Thursday, October 14, 2010

Trees of gold

Of all the beautiful seasons here in Santa Fe, autumn is the most beautiful. Colors seem to distill and increase in saturation- strong contrasts of yellow and dark green, softer palettes of lavender, gold, sage, sienna. Fall colors in New England are beautiful, too- the reds and oranges of the sugar maples reflected in lakes. But fall here is breathtaking. From down here where I live, I can see the wide swatches of aspens in the mountains. At sunset especially, they glow. But to really be surrounded by them, you need to drive up towards the ski area, about 15 miles above the plaza. It's about another 2500 feet up, but it feels like more. The road is long, with switchbacks that take you up and up. I hadn't been up there for many years, not since I used to come up and paint up there, just as many people were doing today. That was maybe 15 years ago. Now the altitude and the windy road are a bit much for me, and happily, my friend Tina offered to drive us up there.

I learned today that the reason there are so many aspens in the sangre de christo's is because of a monumental forest fire that occurred around the turn of the century (the last one.) It burned down the fir trees, and the aspens, loving sun as they do, were the first to come back. Eventually, the firs could take over again. Meanwhile, this is one of the largest groves of aspens in the country. Also, aspens are connected by roots underground, so they keep spreading. I had some in my backyard, but they weren't watered and they died. One "orpan" grew in my next door neighbor's yard. They don't really love it down this far, but they will grow if you baby them.

Photos can't capture what they look like. The small coin-shaped leaves flutter in the slightest breeze. So when you're up there you see this shimmering golden sight. Even Christopher Hitchens might call it God's country.