On One Hand

February 16, 2007

Aspen Dust

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 2:26 am

When we were kids, everything in nature was made just for us.

Stones piled at the edge of the river only so we could skip them across. Blades of rye grass were grainy and sharp for making grass whistles that screeched when we blew between the leaves. Horsetails grew in links so we could splice the segments together as necklaces and chains. We were sure tree branches would grow new trees when we stuck them into the ground.

We were raised in the suburbs, but lived in a world apart from the familiar suburban landscapes of subdivisions and shopping centers we would later identify with home. The house my sister and I grew up in backed up to an open field filled with prarie dogs and bicycle trails – and in those years on the hot and lazy sidewalks we got just as much dirt on our skin as any of the kids who grew up in mountain towns or on farms.

Four aspen trees grew in an artificial stand in the back yard of the house on the corner. When we played there, we decided that the white powder on aspen tree trunks was “lotion,” and we slid our hands over the smooth bark to massage the fine dust, barely visible in glittering particles, into our skin. We’d rub the same part of the same poor tree each day until the white surface was worn glossy and green.

Our reasoning was, more specifically, that aspen trees grow in America, where the Indians were before white people came. And since Indians are known to use every part of every thing, they must have used the aspen dust for something, in this case on their skin. We decided the powder must be medicinal, agreeing that it could heal wounds.

Years later I learned that the natural purpose of the dust is to protect the tree from the intense, high-altitude sun, but that it also contains irritants and allergens to keep animals like deer from stripping the bark during harsh Rocky Mountain winters.

Then the red blotches that would sometimes form on our hands from the powder made more sense, then. As did the itching.


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