you tremble as if on the brink of
my father would love your smooth bark
white as bone
would run his maker’s fingers
over its braille
imagining oar shield box
your saffron leaves quake
each shimmer a tiny semaphore
I will sew a wild and leafy crown
dive into your rootworld’s dark fusion
rise with unshed secrets on my tongue
SUE BURGE | Aspen | Norfolk
I first noticed aspens in Yellowstone National Park as they turned the slopes to soft amber on a mellow September day. Much of the park had been decimated by a forest fire, but, ironically, not the aspen groves, the trees most likely to survive such a disaster due to their unified root system. They may look multitudinous as they gloriously clothe hillsides and plains, but underneath they are all from one gigantic root system. Shortly after this trip, I turned to one of my addictions, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books. If I’ve been doing a lot of research or reading and writing huge amounts of poetry I regularly turn to crime novels to rest my brain with their formulaic brilliance. So, there was Jack, on his usual lonely highway to nowhere, contemplating an aspen grove – thinking how deep down we are all connected but we only show our individuality above ground, denying this lack of separateness. I dream of visiting Pando, the aspen colony in Utah which might be 80,000 years old.
I wonder if there are any other trees which have had towns named after them. Aspen was founded in 1880 during the Colorado silver boom. Imagine arriving in this remote outpost, dreaming of silver, seeing gold coating the hillsides, just like Dick Whittington striding to London, convinced the streets are paved with gold… Today Aspen really does have streets paved with gold, boasting some of the most expensive real estate in the US.
There are not many aspens where I live in Norfolk. But you can seek them out, watch them quivering, admire this non-threatening tree. The closest one to me is at the entrance to an animal sanctuary. These trees have no hidden agenda. Maybe that’s why if you wear a crown of aspen leaves you can make it all the way to the underworld and, more importantly, back. This tree will keep you safe. There used to be a saffron industry in Norfolk, the same colour as these leaves, these romantic leaves with their trillion tremulous hearts.
I learn that aspen wood flakes are good for animal bedding – imagine silent hamsters, squeaky guinea pigs and pink-eyed mice curled in their pale nests, breathing peacefully, tiny hearts at rest. What are you, aspen, when you are not a tree? A Russian dacha, an unlit match, a sheet of paper on which I write these words of respect.