December 14, 2010
It was a typical Lake Tahoe morning – bright and sunny with a hint of a breeze. I stood at the window with my coffee next to the cat who was perched on the sill chattering at a crow. A tree I had seen many times before caught my eye. The leaves were shimmering and dancing like sequins on a party dress. I stepped outside to get a closer look. The leaves continued to vibrate—little lights were turning on and off as they twisted in the sun. I asked my daughter what kind of tree it was a little embarrassed I hadn’t taken notice before. “Actually, there’s a sign on one of the trees down the street. The sign says it’s a Quacking Aspen.” She rolled her eyes signaling our standing joke about the casual nature of Tahoe local life (as opposed to the restless and hyper urbanite crowds of sub-locals and tourists that visit throughout the year). “I’m sure they meant Quaking Aspen,” she clarified “but obviously someone had a spelling problem.” We had a laugh and got more coffee.
One problem with getting older is that we have seen a lot of things—heard that—been there—nothing new and so we forget to notice things. In fact, I have seen many Aspen trees. I grew up in Denver and the Rockies and I had seen them more recently on a cross country trip with my son while horseback riding in Durango, not to mention my many Tahoe trips. But that morning the Aspens seemed new—a call for me to wake up. The leaves wiggled in the breeze like round puppy tails begging to be noticed.
It was an exceptional Tahoe Christmas in 2006. My daughter got married. Actually, she and her husband had eloped to Maui the month before. Unlike many moms, I was happy to see her spontaneity and resistance to cultural standards, and besides, the Tahoe replay just for us was beautiful. I met the other in-laws who turned out to be perfectly charming, funny and friendly people; saw my ex husband, my daughter’s father who I am still great friends with after all these years; we had just enough snow to be fun and not a hassle; saw my son with all his usual charm and wit; exchanged too many thoughtful gifts in the way I had always brought my kids up to do—slowly—enjoying every moment of everyone’s joy; sipped coffee and ate breakfast treats by the fire and laughed at the cat playing in the tissue and boxes which we had deliberately littered the floor with just for her. If that wasn’t enough joy; we built a snow dragon; sipped a few cocktails and had meaningful conversations over several dinners and as a grand finale, we watched my daughter come down the polished oak staircase at the Black Bear Inn into the arms of her new husband (a man so perfect for her I could not have done a better job picking him myself). Then, to top it all off I finally re-discovered the beauty of the Quaking Aspens.
It was one of those weeks in life that makes everything else worth it—that reminds me again why we need to try to save our species and the planet. We all have our memories to preserve and our futures to experience and, at the same time, futures to save for those that continue long beyond us. There is a future we all want to pass on. Will we fight for that? Will we continue to allow our politicians to ignore the greater good just to line their own pockets with Big Corp money? Will we rise to our world crisis as a connected human organism?
Did you know that an Aspen grove is a connected organism? All Aspens grow in colonies from a single seedling that spreads by means of root suckers. Aspens sustain an estimated 500 other species of plant and animal life. Each tree only lives for 40 to 150 years above ground, but the root system of the colony lives for many thousands of years even surviving fires that burn the visible parts of the grove to the ground. Humans are a connected organism —but will we survive? If we don’t then we die a second death. There will be no one to remember the past. Ironically, the Quaking Aspens may still be here when there is no one left to marvel at them.
Update 2017: Oh how things have changed…