Quaking Aspen – Garden of the Gods, Colorado

Photography by D. Plasman

Were it up to me and I had the power to enforce it, I would mandate that all Americans take a two-week vacation beginning Nov. 9. Save for essential services to protect public health and safety, we would shut down everything. No mail. No school. No internet. And best of all, no political campaigning or recounts. America needs a break, a respite, a nationally required “time out.”

The purpose of this nationwide breather would be to reconnect with each other and repair the damage that a two-year, presidential campaign process has done to many of our personal relationships.

Were it up to me, I would suggest in the most persuasive language that all 300+ million of us spend one hour a day in the next two weeks sitting close to a tree, a shrub, a bush, a palm, even a houseplant.

My choice would be to sit next to a quaking aspen (a populus tremuloides). Recently, I spent a week in Colorado, in part to see some grand autumn colors. I should have done better research because I was about three weeks too late. The one in this photo was a rare find in that it still had some of its foliage.

Quaking aspens are tough trees. They are often the first specimen to reappear and aggressively colonize after a landslide or a wildfire. Though they are not immune to damage caused by insects and diseases, the secret to a quaking aspen’s survivability seems to be in the bark that contains the necessary chlorophyll to carry out the process of photosynthesis. Most other trees carry out this life-giving process through their leaves; during dormancy this process slows down. For quaking aspens, however, the process of producing sugar for energy and survival continues.

Oh, and why does the aspen quake? The leaf stalk is flattened and set perpendicular to the surface of the leaf, making the foliage susceptible to the slightest movement of air. As a result, the leaves suffer less wind damage.

When I got back to Grand Rapids, the local Home Depot had two quaking aspen trees (8’ and 15’ tall) for sale. 75% off. Nobody wanted them. I planted both in our yard. One is five feet from our kitchen window.

Can trees and plants and Mother Nature offer some soothing relief to an anxious political climate? Heck yeah! It might be the only election therapy available.

Plant something. Provide natural mulch. Put it in full sun, partial or full shade, or indirect light. Water when necessary. Mist it if that’s what it requires. Talk to it once and awhile. Listen to your own breathing. If necessary, make amends.

And don’t forget to vote!

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  1. Marge November 6, 2016 at 4:17 pm #

    If you are starting a petition to get this “respite” from election fever started, sign me up.

  2. rfrholton November 6, 2016 at 7:49 pm #

    Thank you for great commentary! These trees will be great in your yard.

  3. Beth Cafagna November 7, 2016 at 12:16 am #

    I think we indeed need a break, and we have been trying to stay civil with opposing politics held by our close family members. How could they think that? But we still love them. Just hard to understand them. I DO sit by the tree I planted as a commemoration of my 50th birthday. By now, it has grown to a fabulous height and reach. It’s a seedless red maple called Autumn Blaze. It provides shade for our house and lit up our street this fall. It has been therapeutic just to admire it as the leaves turned to bright red, and then started to fall, carpeting our grass in a beautiful red! We send prayers to all those who can’t wait until the election is over. Beth

    • Daniel Plasman November 7, 2016 at 8:15 am #

      Beth, looking forward to meeting that fabulous tree someday!