Aspen trees have always grabbed my eyes more than any other tree. It’s something about their white trunks and their intense leave color transitions that grab my attention without question. Living out in Colorado, I skied and hiked through aspen trees and they always caught my eye in a unique way. I moved from Colorado to Nashville before their leaves changed to their magnificent fall colors and I knew I had to go back to experience it in person. I dreamed about these trees daily, and begun an aspen tree series based off my imagination. After those paintings based off my imagination, I knew I needed to experience these trees changing and engulf my mind and eyes in it in person. Watching the leaf changing color “radar map” I was on-call, waiting for the day I was going to take off on the road to make way to the Aspens to catch them changing colors. We left September 21st, only planning to be there for a week and half. The trip ended up lasting three weeks because I could not get enough. My eyes experienced the leaves changing from green to vibrant yellow to radiant orange to red. It turned from my imagination of these trees that I dream about, to trees for which I feel deep passion for and personal connection from being present with them in life. From just being drawn to their white bark and vibrant leaves, a whole new dimension of appreciation was established.
At the beginning of the road trip I was introduced to two women whose soul’s radiated, Terra Ray and Gushikawa I went to their Native American Pipe Ceremony, where they met my dogs. For those of you who don’t know, one of my dogs Sayba was attacked last winter where she lost an eye. The vet stitched her up to close the eye socket, leaving a scar for where the eye used to be. Gushikawa looked at Sayba and mindfully said, “look at your beautiful spirit eye”. That phrase and hearing her voice, say it made my heart light up. Sayba has always been my warrior princess since the attack, but now I no longer saw her scar as a scar, but a spirit eye. The next day, I was surrounded by my first aspen grove. I walked up to a tree and looked at an “eye” on the aspen and Gushi’s voice popped in my head saying “spirit eye”. I looked at the surrounding trees and saw all of their eyes, each eye unique in its own way. I sat down and looked at Sayba’s “spirit eye” against her white fur and saw this similarity with the aspen trees. Sayba’s scar has always symbolized so much to me. All the emotions and experience behind it changed both her and my lives. Feeling this connection with Sayba’s spirit eye and the eyes of the aspens, changed the way I connected with the trees.
As aspen trees grow, their top branches get the most light. Their branches need light to survive, and as they grow taller the lower branches get less light and begin to die and fall off. These branches that fall off create the “eyes” that you see on aspen trees. I learned how sensitive the bark is to scaring on these trees, whether it’s from branches falling off, bears sharpening their claws, elk rubbing their antlers, or even people carving into them. These spirit eyes and scars from animals add character to the trees and are one of the reason I find these trees so intriguing and engaging. When I look at an eye of an aspen, it almost feels like I am looking at an eye of an animal or person. The “spirit eye” on the tree makes me think about what this tree has seen all its years of living and also makes me feel like it’s a window to this tree’s soul. They almost become human like in my mind. It’s the scars in our lives, physically and mentally, that happen shapes our character and gives us a step to grow as individuals. Just like Sayba’s “spirit eye” is a scar both physically and mentally, that shaped her into an even more beautiful creature inside and out.
I met another bright soul on the trip, Carrie, who invited us to come stay at her cabin tucked away in the mountains. Her property is backed up to a national forest and a big aspen grove you can see out her window. All of these aspens are over one hundred years old and all have what appears like a purple base from all the scaring caused from elk and bear. It was amazing to think about everything these trees had lived through over the one hundred years they had been alive. I sat out in this aspen grove for two days painting the trees. The last afternoon as I was working on the painting over my music, I began to hear what sounded like children screaming over my music. I turned off the music to hear coyotes frantically howling and as they were getting closer and closer. I grabbed Sayba and we took off running towards the cabin. My heart was pounding out of my chest, but it was a really amazing experience knowing I was truly out in nature creating. Wildlife was something I had to think about while out spending time with these trees. The three days we spent at Carrie’s, I really got to know these aspens: from painting them, to listening to their leaves flutter as I napped in a hammock underneath them, to watching their leaves begin to evolve from green to yellow, and understanding a whole new appreciation for their spirit eyes and scars. Carrie shared many stories with me about these aspens and all the wild life encounters she has had living there. Her cabin, property, and the ‘family’ of people we were with, was truly a slice of heaven. The time spent at Carrie’s was a very grounding experience and led me ready to dive deep into the heart of the gold.
We made way to Crested Butte, where a little birdie told me that it holds the second biggest living organism just behind the Great Barrier Reef. This giant living organism is indeed…. Kebler Pass Aspen Grove. I began to realize I couldn’t recall ever just seeing a standing-alone aspen. When you see an aspen, you see a bunch all around. I learned that all of the roots of aspens below dirt are all connected. So when you see one aspen standing next to another, they are actually sprouting from the same inner connected root system. Another amazing fact about these root systems, is when a forest fire comes through, it only burns down the trees. Leaving the root system to continue the cycle of aspens. One root system called Pando, is said to be over 80,000 years old. It’s amazing to think that these huge forests of aspens, although the trees stand as individuals, are all connected beneath the surface. This also became a human like symbol to me. We as people stand as individuals, but underneath our individuality is the understanding that we are all one… we are all connected and never alone.
Seeing these mass numbers of Aspen trees all together was breathe taking. We left Crested Butte with people telling us we were crazy for going camping up in Kebler because it was going to be so cold. We couldn’t resist knowing the mass amounts of aspens we were about to see. We pulled onto Kebler Pass while watching the sunset over mountains surrounded by aspens. As it turned dark, we were unsure of where to camp so we stopped to let the dogs take a bathroom break. Matthew walked back up to the car after letting them out and said, “I have a surprise for you”. He pulled the car down the dirt road to a stone fire pit and a big fallen aspen tree with the words “Camp Aspen” carved in it. With it being dark I could tell aspens surrounded us because the ground was covered in yellow leaves, even though we had no idea what the landscape around us looked like. We built and sat by the fire to warm up and then set up camp in the car to keep warm with the dogs. The next morning as I awoke, I stepped out the car and my eyes filled with tears. The sunrise was beaming in the plush yellow leaf canopy that covered us with all the endless and enormous aspens trees surrounding us. It very well could be one of the most beautiful mornings I have experienced. After soaking up the first half of the day here, we had to make ourselves pack up camp so we could drive through the rest of Kebler pass. We knew if we were surrounded by this much gold in this one spot, this drive was about to be incredible. We ended up driving to the end, then back to the start, and back through again. We could not get enough of this landscape. It was beyond breathe taking. In the pass alone, we saw just about every size of aspen tree, every color leaf (even naked aspens), and different lighting from the time of day reflecting on the trees. With this new aspen series, it is safe to say most of the thousands of photos I took for inspiration came from Kebler Pass.
This trip was beyond, I repeat, BEYOND inspiring in endless ways. Every day, and every new location held new inspiration from the colors, weather, scenery, people, music, and conversations. We started at the Great Sand Dunes, made way to Westcliffe, Salida, Buena Vista, Cottonwood Pass, Crested Butte, Aspen, Denver, and ended our trip in Taos, New Mexico.
Spending three weeks with no phone service in nature was one of the most grounding and inspiring experiences I have ever had. All of the new friends, or who I would like to call new “family” from this trip, was an addition to all the inspiration and love I felt on the road trip. The people whom I met along this journey shaped it into the beautiful three weeks that it was. The aspen road trip turned into a “finding gold road trip” in just about everyway possible. Colorado’s nature and its people sure are something special.
As for the Aspens: I felt a new connection with their spirit eyes. I witnessed and studied their brilliant colors in person. I felt the community of aspens and their strength creating a whole new dimension of appreciation, understanding, and love. The creativity in my mind and eyes, during and after this trip, feels as if the possibilities for this series are endless. Words alone cannot describe how excited I am to dive into this new chapter of aspen trees. I personally want to be surrounded by aspen trees everyday and it is that love that is behind every one of these paintings.
New Aspen Tree paintings are going to be released November 17th at 9am EST on my website. There will also be new aspen paintings at my art show in Columbus GA December 1st. Aspen prints will also be coming within the next month!
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