Aspen trees and staying close to home

Written by Alpenglow Images on October 13th, 2010

“In the first place you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something, maybe.”  –Edward Abbey

In my free time lately, I’ve been rereading Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire; if you haven’t read it, you should.   In going back through the book, I realize how Abbey looks at the whole landscape, not just the pretty view in front of him, but at every burr, thistle and spine.  He mastered the art of bringing the intimate landscape to life through his writing.

This weekend, while the hordes descended upon the “big show” of autumn color in the eastern Sierra Nevada, I stayed close to home by visiting a local aspen grove in the San Gorgonio Wilderness near Big Bear City.  To my knowledge this is the only aspen grove in southern California, and it brought a much needed respite to continued summer-like weather in the lower elevations.

We arrived early in the morning to a shaded canyon and very cool temperatures.  Walking down the trail to the grove, I could see the familiar golden glow Populus tremuloides ahead–a glow that brings memories of autumns in the mountains of southern Colorado back to the forefront of my brain.

Arriving at the grove, I took a breath of the sweet, familiar air present in an autumnal aspen grove and felt the cold bark of the trees.  “Yes, indeed, I needed this!” I thought, smiling.

The grove in the San Bernardino Mountains isn’t large, and because of the relatively low elevation (7500′) and–I suspect–the latitude, the trees hadn’t fully turned yet.  As a result, I chose to focus on the unseen aspects of the grove: the fallen leaves, and the trunks of these gorgeous trees.

A grove of aspen trees (Populus tremuloides) in the San Bernardino Mountains of southern California

Aspen Grove I, October 2010

Black and white seemed to suit these images well as there weren’t enough fallen leaves to really make the forest floor light up.  Converting to black and white made the paucity of leaves really jump out.

A grove of aspens (Populus tremuloides) in the San Bernardino Mountains of southern California

Aspen Grove II, October 2010

While I didn’t come away with the striking, colorful, images people usually associate with aspens, I take some solace in knowing that I found some intimate landscapes that Edward Abbey may have written about.  Indeed, this grove warrants many, many more visits.

Incidentally, David Leland Hyde (The Landscape Photography Blogger) also blogged about Edward Abbey this week.  Take a few minutes and check it out; its a fantastic blog and you won’t regret it!


10 Comments so far ↓

  1. pj says:

    Love that Abbey quote. Over the years I’ve probably read and re-read every word the man wrote. Good stuff.

    Good work with the aspens. It’s a fresh and different look at a subject that’s all too easy to photograph over and over again in the same old manner.

  2. An excellent post. Sometimes out backyard has much to offer that is often overlooked all too easily. Very nice take-away images.

  3. Marc P says:

    Love Aspen I; very peaceful. Makes me want to go for a walk.

  4. Julie Rorden says:

    I’m a true believer in capturing the beauty in our own neighborhoods. The Abbey quote was great! Yesterday I shot some boxelder bugs climbing the trunk of a huge (to them) tree. Though I’d shot their autumn antics for years, yesterday was the first time I did it from their perspective. Loved the way the image turned out. Thanks for the great post 🙂

  5. Phil says:

    Well done Greg, great thoughts and images. The color in E. Sierra will be going on for at least another week or two…

  6. I have a row of Abbey books on my shelf, a number of which I’ve read several times. Desert Solitaire is still my favorite and, I think, Abbey’s best work.


  7. Bret Edge says:

    I just read Desert Solitaire earlier this year. Love the quote you chose. It’s so very appropriate given that 99% of visitors to our wild areas only see them from the car. Fine with me…leaves the trails less crowded.

    Gorgeous images, both of them. I love that you chose to focus on the patterns and textures in black and white rather than allowing bodacious colors to dominate. Excellent work, Greg.

    • Thanks for all the thoughts & comments! I think I’m on my 10th copy of Desert Solitaire because I keep giving it away. It really is a fantastic tribute to the American (South)west that anyone who cares about that area should feel obligated to read…

  8. I like the tone of this post, the photographs are great in BW and you make some interesting references to Abbey. The irony of all this is that Abbey did not like photographers. He tolerate my dad because of Dad’s activism, but he thought photographers, even those on the right side of conservation publicized wild places too much and caused people to want to go see them. Of course, so did he, probably to as large an extent as any photographer.

  9. Oops, I meant to post a link to send people to my post about Abbey that contains one of the same quotes as you have at the top here. I scheduled my post at 6 am today and was working on it the same day you made yours, as you pointed out on my blog…

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