An Aspen Forest

Aspen trees grow on the mountains out West in light, shining forests, because they are knit underground by a root system. Each tree sends out shoots that sprout into nearby aspens, so if the mother tree should get chopped or die, she’ll send her last life to her children. The “clone” trees of a mother aspen can outlive her by a hundred years.

It’s a beautiful thing, because men have often been woodcutters. Trees become fuel, fire, and furniture; paper, ash, and flame. Forests fall and burn and struggle to live again— and yet they do live again. Aspens are known as a fire-induced species, because while flames can swallow the trees, they cannot reach the roots underground. In the smoldering wake of a fire, a forest of aspen children will often spring up from the burnt mountainside. They don’t just inherit their parents’ fortitude, but they are forged even stronger by it.

My own family tree is a sort of aspen forest. I think about my great-grandmother Minerva — Papa Jay’s mom – who raised him alone, who took a streetcar into St. Louis every morning to work her shift at a sewing factory. She’d return home late to do more mending and to shovel coal into the stove.

“She made all my clothes herself,” Papa Jay says with pride.

He is nearing ninety. Yesterday, I saw him wrestling the tiller over the garden and pulling weeds from the mucked pond banks, so his mother’s fortitude has run to his roots.

And then there’s my mom (whose middle name is Jaye) who gets up with the sun to load the dishwasher and mop the floors and feed the ducks and tend to her own aspen forest of six kids and six grand ones. Her parents took her to church each Sunday, and now she waters us children with God’s Word.

Christians these days are clamoring about how to keep the next generation from slipping away, but I don’t hear much about the ecology of an aspen forest— about how fathers and mothers can raise children who are stronger and even more deeply rooted than they were. And yet that has been the ecology of God’s people all along— that they would raise their children to remember their God in exile, in famine, in fire; to push down their roots and grow into trees as shining and sturdy as the mountain aspens.

“And the surviving remnant of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward.”

~ Isaiah 37:31

Information taken from How Aspens Grow ( and Aspen Ecology (

2 thoughts on “An Aspen Forest

  1. beautiful writing about a beautiful thing. i love seeing the fingerprints of God in creation and how they interconnect and reflect each other. 💛🌱🌲


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