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The Aspen Grove
The Snow Queen’s palace is quiet and still, a perfect symphony of the horizontal and the vertical. Her tall, white, Corinthian columns uphold a blue and white dome, while her billowing snow-marble floors are striated by the columns’ long blue shadows. These azure streaks seem to flow into one another, like continuous lines on a sheet of music. The aspens are notes, composing an ode to the wild.
But now the columns are guards, standing uniform in formation, so alike that they seem to be clones. They guard from the harsh winter sun, clothing themselves in a white protective powder. If you look close you can see their battle scars. Gray scabs bulge out from the places on their trunks that have been clawed by wild beasts or punctured by malicious woodpeckers. For every nibble of an elk, for each tasty trunk-chunk ripped off by a hungry deer, the smooth white-green armor of the guards becomes more rough and gray. Battles with fungus infestations also leave marks, and, occasionally, the Snow Queen becomes displeased with certain guards and brands them with water marks at the bottoms of their trunks. Her soggy embrace pulls back the guards’ white armor to reveal a brown interior, or even one black with decay after the worst of offences.
But the regiment holds strong as one cohesive organism. Like Spartans, these guards accept nothing less than excellence. If a member of their army is not growing and performing to par, they send chemical inhibitors to cut off nutrients flow to the crippled comrade, thereby preventing overpopulation. Thus, they live among their dead and dying—the bark of these sorry soldiers turns black and brown and peels off in mangled patterns to reveal the smooth spiraling grain of their manila-gray innards.
In addition, the Queen’s adroit soldiers are frugal. They don’t expend their precious energy on foolish riffraff! When they grow beyond their branches, they let them drop, maximizing the branch concentration near their tops and leaving a thousand watchful and wary eyes. Nothing goes unnoticed. The Queen must be protected. The guards also don’t waste energy growing deep roots, but instead stay connected through a network of shallow lateral roots, creating strong brotherly bonds. Their shallow root system allows them to send out suckers that share their genetic material and quickly propagate. Thanks to its conservative nature, the Snow Queen’s protecting army can march higher than its other deciduous peers, all the way to ten thousand feet.
The Snow Queen is more strict than her sister seasons. She requires her soldiers to get annual buzz-cuts upon her arrival. And so they drop their leaves in the winter, only photosynthesizing when it is warm. The only type of photosynthesis permitted by the Snow Queen is that which occurs through tree trunks. The Queen takes great pride in her pristine color, and she is selfish about it. None but the Queen may wear white. Thus, she adorns her troops in light green armor, distinguishing their rank. But the soldiers do not much mind the tint of chlorophyll in their bark, for this winter adaptation allows them to gain energy from the sun’s rays even when the Queen has shaved off their primary energy source.
It is a sorry sight to watch the heart-shaped leaves of each member of the Third Regiment of the Populus Tremuloides quake in fear at the Snow Queen’s approach. Hair stands on end, knowing it must soon be shorn. In the summer, the twittering of these leaves on their perpendicular petioles conveys song and merriment; but at the arrival of their cold-hearted leader, the leaves live true to their name and tremble in fear.
Like a thousand arrows from heaven come to penetrate the earth’s pristine white bosom, the aspen trees tower over the snowshoe hares, coyotes, foxes, and other ground-dwellers in their midst. The feathers on the ends of these arrows are fine and few, so red-tail hawks and other large, carnivorous birds are provided with unobstructed vantage for hunting prey. Voles and mice, realizing their danger, tunnel and hide in the intronivian space between snow and ground.
One would not know the hardy struggle of this army when looking on an Aspen grove. These trees let in a flood of light, which sparkles upon the delicately undulating snow. They stand tall, proud, and silent, watching and waiting.