Teri Orr: As above, so below… | ParkRecord.com

Teri Orr: As above, so below…

Teri Orr

In the past two weeks we witnessed a series of unseasonably rough storms. Heavy, wet snow fell on trees and bushes. Weighted still with fall leaves turning from green to yellow and orange and even bright red, things snapped. A sense of sadness swept over us.

Park Record columnist Teri Orr.

The early, heavy wet snow fell for days on those deciduous trees. There is a pattern we expect/rely on — they shed old growth in the fall. Come spring, they are again ready to burst into that incandescent green with new growth/new leaves.

But in the winter their branches catch snow and form lacy patterns after a blizzard. And the birds — abundant in the spring and summer but hidden by green leaf curtains — appear again in full regalia against the white canvas.

But the freak storm — the most dramatic of its kind — hadn’t hit like this in 10 years. And the fallen, broken, even bent trees made us sad. Confused us. We have come to expect patterns and predictable things and seasons that stay in their lanes.

I lost a poplar tree and a couple of aspens. And I thought a lot about those aspens and all the other aspens in my yard. And how they are, no doubt, connected to each other in some crazy elaborate root system.

The oldest living organism in the world is a group of connected quaking aspens in the Fish Lake area of Utah. When you leave Richfield, as most do, and keep heading south but also into the interior of the state, you are immediately in ruggedly beautiful country.

Soon you crest a hill and drop down and there are the trees, hundreds of them — no, actually thousands of them — an estimated 47,000 with a root system that is perhaps a million years old. And this system is known as The Trembling Giant or Pando, a Latin word that translates to “I spread.”

It is the most connected organism in the world. I make the drive at least twice a year when I head to Boulder, Utah. Which is in the middle of the middle of nowhere. The last town in the Lower 48 to still get mail by mule until the late 50s. About 180 full-time residents live there. When I am at Fish Lake, I am about two hours still from Boulder.

The connected aspens are a good reminder of how things can be distinctly separate and independent above the ground but underneath — where they are rooted and where it matters — they are all interconnected.

I live alone and when the trees in my yard fell, I left them in my cold snowy backyard. I saw they hadn’t hurt anything else and I pulled one to the ground that had somehow tangled itself into the giant evergreen branches above my head. The ground is a blanket of leaves now that things have melted again and I love it. Sometimes when I am pretty sure no one is watching, I go into the backyard and scoop up handfuls of crunchy leaves and toss them around.

Around town we have been in the throes of a difficult campaign season. Longstanding relationships — like those aspens — have snapped. The emotional ground is colorful — sure — but it is also messy. And slippery. Which makes it dangerous.

Sometimes Mother Nature snaps and we feel her wrath. A volcano, a flood, a hurricane. And then there are massive clean-up efforts and those areas that were ravaged might return to normal fairly easily or they may never be the same. The damage is sometimes just too great.

It is hard to play that game of hindsight and try to pinpoint where the shift started. Was this storm the result of climate change? Are the more heated conversations now a result of a political climate change in our town? Folks who moved here during COVID who are easier to trigger quick reactions — and expect/demand quick reactions of others. We are all socially awkward after almost two years of mostly seeing friends and family online and watching government meetings online and being cut off remotely and not being able to wave our hands or take our turn at the mic.

My yard is still gonna need the man I have worked with for 25 years to come and get all those leaves cleaned up. But on a sunny day this week, my compassionate curmudgeon neighbor walked over to assess my damage when he saw the fallen trees. He said the North 40 was taking downed trees from all over Park City and chipping them up. And I said I had heard that but I wasn’t able to put entire trees in my car. I was gonna wait until Manny could come and cut them up and maybe load them into his pickup truck. And he said — I can do that. And then I watched him bring snipper things and cut up the trees into manageable pieces to drag them across to his yard and his truck. I have known him for 30 years. He would never take money for his good deed.

But I also know he likes Jameson.

In the next few weeks we are gonna be bagging things up. The temperature will drop again. And the calming monochromatic winter white will (hopefully) blanket everything for months. And come spring, we will be ready again for the buds to present new life.

And in the meantime, I will work hard to remember the Pando with all the roots tangled together. One connected living organism underneath with lots of individual living forms above ground. Something to acknowledge and appreciate these stormy Sundays in the Park…

Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts. She has been a member of the TED community since 2007 and founded TEDxParkCity in 2009.

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