The house we are staying in is surrounded by trees that are foreign to an Okie. Too many different varieties of pine to count, and Aspens. Aspen is a common name for several tree species in the genus “Populus” which includes Poplar and Cottonwoods also. The Populus Tremuloides, or Quaking Aspen, is the most widely distributed tree in North America.
The Quaking Aspen has some really unique features. The quaking or trembling of the leaves that is referred to in the common name is due to the flexible flattened petioles. The petiole is the connection between the leaf blade and the stem. The Aspen’s petioles reduce the aerodynamic drag on the trunk and branches by allowing the leaves to oscillate and vortex shed, which limits the amount of pressure the wind can exert. This decreases the likelihood of trunk or branch damage.
For me, the most interesting thing about the Aspen is the nature of its lifecycle and reproduction. Aspens are rhizomatic. This means that most new Aspen trees grow from root suckers that spring up from the roots of a parent tree. Aspens grow in colonies and, while the individual trees may live for as long as 150 years, the colony root system can live for thousands of years. In addition, the roots are below the heat of a forest fire and survive, so new sprouts appear soon after the fire burns out.
Our culture and heritage are like the Aspen colony root system. They are what bind hundreds of individuals together with a sense of continuity. When disruption occurs, our roots are what allow us to rebuild and bring new individuals into our community. Each individual is significant, but the entire group has an identity and momentum that no one person could create. This is a significant advantage. Our culture and heritage allow us to grow and spread without losing our identity. They allow us to recover from setbacks quickly. They are the basis for our community.
Each Aspen tree is unique, but it is obviously and easily identifiable as an Aspen. Likewise, each person at Kimray is unique (a fact I absolutely love) but once they are part of our community they are easily identified by others as “Kimray.” This is possible because we are all connected through that root system that transcends and outlives each one of us.
I am proud to be part of the Kimray “colony.” It gives me great comfort to know that the underlying culture and heritage will remain, long after I am no longer part of the forest. In fact, every single one of you is capable of reproducing the Kimray Way, and that is part of the Kimray Way.
P.S. The image above is the Pando Colony of Aspens located in Fishlake National Forest, Utah. While Pando is not technically the oldest individual tree, this clonal colony of Quaking Aspen is legitimately ancient. At 6,615 tons, it is recorded as the heaviest living organism on the planet. The 106-acre colony is a combination of genetically identical trees, that are known as stems, which are connected by a single root system thought to be 80,000 years old.