Faith, life, Parenting, relationships, Spiritual Encouragement, Uncategorized, Writing
Comments 5

Afternoon with the Trembling Giant

I’m convinced that there is no more beautiful spot on earth on the first of June than Cherry Lane. It runs just south of my back yard. When the afternoon spills its light just before dusk, brilliant and lavish, the field grasses on the hillside seem lit from within, topped with flames of white fire. It’s holy.


There’s a stand of a half dozen aged poplar trees on the west side of the lane growing near a small culvert and behind a low, stone wall. The stones cracked free from some ancient lava flow, and now they rest one atop the other covered in lichen and last year’s moss. The poplar leaves rustle in the slightest breeze and always make the sound of a rushing mountain creek. The wet, pungent scent of poplar and the small watery roar instantly pulls me back to when I was a little girl. Dad would drive the old camper truck off onto random forest service roads in Colorado and while mom cooked lunch on the propane stove, we’d escape the confines of that rattling camper and explore. I was never afraid. I was the youngest, at the tail end of sisters, and I followed where they led.

We’d follow the sound of water tumbling over rocks until we found the mountain creek. Clear enough to drink and icy cold, it sang its endless song under the tall pines and nearer by, the clusters of aspen. Their leaves quaked and waved like these poplars on Cherry Lane.

Aspen groves share a tuberous root system. No aspen tree sets down a taproot far from the bunch because beneath the soil rhizomes connect them. Even if an aspen is found growing a hundred feet from the colony, it is, in fact connected, a clonal replicate of its parent colony. If the roots get sick, the entire forest of aspen dies together. The Latin name means Trembling Giant. I didn’t know any of this when I was a girl. I knew they waved and shimmered and I wanted to peel the bark and write notes to the fairies that lived in the forest. They clapped with a million leaves when we found the creek.

We kicked off shoes willy-nilly among the rocks and reeds, peeled off our socks and waded into the creek. The cold could knock the breath clear out of you.

“I dare you to sit in the pool of water, “ a sister would say. We’d hem and haw and taunt and maybe one of us would do it, sit right down in the snowmelt and the sunshine and scream with the joy and pain and victory of it all.


Lately I’ve been thinking of wandering. Perhaps it’s the time of year or the season of my life, but I want to go and explore and not be afraid. I want to dare and drop my shoes and wade into an unnamed stream in a forest unfamiliar. I think about my husband of so many years we’re as comfortable as a pair of slippers and I want to be courted again. I want to hold hands and walk old cobbled streets in Paris or feel the wind rush off of oceans we’ve never seen before. I want to share an ice cream in Italy and just go.

But I’ve only a half hour before I need to start dinner, so I tug on my sneakers and set a brisk pace for Cherry Lane instead. My steps set a rhythm for my thoughts to fall into place. Then the prayers come. And the words penned by ancient scribes in some desert cloister fall over the names and faces of those I love. Verses from the bible I’ve memorized and touched and clung to.

As I return home, the afternoon is gushing out over the hill and across the black pavement. It’s nearly done and soon it will be all purpled dusky twilight and mosquitos and the call of mourning doves. But now it’s a spectacle of sunlight. There was an afternoon storm today, a deluge of rain that washed everything clean and filled the gutters with chalky, yellow pine pollen. The sulfur haze scrubbed from the sky, it now glistened a clear blue. Perfect clouds shone in silver and gold.

There is nowhere to go but home, but my pace slows as I watch the hill become a lightshow. Every blade of grass, every seed cluster and wildflower and twig is framed in a backlit aura. And I walk past the poplars and right through the miracle of the dying afternoon and step on the pathway home.


I know a man who’s been to Africa almost 30 times. He is in ministry doing important things. Global things. Changing the world. Today he saw elephants in the wild. And from thousands of miles away, social media informed me of his important, and now exciting, life.

I took my mom to the dentist today. I walked the slow pace of the elderly and stayed behind my dad to make sure he didn’t fall. We shared lunch at a noisy diner. I hugged them goodbye for the night.

I drove my kid to dance.

I helped my daughter identify soft peaks when whipping egg whites into merengue.

I prayed in the rhythm of my steps until I ran out of people to name.

I am the aspen.

I am connected to the others in my grove that independence isn’t possible. We grow and live and die looking quite the same and never wandering off.

There may be some adventure in my future, some thing that looks important or exciting in a post online. A big world, changing opportunity. But someone needs to drive my mom to the dentist. Someone needs to be here. I’m glad it can be me.


I was resting when that storm blew in this afternoon, the one that left the sky clean and the grass so green, and my son, the baby who’s now 12 came in with growing pains in his legs. I rubbed his calves and listened to the rain and the even sound of his breathing as he slipped into sleep. The cat curled beside me and gave a rumbling purr. We are aspen indeed, rooted and connected and planted in this place called home.




It’s been almost a year since I’ve written in this space. There are many reasons, none of which I can put into publishable words at the moment. Life carries us along sometimes and lessons come hard and strange. Words connect me, to myself, to you, toward the deconstruction and rearranging of my experiences, toward finding the true religion James speaks of in his epistle even in the midst of this life. So maybe these words help you see the truth in this quote from Mother Theresa:

Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired. How does a lamp burn? By the continuous input of small drops of oil. If the drops of oil run out, the light of the lamp will cease, and the Bridegroom will say, “I do not know you.” My sisters, what are these drops of oil in our lamps? They are the small things of daily life: faithfulness, punctuality, small words of kindness, a thought for others, our way of being silent, of looking, of speaking, and of acting. These are the true drops of love. Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.

{Daily Readings with Mother Teresa, ed. Teresa De Bertodano (HarperCollins, 1993).}

1 Peter 3:8-12

Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing. 10 For the Scriptures say,

“If you want to enjoy life
and see many happy days,
keep your tongue from speaking evil
and your lips from telling lies.
Turn away from evil and do good.
Search for peace, and work to maintain it.
The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right,
and his ears are open to their prayers.
But the Lord turns his face
against those who do evil.”







  1. Gail says

    So happy to see you writing again! Lovely, as usual, but do I detect a deeper level of maturity? Perhaps the storms have strengthened the Aly-Aspen. 😘

  2. Oh, Alyssa. Such heart-stirring description and soul-stirring wisdom. Thank you. You’ve encouraged me greatly today, as I prepare to babysit our two granddaughters this afternoon/evening. Nothing very exciting or world-changing about changing diapers on a baby or playing Busy Town with a preschooler. But just as you’ve said, someone needs to do it, and I am very glad it is me. You also said, “We are aspen indeed, rooted and connected and planted in this place called home.” And I’m praising God for the privilege of doing life with family in this place called home–just as He has ordained for us.

  3. caroliwil says

    Our LORD sent some of His splendor through you to me this morning. Your words are rustling like the leaves of aspen in my soul. Thank you.

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