I’ve been thinking about aspen trees lately – don’t ask me why. I live in Nashville, TN, where there are no aspens. But they remain one of my favorite trees. I like trees anyway, but some species seem to have a magical feeling as if they hold the secrets of the universe. When I lived in the mountains of New Mexico I had the honor of their presence often.
One summer I lived in a little cabin at almost 10,000 feet, surrounded by aspens. I felt cradled by them every night and inspired by them by day, with their golden, heart-shaped leaves, and their dark mysterious eyes peering out through pale alabaster skin – keeping loving vigilance over their brothers and sisters, the deer, grouse, big horn sheep, lynx, chipmunks, rabbits and other resilient mountain creatures who dare to thrive on the brief summers that gallop steadily into snowy autumns, then disappear for ages, while the earth lies dormant for its long-awaited, life-giving return.
That summer I worked for a cowboy who kept horses as well as his belief in the old code of honor that distinguished a true cowboy, which he explained to me one day under the immaculate blue of the high New Mexico sky. He reminded me of a Jack Palance character, only a whole lot nicer. Like he wouldn’t shoot your moustache off if you tried to play your harmonica. His liturgy was hard work, honesty, and always taking care of his horses, no matter what. And in the wilderness of the Sangre De Cristo mountain range, the southern tip of the Rockies, “no matter what” is a demanding standard. There were mountain lions, rattlers, thunderous summer storms that could roll two-ton boulders, and, of course, the merciless winters.
My little cabin had no plumbing and just enough of a spark of electricity to support a dangling light bulb, a small refrigerator and a hot plate. That was enough for me. I lived on the wild berries that poured out to the sun, all along the dirt road that wound its way up to my forested abode. A couple times a week I’d drive down along the Hondo River, a peaceful, thirty-minute trip into Taos. There, I’d play my guitar and sing, have a big meal, and hang out with other musicians and artists.
Taos has a certain vibrancy that only an artist community can proffer. You walk down any of its colorful streets and are continually greeted with bursts of paint splashed or whispered onto canvas, wood, paper or something unknown. You see curves and corners cajoled into stone, metal, and wood. You enter another world splayed on southwest red, ochre, magenta, and deep blue Native American blankets, glowing with pristine turquoise jewelry, intricately patterned clay pots and numberless other superbly hand-crafted articles. The first time I walked down Paseo del Pueblo Sur, the main drag through this artist haven, I was so overwhelmed by the stunning beauty, I had to stop and sit in a brick-floored courtyard and let the quiet assurance of the sun lay its calming hands on my brown shoulders.
It turns out, as I discovered after falling in love with them, aspens do have a secret. Under the belying guise of dirt, decaying leaves, wild grasses and mass quantities of stone, dwells a labyrinth of roots that are interwoven and connected. Yes, a grove of aspens actually has a single gigantic root system. They are literally one tree with different shoots. I found that to be amazing. It seems so telling of our own human experience.
What if we are individuals connected by a force that escapes our five senses? And that beneath our unique personalities, appearances, beliefs, intents and bundle of worries, lies an all-encompassing birthing field – a pure, powerful swirl of creative energy that shoots us forth, free to grow as we wish, all the while sustained by an invisible connection to a gentle, juicy womb?
Maybe that’s why, when I look into someone’s eyes, I feel what they are feeling. Maybe that’s why when Isaac Newton came up with his “Laws of Motion” living in England, Leonard Euler simultaneously came up with similar, mathematical axioms, while living in Germany and Russia. And maybe that’s why when I’m with a friend, we’ll say the same thing at the same time.
Perhaps, after all, we are not little boats tossed about in the anarchic wilds of storm and doubt. Perhaps we are here to feel the joy of reaching for sky while rooted in our empowering, ever-steadying, ever-inter-connected force field, so deep and broad that though we quake, we can never fall. What if?
Thanks to www.celsias.com and www.gregvaughn.photoshelter.com for photos of aspens
and thanks to www.nomadicpursuits.com for photo of the Sangre De Cristo mountains
and thanks to www.taosartmuseum.org for photo of girl