Aspens are wonderful trees. They offer qualities which instruct us to look beyond beauty, to look inside and underneath to discover greater meaning. Did you ever think a tree could tell a story? Aspens do; they tell a story of what it takes to be a supporting, thriving community.Have you ever come across or seen just a single Aspen tree, standing alone with no others nearby? If you are familiar with Aspens, you know this rarely occurs.By their nature, Aspens are not a solitary tree. Their roots spread below the earth’s surface and facilitate growth in others to form a group. Aspens grow as a community; they are unified by their roots and share nutrients and resources to support each other. The community is enlivened through a solidly linked foundation.If you look at the root structure of Aspen, you will notice that they are survivors. An Aspen’s roots can remain dormant for years. At the right time, they jump to life and re-generate as a community. Aspens have strength and resilience, unseen by many.Aspen groves thrive on diversity. They are strongest when there is a mix of young and old. The diverse mix guards against disease and natural disasters, delivering greater assurance that the community survives during the tougher times.Aspen trees have restorative qualities which reach outside their bonded community to the natural world around them. Animals gain nourishment in the winter months from an Aspen’s trunk and pains can be soothed through their medicinal, aspirin-like value. Even humans can gain protection from the sun or relieve a cut or burn by rubbing an Aspen’s bark on their skin.Aspens tell us an important story, if we choose to listen. They share with us lessons of connectedness, survival, and outreach to serve as a guide for our communities.What story do our communities tell?From today’s world springs a new humanity of being electronically connected. Many benefits can be realized from these new roots of joining people together. Connections through Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn easily multiply with short bursts of challenging, calming, and even inspirational words typed and distributed through the networked maze. New people outside our typical span are engaged offering new insights through tenuous relationships.While the electronic community may be thriving, the face-to-face community dims. Our communities tend to be more solitary and thinly rooted.With all the popularity focused on social media and its limitless scope via the internet, how much do we know about our neighbor a few doors down? Do we even know their names? How do we support each other within our neighborhood block?Our community relationships have become superficial or nonexistent, with only impersonal facts known about our neighbors. It is an “acknowledged” relationship. There is little depth to our knowledge about them. Their joys and concerns remain within their four walls or expressed through the electronic relationships that extend beyond their immediate surroundings.Just as Aspen tree communities can remain dormant underneath the surface for many years and then spring to life at the right moment, are we ready to engage with the people in our neighborhood and activate our communities?What can we learn from an Aspen community?Aspen trees deliver strong guidance on how to engage personal relationships and build a sound community. Through connectedness, survival, and outreach, our communities can spring to life again with supportive relationships, inciting our society to be better, do more.Connectedness. Aspen trees are intertwined underneath the surface, creating a foundation for growth and life. The connected roots are what support the beautiful life above the surface.Within our cities and neighborhoods, our connections need to be strengthened. We go through the motions of everyday life, and time quickly escapes us. Rather than building relationships within a 5 mile radius, we log-in and connect to people in other states and countries. As a result, our foundation weakens; neighborhoods become lonely places. This is in stark contrast to our ancestors who created rich and vibrant communities fueled by daily social interaction with their neighbors.A vibrant neighborhood should emulate the beauty of an Aspen grove. Healthy communities have healthy relationships. They should be like walking into Cheers, where “everyone knows your name.”Survival. Just as a diverse mix of Aspen trees withstand the ups and downs of existence; our communities need to be built in the same manner. Diversity builds not only strength but understanding.Often, we move to ensure our kids are in schools of people who are similar to us, or we want to find the neighborhood that has all the right ages for our kids to play with. Some aspects of this are good but sometimes these objectives can go too far and end up doing more harm than good.We need to embrace the differences in our communities. Spending time with the elderly can provide insights into our own lives, foster a sense of generational continuity, and deliver warmth in our interactions. Spending time with the younger generation will reintroduce us to vigor and inspire us to get out of our comfort zones.Outreach. Another import element for our communities is outreach. This can be achieved by helping others who may have been hit hard by the current economic waves or weather-driven disasters or just need an attentive ear to listen and provide comfort. Offering a helping hand to other communities is critical in thinking outside our immediate walls and engaging in our larger community.A strong community stretches outside its borders and offers assistance and sustenance to other communities in getting through rough patches. Essentially, it is giving what we can, spreading the healing salve on the wounded communities or providing protection for those which may be threatened.Outreach facilitates the spirit of leading meaningful lives. Actions which strengthen and energize others will long be remembered as what really made the difference.Setting an Example. People should strive to represent the best of what communities can be. Rather than Aspen trees setting the example, we should. The beauty in this type of human community will outshine what a grove of Aspens can ever produce.Deeper, supportive relationships within our neighborhoods will enable us to lead richer lives and extend our reach more easily to others a mile down the road or in the next state or country. The common thread will be a well-grounded root system which connects and supports us. In other words, the strength of our immediate community will allow us to stretch our helping hand farther.The decisions we make in how we connect with our community will drive how our society continues to develop. Will we be more insular or more inclusive? Will we be more self-centered or people-centered? Can we balance our growing interest in social media with an active sense of community and compassion for our nearby neighbors?So the next time you see a neighbor, stop, talk, and listen. Go beyond the surface questions. Ask them what is going on in their job, their family, their life. Make a connection. Develop the roots.Just as an Aspen community of trees can regenerate themselves after being dormant for many years, with enough steadfast commitment, the roots of our community can rejuvenate, connect, and thrive once again.
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