It is impossible to say in words, or to describe to students in Spain during my PowerPoint presentation about Colorado, the beauty of aspen trees. They share the same roots, can never grow alone, and plant their seeds in my heart, my home state.
There is a reason people travel hundreds of miles to take that picture in front of the Maroon Bells, the reflective lake picture with the aspens at the base of the two magnificent Fourteeners. It is because of the aspens, their paper-thin trunks, quaking leaves, green-to-gold beauty, their thin branches collecting snow in winter and blossoming in a whisper of shades for spring, summer, and fall.
But I didn’t want the traditional photo. Instead I chose this one, the lens pointed up, our Colorado sky so blue you feel it is a color you can cup into your palm, the leaves at their golden-age pique, ready to burst away from the grove with a gust of mountain air, and the intertwined trunks pointing to the heavens in a singular strength found only in trees.
We are the aspens. All of us, connected at the roots, holding each other up when times are tough, listening to each quake of every leaf, our soft sounds lost to everyone far down in the forest, whose postcard-perfect picture could never capture our connection.
What others see, cameras ready, is the beauty we plainly project: a set of trees along a mountainside, roots clinging to the slope, trying to survive the seasons with the grace that makes us who we are. What they don’t see are the winter nights, the beating-to-the-bone blizzards that shake our interconnected souls, that expose us to each other in a way that a lens could never reproduce.
We are the aspens. We cannot grow individually. We are with each other in this photo, clutching our view of a perfect autumn afternoon. And we are with each other on those dark winter nights when the frost bears down on everything that keeps us alive on this mountainside.
We are the aspens, unlike any other tree in any other forest. Our saplings sprout up around us in a flurry of activity, held tight by our roots that keep us together, that keep us alive, when everything surrounding us would work to tear us apart.