“We passed through a magnificent grove of aspens through which the mellow sunshine sifted in ravishing splendor, showing every leaf to be as beautiful in color as the wing of a butterfly, and making them tell gloriously against the evergreens.”
It’s quitting time, somewhere between five and nine p.m. Going home requires a detour to a paradise of wetlands, pond and forest. I arrive to keep my pledge — watering dozens of aspen seedlings by hand. The 60- minute task involves two buckets dipped separately into an ever shrinking stream.
The prudent time to plant native trees in the Pacific Northwest is in October when the autumn rains return to water plants for free. Not so when we planted the aspens, in late June, when nature’s spigot goes on summer vacation. However, when eager volunteers ask to assist with a stewardship project and June is their time to assist, we go to plan B.
Quaking aspens cannot be ignored; their name alone prompts a closer look. They flaunt their dazzling arrowhead leaves at the merest mention of a breeze. When their leaves flutter, their voice mimics lilting water. Aspens are considered the most widespread tree in North America, however, here in Washington state aspens are not common trees, taking a far backseat to conifers like Douglas fir.
The aspen watering story began three years ago when a city slicker from Portland, Oregon moved 80 miles east to rural Washington and decided to make an un-buildable and seasonally flooded 10-acres into a home site. Using backhoes and tractors he proceeded to channelize the creek, violating every environmental law in the state. The authorities tracked him down and required substantial restoration of the wetlands. Ever so slowly, he began to replant the aspens and other vegetation, re-fill the new channel and remove dump truck loads of garbage.
In the end, the site was purchased by the next door neighbor, who decided not to only permanently protect the aspens, but also his entire 120 acres.
Miraculously, every one of the aspens lovingly planted by the volunteers have all survived the summer’s onslaught of nary a drop of rain, sizzling temperatures, constant winds, and leaf-munching hordes of insects and deer.
I endeavored to go to the aspen grove either in the early morning or cool evening hours. Besides pouring life into trees, many lovely intangibles presented themselves during the project: an osprey dive bombing into a pond and rising triumphantly with a trout, shades of sunlight and clouds, singing coyotes, sweet mock orange scents, and at times a whiff of skunk.
Soon, autumn rains will come back from the skies and bequeath the parched aspens a continous source of the liquid of life. Major Creek will re-fill its coffers and with luck, the wetland will regain its important flooding function. The upland plants, once given the edge recently due to the bulldozer, hopefully will yield to the aspens and other wetland obligate plants.
One generation plants the trees, while the next one receives the shade.