Lately, I have been living life outside of my kitchen more than I have been in my kitchen. But can you really blame me? Our weather has been absolutely perfect and all the leaves are beginning to change their colors, making everything so beautiful and vibrant. Colorado does not have as many of the deep reds and oranges in its fall colors like New England does, although we do have some. Our colors are more golden. Every fall, our golden Aspens paint our mountains in various shades of golds and yellows, and they blend in together with all the greens from our pine trees to paint a beautifully colored landscape. We have Aspen trees all over the state, and they all start changing their colors at different times depending on the weather and the altitude. Our prime time for color is from the middle of September through the middle of November. The Aspens in the altitudes from 8,000-10,000 feet start changing their colors in mid September, while they start changing their colors later in the lower altitudes. This extends their beauty and their golden season, leaving us more time to enjoy their awesome colors. We took a drive up to one of our favorite quick get-away spots, Estes Park, and then made a big loop around the area to see the golden leaves. This is such a popular thing to do that we Coloradoans even have a name for this seasonal event. We call it leafing.
This is also elk season. Last year, we saw a ton of elks, but this year we only saw one. We attempted to take her picture as she was swimming in the lake, but she was to far away, and it did not come out. We also saw a mama deer with her two fawns, but we were not able to get a picture of them either. That’s OK though. The Aspens and their colors put on a great, spectacular show for us all the same.
Aspens grow in groups called pandos. Pando is a Latin word meaning “I spread”. Aspen groups are called pandos because they are all one big mass of connective tissue. Aspens are the most massive single organism on earth because the pandos are all connected to one root system. If you plant one tree, soon you will have many trees, which is fine if you have the room for them, but they can take over an area real soon. We have Aspens in our back yard, and they are beautiful but now they are now beginning to sprout up everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, we love them, but they are beginning to grow in areas where we don’t want them to grow. There is no easy way to stop them from taking over either, which can create a whole host of problems. The main trunk of a single Aspen tree can live anywhere between 40-150 years, and once started in an area, they are very hard to kill. You can’t kill just one tree either. You have to get them at their roots.
What makes these leave so golden in color? In the summer, the Aspen leaves are dominated by chlorophyll, which makes them a bright vivid green. But as the seasons start to change, and the leaves start entering their dormant phase, the chlorophyll is replaced with carotenoids. The carotenoids are what makes the leaves change from green to orange, to gold to yellow.
Aspen trees have long been revered by many people. The Onondagas people called the Aspens the “quaking tree with the noisy leaves” because in the slightest breeze, the leaves start to shake and tremble, which causes them to rustle. This also makes them shine and glitter as they capture the sun’s lights. The Ancient Celtics thought Aspen trees were sacred. They called them the whispering trees and they associated them with language and communication, along with the wind, endurance and resurrection or rebirth. This could be because they are always growing, even in the winter, as well as the facts that they are all connected as one massive living organism and they are very hardy and hard to kill.
As we were making our loop back home, we came across this beautiful little Chapel nestled deep in the heart of the mountains. It was very rustic and charming. Because I was raised Episcopalian I much prefer these simple, little rustic Chapels to the big, ornate and ostentatious Cathedrals we saw all over Spain, though those were certainly very beautiful.
And more Aspens.
I hope you all enjoyed leafing with me, on this journey into the backyard of my state. Don’t worry. “A Jeanne in the Kitchen” is still just that, but I like to share my life outside of the kitchen as well.