After hiking up into an Aspen forest earlier this month, I’ve been reflecting upon this tree. Aspen is the common name for a tree species that is part of the Salicaciae family of the Populus genus. The specific Aspen we walked among was the quaking Aspen, known as Populus tremuloides, for the quaking movement of the leaves in the wind. Aspen is a deciduous tree native to cooler climates of North America. We were in Colorado, in the Rocky Mountains, above 8000 feet elevation. Our friend and host told us a unique insight into the Aspen forest. They grow in “clonal colonies”, all “cloned” from a single original seedling. The original mother tree sends out root suckers to grow more trees. Over time, a whole forest springs up from that original seedling, making the entire forest of Aspens one organism. 

In Utah, one singe Aspen forest known as “Pando” (Latin for “I spread”) is thought to have originated from a single tree and now spreads across more than 100 acres, thus is thought to be one of  the largest living organisms in North America with nearly 50,000 trees (stems) weighing nearly 7000 tons, and thought to be at least 80,000 years old. One of the defensive designs of an Aspen forest is the interwoven root system that lies beneath the danger of forest fires. A fire may decimate an entire Aspen forest but not touch the root system which will spring forth new growth and replenish the trees lost in the fire. Aspen trees live 40-150 years above ground, and seem to me to have a keen sense of being aware and watching. The Aspen forest we hiked among seemed to be looking at us with many “eyes”, with the common shape of branch scars on the trunks looking like eyes.

An Aspen forest tells us of the glorious design of God in creation. We too, in the living Organism known as the Church, are “many parts, but one body”. Paul clearly understood the Church to be a living Body: “The body is a unit, though it is made of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. . . . Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Cor. 12:12,27). The original Seedling*, Christ, has send forth new growth around the world, springing up new life, new growth, which are many parts, many trunks, yet one living organism, and part of the one Body which is the living Body of Christ.

*Isaiah 11:1 describes Christ as “A Seedling that comes up from the stump of Jesse, from Jesse’s roots, a Branch will bear fruit.”