This month, as we enjoy the splendor of fall in the changing leaves, brilliant blue skies and chilled crisp air, it feels like the perfect time to reflect on this idea of how trees, specifically an aspen grove, are symbolic of living in community.
Living in community is a choice for most people, a choice frequently made as one gets older. People seeking connection, support, and meaningful relationships tend to look toward an established community where they can feel a sense of purpose and belonging … a belonging to something bigger than themselves, but also where they can continue to thrive as unique individuals.
There are many other benefits, perhaps less realized, to living in community that can be appreciated through parallels in nature, specifically understanding how aspen trees grow and thrive in the grove. Mark Nepo (2018, as cited in an essay featured in the July 22nd edition of The Sunday Paper, Maria Shriver’s free weekly newsletter, 7/24/2018) states: “Above ground, aspen grow as individual trees, but below ground they’re enlivened by one interconnected set of roots. They are the most expansive growth of trees to share a common root system. This means that they are one living organism and one living community – at the same time! This is a powerful metaphor for how inextricably knit the life of the individual is within the life of the community. What happens to one tree happens to all the aspens in the grove.” This connectedness organically creates a supportive and inclusive environment in which people can continue to express their individuality while simultaneously belonging to a larger group where they feel safe and supported. It is inspiring to see this idea come to life every day as residents continue to pursue their personal passions and interests while also exploring opportunities to connect with others through various community experiences.
“When an individual tree is sick or dies, the grove rushes nutrients to the damaged area the way immune cells rush to the site of an infection. When we accept that all humans share the same invisible root system, we, too, can rush nutrients to others who are damaged or suffering” (Nepo, 2018). This is consistently observed within our community as residents instinctively respond to others needs with love and attention to support one another in times of sickness, pain or loss. It is a beautiful cycle of giving and receiving that mutually benefits each participant.
Stronger together, takes on a very literal manifestation in the life of community, also reflected in the wisdom of the aspens. “The grove roots and regenerates most strongly after disasters.” (Nepo, 2018) This is an example of relational resilience as the connection of the root system becomes stronger when faced with adversity. While living in community during the pandemic certainly had its challenges, one of the most significant blessings was the deepening of bonds amongst both residents and staff as we navigated our way through the upheaval. Indeed, those bonds remain as solid today, as ever.
“In the Fishlake National Forest in Utah, there is an aspen grove named Pando, Latin for ‘I spread’. Considered one of the largest aspen groves in the world, it contains about 47,000 individual trees and is estimated to be about 60,000 years old. Shared roots live longer.” (Nepo, 2018). This is perhaps one of the most poignant examples of how living in community, sharing daily life with others, positively impacts one’s life experience. We’ve all heard how loneliness can shorten one’s lifespan, so it would make sense that human connection would extend one’s life. However, we are not just talking about a number (of years). The richness, meaning and purpose in one’s life is equally as impacted and enhanced through these “shared roots”.
“… in the paradox of the aspen trees waits the secret to our interdependence: being who we are while staying connected to everyone.” (Nepo, 2018). This quote is a beautiful summary of the parallel between the aspen grove and living in community, whatever that community may be … a neighborhood, a retirement community, our world!