Aspen, Up Close


We made a long weekend trip up to the Sierra over the Armistice/Veterans Day weekend. Friday: to Calaveras County to visit our friends Piero and Jill, who have a couple acres and a cabin up there. Saturday: After more hanging out at the 4,800-foot contour, we drove back out to Highway 88, then drove up over the passes to an aspen-filled highland valley just south of Lake Tahoe (it’s called Hope Valley, elevation about 7,000). This is a place that a lot of cyclists get to know because it’s on the route of the Tour of the California Alps (a.k.a. Markleeville Death Ride). There’s a resort there called Sorenson’s that I’ve passed by many times. As I said to Kate as we headed there, I have long harbored the desire to visit the place in the fall to see the aspens take on their fall color; I wanted to make the drive even though I was pretty sure all that gold and orange I’ve seen pictures of is well past.

We just showed up late in the afternoon yesterday on the off chance they’d have a cabin, one, and two, that they’d be OK with us having a dog in the room. We scored on both counts. Last night, after listening to the Oregon-Stanford game on the radio (Go Ducks), we went for a walk in the near-full moonlight up a trail behind the resort. It was cold enough that frost had formed on the surfaced of the eight or ten inches of snow on the ground and made the footing pretty good uphill and downhill. This morning before breakfast, we took the same walk. As I expected, the aspens had shed all their leaves. But there are big stands of them up the trail and throughout the valley–quaking aspens, Populus tremuloides (seriously), so called because it’s said their leaves stir in the slightest breeze.

From afar, their bark is white, or silver, or gray. They’re striking in a mountain landscape. From closer up, you see something different happening in the bark–large scars and knots. And getting very close, galaxies of these tiny (pigment?) rings.

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