Spring will come again

I wonder, is there beauty in the blight? My Aspen this year are suffering along with the rest of us. Hit by some kind of fungus. They are already dropping their leaves in mid-August and so there will be no golden glory in mid-September. Of course, my first feelings were of disappointment (and debating whether we should have sprayed them). But, in my commitment to noticing the beautiful, I had to ask, is there beauty in the blight?

When I was a kid we had a small apple orchard. No store-bought apple has ever tasted as good as those I picked straight from the tree, even though the ones I picked off a tree were usually smaller than the store-bought apples, less evenly red and often had worm holes. Mom used to say, “the worms know which ones are good”. (She was kidding, just trying to keep me from being picky). What we see as “perfect” isn’t always best.

We don’t take pictures of the leaves that the aphids have gnawed. And that’s why I took this picture of my Aspen – or perhaps, why I took this picture of my Marssonina fungus? I don’t know what it is, even after doing a bit of research.

Life is always colliding and our understanding of a clean ecosystem is false. There are complexities between members of an ecosystem, often microbial, that keep it in balance – between the birds, the insects, the fungi and the plants. But we don’t want to accept that reality. We want to manicure the ecosystems to fit our aesthetic ideals. Do we want our mushy, tasteless apples, as long as they are symmetrical, crimson and large? Not me.

In noticing the beauty within the suffering of these Aspen leaves, I began to imagine that they know it is only temporary. That they accept today’s pain with a certain grace and can let go of a year as if it were only an annoying fly that landed and left. Why? Because Aspen groves can live for 80,000 years! (see the Quaking Aspen known as Pando) As a clonal system, the interconnected roots of Aspen groves may produce many individual trees over thousands of years but it is still, genetically, one living organism. Now, how does it feel about that one year when blight hit and it had to drop leaves a month ahead of schedule?

Pando, world’s oldest Quaking Aspen grove (80,000 years old)

When we experience suffering, do we see that suffering within too small a window of time? Is our shortsightedness the real source of our suffering? Perhaps if we saw today’s tribulation, painful though it is, as a brief and momentary trouble, then we would find it easier to forgive, easier to stay at peace in our minds, easier to watch today’s leaves fall. Because we know that spring will come.

Quaking Aspen summer leaves hurt
Blight returns green to earth
as Aphids, Ink Spot sear their burn
September cries too soon

Suffering sings a stranger gold
beauty in grief forgives
by secret hope the leaf enfolds
fallen, yet we still live

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