Aspens

Thoughts from a Western driving tour

This is not the season when the landscape opens in every direction. The light does not pour evenly: it highlights sections of a mountain or a field as though they are onstage. Particularly for the aspen trees of the Mountain West, which become brightly yellow in early fall, in some cases orange or even red.

This week saw us on a road trip. It was our first trip out of California in eighteen months—the longest span, I figured out, that I’ve stayed in a single U.S. state in my entire life—on a drive from northern Utah to Colorado, to central New Mexico, that basically (accidentally) turned out to follow peak foliage. The car practically glided between the trees.

A guidebook said that aspens are poplars, native to places with cool summers. They’re slender and resemble birch trees a bit, with smooth, white bark that I was told you can rub with your hands for an oil that works as a basic sunscreen. The leaves are slightly heart-shaped, coarsely notched. We saw them up close while hiking, or in great bushels far away. Honestly, I got distracted, driving, from the way they rippled in the breeze. North American aspen are known as quaking or trembling aspen, and that golden color is the leaves’ true color: as days grow shorter, less filled with light, the leaves stop making chlorophyll, their green fades, and the yellow underneath becomes visible.

I’m writing this from a hotel room next to a small chapel in Santa Fe. The sky is a pale blue ribbon. We started in Park City, then drove down and over to western and southwestern Colorado, through the San Juans, stopping here and there, then down a bit more into New Mexico.

In Utah, the aspens were like bouquets springing from the hills. In Colorado, I went for a hike above the airport in Telluride, in a sprawling aspen grove, through long yellow corridors, and the wind would blow the leaves down around me like dusky, twinkling petals, casting shadows with a deep purple cast. Driving to New Mexico, an entire mountainside would be colored gold, and you’d see it moving, far away, like a thing shivering in its sleep, or an audience applauding for itself or someone else.

The color of leaves is merely the color of leaves, but sometimes it can strike a chord.


This week, I have two events for the release of Everything Now:

  • Virtual: At 7:00 pm Eastern, Wednesday, October 13, 2021, I’ll be participating in an Instagram Live event with Michael Venutolo-Mantovani for Epilogue Books, the new bookstore in Chapel Hill, NC. More info here.

  • In-person: At 6:00 pm Pacific, Thursday, October 14, 2021, I’ll be discussing the book onstage (!) with author and Los Angeles Times columnist Gustavo Arellano in the garden of the Wende Museum in Culver City, Los Angeles. More info here.

Hope to see you at one or both!


From tomorrow’s “Sunday Supplement,” some of the best piano music in recent memory, an interesting way to appreciate Bach, and my favorite notebooks for field reporting.

I received a special kind of notebook as a gift five or six years ago and have been buying it every six months ever since. I’ve used them on a boat and on a mountain. I’ve used them in restaurants, in the woods, and in the rain. (“And I would eat them in a boat. And I would eat them with a goat.”)

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What the what? “Meditations in an Emergency” is a weekly email published Saturdays by novelist Rosecrans Baldwin about things he finds beautiful. “The Sunday Supplement” is his recommendation bulletin for paying subscribers.

Rosecrans’s new book, Everything Now: Lessons From the City-State of Los Angeles, is available from BookshopAmazon, or your local store. Any other books mentioned in this newsletter are featured on a Bookshop list.