“There are aspens in southern Utah that spread over a hundred acres. What we see appears to be a massive grove, but in fact it is a single tree – genetically the same, sharing a single root system. All of what appear to be separate trees are in fact one organism. When any part of the organism needs nourishment, the other parts come to its aid.”
My grandfather (we all called him “Boss”) knew the land. He worked the land. He loved the land. For decades, he cultivated a large garden and took care of horses, goats, chickens, and pigs. Our eighty acres in rural Alabama was a magical place – Jamelabeda (named for his family: Jamie, Melissa, Lydia, Ben, & David).
As a child, I was a huge fan of Winnie the Pooh, and no one could convince me that my grandparents didn’t live right in the middle of the Hundred Acre Woods. (Eat your heart out, A.A. Milne.)
One Fall (the very best season to be outdoors in Alabama), I had a leaf project for science class. Boss and I walked all over our “hundred acre woods,” identifying oak, pines, cedar, dogwood, and hickory. The list went on and on, and the old man became emotional at one point, telling me how his grandmother was the one to teach him about the trees. Through tears, he said, “I think we are more like these trees than we may ever realize, Stevie.”
As the sun began to set, and the crisp Alabama breeze tickled my ears, my grandfather paraphrased Psalm 1:
Blessed is the person who doesn’t stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers, but delights in God – he is like a tree, planted by streams of water, which bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.
My old grandpappy didn’t darken the doors of a church for the last forty years of his life, but he taught me the importance of loving family, conserving the earth, and listening for God in the cool of the day.
Boss left us back in February, but each time the wind whispers through the pines, I know he’s still with me.
“Is it raining?”
Last week, I was relaxing in my cabin near the Pando grove in Central Utah. I hadn’t seen any clouds before supper. Somebody also mentioned a drought earlier in the day, so rain seemed highly unlikely. I bet they’d be thrilled to have some rain around here.
And then it hit me: quaking aspens. (“Quakies” as one local rancher affectionately called them.)
What a beautiful rumble – it nearly sounded like a waterfall.
The next day, I was standing on a narrow wooden bridge after lunch. I closed my eyes and drifted into a deeper space of intent awareness, the stream beneath my feet, lulling my worries away. I began to understand what John Muir meant when he said, “And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” All I could think about, between the percussive leaves and the siren song of the stream, was how the earth is continuously offering praise back to the Creator.
The sound of many waters cannot quench Your Love.
My son is always telling me he loves me. “Hey Dada, you know you’re my best buddy?” Like I could ever forget.
And whether it’s loving our family deeply, or being thankful for the earth around us, I think this whole thing is about legacy. What are we leaving for those who come after us? What impact will today’s decisions have on all our tomorrows?
We spent our days in our very own Hundred Acre Woods, and yet, it wasn’t about the trees. It was a reminder that we are all a piece of God (deep bows to Desmond Tutu). We are all connected.
There is only me.
There is only you.
There is no other.
There is only we.
And we all belong.
Ed Bacon said it best, “Each of those aspen trunks, living and growing together in one living, beautiful organism with one common 106-acre rootball, now represent the emblem for the hope of our relations with one another and with the Earth.”
The Pando clone is about much more than just 47,000 stems of the same plant. It’s about connection, conservation, and compassion. For me, the Pilgrimage to Pando was a returning home to self, and a returning home to each other. A reminder that everything we say – and every action we take – matters. Pando is a tangible reminder that I am connected to something much larger than myself. And isn’t that the very same lesson my great-grandmother began passing down to my grandfather all those years ago?
Steve Austin was a pastor when he nearly died by suicide. A second chance, a grueling recovery, and years of honest conversation allowed Steve to find healing and purpose. It’s evident in his writing, speaking, podcasting, and coaching: he helps overwhelmed people get their lives back.
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
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