Aspens alone quake when all others stand in dead calm

She gets out of the car and walks up into the trees on the crest west of the road. Aspens stand in the afternoon sun, spreading along the ridge out of sight. Populus tremuloides. Clouds of gold leaf glint on thin trunks tinted the palest green. The air is still, but the aspens shake as if in a wind. Aspens alone quake when all others stand in dead calm. Long flattened leafstalks twist at the slightest gust, and all around her, a million two-toned cadmium mirrors flicker against righteous blue.

The oracle leaves turn the wind audible. They filter the dry light and fill it with expectation. Trunks run straight and bare, roughed with age at the bottom, then smooth and whitening up to the first branches. Circles of pale green lichen palette-spatter them. She stands inside this white-gray room, a pillared foyer to the afterlife. The air shivers in gold, and the ground is littered with windfall and dead ramets. The ridge smells wide open and sere. The whole atmosphere is as good as a running mountain stream…

This, the most widely distributed tree in North America with close kin on three continents, all at once feels unbearably rare. She has hiked through aspens far north into Canada, the lone hardwood holdout in a latitude monotonous with conifer. Has sketched their pale summer shades throughout New England and the Upper Midwest. Has camped among them on hot, dry outcrops above gushing streams of snowmelt, in the Rockies. Has found them etched with knowledge-encoded native arborglyphs. Has lain on her back with her eyes closed, in far southwestern mountains, memorizing the tone of that restless shudder. Picking her way across these fallen branches, she hears it again. No other tree makes this sound. The aspens wave in their undetectable breeze, and she begins to see hidden things.

~ Richard Powers, from “Patricia Westerford” in The Overstory: A Novel (April 3, 2018)


Notes:

Comments

  1. oh, to experience this beautiful event firsthand….

    Like

  2. 10 years in Colorado plants this image and sound deep within. Thank you for stirring it to the surface once again.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. cabell coward says:

    remembering the aspen at the high glacial lakes of yosemite before the frozen plunge of frigid waters. the birch was used to make drinking cups along the green mountains of vermont. what a wonderful story and acknowledgement of such a common term.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Incredibly evocative….

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    I take solace in nature … that’s what I need today! Nature doesn’t let you down!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That was delicious….

    Liked by 2 people

  7. this photograph is strange, but, superb

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Christie says:

    “the most widely distributed tree in North America” and I am lucky enough to have two in my backyard!, next to the garden bed where I lay gazing at the trees, the sky, the birds, the climbing purple clematis & listening to the quake as the morning air, embraces me…

    Liked by 1 person

    • How lucky are you! So help me, how do you quickly distinguish an aspen from a birch?

      Like

      • Christie says:

        the leaves, the birch leaves are long, narrow and have serrated edges, the white bark (which sheds, paper birch) is a little dirtier than the crisp white of the Aspen, the Aspen’s leaves are shorter, rounder , a bit like a plump heart shape…and the trees skeletal structure seems to hang differently…I think the Aspen seems to stand taller where a birch seems to have characteristic of the weep in a willow…the Birch and Aspen are from different family of trees…

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  9. simply magic – thank you for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I would love to be a witness to this magic 💛

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Wonderful. And may I add, if we all were to lay (or is it lie?) in a quiet field, not far from the trees, maple or birch or apple, they all sing songs their own way. One of my favorite sounds is the wind blowing through the pine trees. A haunting, swirling song. All the trees sing.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Christie says:

    @Claudia I like your favorite sounds and laying near trees…when I read your words “through the pine” I thought of Ray Charles and “Georgia On My Mind” “I say Georgia, Georgia A song of you (a song of you) Comes as sweet and clear As moonlight through the pines” I love to sing that song publicly…

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Christie says:

    this recording showed up while I was searching for Ray Charles lyrics.
    Ayla Nereo, her song mentions Aspen and Birch… her voice, the arrangement so haunting, alluring and one must consider surrendering to the force of hypnotic rhythm…
    sure worth a listen
    https://aylanereo.bandcamp.com/track/whispers
    Whispers
    from The Code of the Flowers by Ayla Nereo
    lyrics
    “Pine, I am calling to you
    Aspen, I am singing to you
    Redwood, hear this song
    Birch-bark, weeping willow
    and Dogwood, blooming moonlight
    Cedar, let it fall, fall away
    Oak, you bore my body
    Bay, I bade you open these vessels…

    To receive your whispers
    tender breath-keepers
    givers of life to these lungs
    may I open my ears and
    surrender
    what can you tell me
    how can I tend you
    how can I tend to the ones
    who pour life through these lungs…

    Care for these rivers going dry
    bone and sorrow held as
    pain, drought of feeling, yet the
    rain can give us freedom, forest
    rain, but if we cut them, it goes
    away, help us
    open these vessels…

    To receive your whispers
    tender breath-keepers
    givers of life to these lungs
    may I open my ears and
    surrender
    what can you tell me
    how can I tend you
    how can I tend to the ones
    who pour life through these lungs…

    “We, for every one of us you’ve uprooted
    you can soothe it by planting another
    of the same as the kind you’ve uprooted
    every ending a beginning if you choose it…
    you can soothe it…
    if you choose it…”

    Liked by 1 person

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