with them gawking at us. That would really be embarrassing.”

This year I intend to fully enjoy our Colorado fall, to get out of the car and hike through the trees. Whatever day I arrive will be the peak day for me. I’ll keep those magnificent maple trees in my memory where they belong, but our glorious Colorado aspen deserve nothing less than my full, unmitigated admiration. This year, they’ll get it.

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  1. When my father built our house in Tennessee, he planted a maple tree of some size at the northwest corner outside our living room. I grew up with that tree. As the seasons passed, the tree was always there, launching “helicopter” seeds to entertain me or holding me in it’s limbs as I learned to risk climbing higher each year as we grew. It was at its best though in the fall in October. And on occasion, all of nature seemed to cooperate to showcase its splendor. Enough of its leaves were spread around it on the ground to form a bright yellow apron, from which it seemed to grow. If it was clear and crisp outside, with the Saturday morning sun shining on it, it’s leaves took on a day-glow yellow iridescence against a perfectly cast azure sky, Normally, I love a few puffy clouds in the sky. Not too many, but enough to make it interesting, with a few changing shapes to fuel the imagination and parade the faces of various animals and cartoon characters across the firmament. But on those perfect fall days that showcased my tree, even one cloud would have crossed that line some artists cross when they add one more thing that destroys the perfection of just enough and invades the imperfect territory of “too much.” My tree is still there to enjoy, but I am hardly ever there on those perfect days, which live in my memory and that re-emerge when at another place, another time I am blessed to glimpse another tree perfectly framed against an azure sky and once more encounter joy.

    • Eloquently stated, Ben. You described the tree outside my bedroom window precisely! Maybe our dads bought them at the same nursery.

  2. I’m still smiling at the conversation between the two aspens!

  3. I was stirred by your blog and Ben’s comments about those special trees that send down roots into generational memories. I can’t help but feel sorry for urban dwellers in high rise living quarters who have been deprived of what we often took for granted in the hills of Tennessee. They must seek out parks or drive far into the countryside to view the color displays of fall. But, it is the consistency of observing a tree in every season that they will never know. The tree outside the bedroom window or the one gracing the front yard are testaments of faith. Overtime, we come to know their nakedness in winter is only a nap before new life erupts bringing forth spring green shoots and brilliant blossoms. Their darkened, lush canopies in summer shelter us from the heat of day year after year. Then, autumn arrives with a burst of orange, yellow and red to grab our attention and wave good-bye before we abandon our friend of seasons past to embrace the warmth of the fire during the dormant months of bitter cold. Yet, the tree endures. It wears the appearance of death as it stands in view. But the leafless, ice-laden tree, whose branches are torn and tossed by whistling wind, is a stark lesson – an exercise in faith – teaching us to see those things that are not as though they are. What appears to be a dead tree to the eye is, in reality, vibrant and brimming with life within. It is merely waiting with patience for its season of liberation to be revealed.
    We, like the trees, must endure the bitter assaults of cold realities. The things that are necessary to strengthen us are often unpleasant for a time. But if we stand our ground and persist, there’s always new life… comforts and bounty beyond the pain.
    The cycles of life are revelations of our God and Father who sent His Son to suffer the pain and death of the cross that we might have new life. And all who stand firm in that faith will someday be gathered together where they will flourish beside the Tree of Life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.
    So, the next time we pass a tree, we should pause and say “thank you Lord” for secrets to eternity you’ve hidden in plain sight.

  4. Elizabeth Van Liere says:

    Took three drives this past week to absorb the song of the aspen: Glory to God.

  5. Enjoyed our Sunday mountain drive together and our picnic stream-side in the San Isabel National Forest.

  6. alice scott-ferguson says:

    funny! love it
    i miss the aspen
    talk to them for me please, Nancy…..
    i remember the marvelous maples of the NE when we first arrived in the New World….

  7. What a delightful break from the day to read Aspen Gaspin’, Nancy ,and the memories of Ben and Charlie and the others! What a treat and a reminder that perhaps the maple outside my window isn’t dead…it is just covered with the little reddish and dried looking “helicpoter” seed pods at this point.

    Bless you all, Sue Gubser

  8. Thanks, Sue! You probably recognized it as a blast from the past. Enjoy all your trees!

  9. Living in Pagosa Springs provides us with lovely seasonal changes in the landscape God has provided. But I too have memories of Autumn in Michigan and Illinois and I miss the reds, oranges and rust colors they provided. Colors define much of our emotional responses our surroundings.

    In observing aspen at this time of year, I have tried to explain it to friends who have never seen aspen in their golden state, it is like watching the sun shine brighter than the sun itself. And standing amid a grove of aspen trees with the leaves falling all around you is like a moment of enchantment, and then the breeze increases and the rush of leaves envelopes your mind and takes you to a momentary peace. You feel like a child again seeing something for the very first time.

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