The Forgiveness of Aspen

The Forgiveness of Aspen

by Brooke Larsen

I’m haunted by the question, “What difference will we actually make?”


As the 2016 Uplift Climate Conference rapidly approaches, the Uplift organizing team experiences moments of frantic and youthful dis-organization. It seems like finals week in college, and the only way to reassure ourselves is to say, “It will all get done.”  As with anything in life, there are things we wish we would have planned differently, and some days I’m haunted by the question, “What difference will we actually make?” 

Yet, amidst the endless emails, Slack messages, budget management, to-do lists, and conference calls, I remember that what Uplift provides is beautifully simple: connection. 

Adrian Herder (2015 Organizer) kindles the fire at the inaugural Uplift gathering in Flagstaff, in April 2015. Photo: Claire Martini.

Adrian Herder (2015 Organizer) kindles the fire at the inaugural Uplift gathering in Flagstaff, in April 2015. Photo: Claire Martini.

Connection is the thread that runs through each story, as I reflect on the past couple years I’ve been organizing Uplift.
 
I recall the overwhelming feeling of community at the end of the Uplift planning retreat (in November 2015). We gathered in a circle with the vastness of the House Rock Valley surrounding us. Claire Martini shared a phrase that shot through her mind with each step during her morning run: “change artists.” We performed a unity clap. We howled. We cried. And we laughed, especially as a few of us ended the retreat shotgunning punctured beers I had accidently dropped on the gravel road. 

I think of time spent in the red rock. I remember when I roamed naked through the Robbers Roost one fall, letting coyote footprints guide my way. It was October 31st, so as I lay in the shallow red pools, I soaked in each ray of sun knowing soon snow may fall. 

The drought outside matched the emotional drought within.
The author. Photo: Brian Cade.

The author. Photo: Brian Cade.

I meditate back to the beginning of my Uplift journey in 2014, to when I reconnected with myself. I focus on the time I and four other Uplift organizers told stories with Terry Tempest Williams. When Terry joined the group, she spoke of Great Salt Lake’s low level. As tears streamed down her face, we understood the drought outside matched the emotional drought within.  

Five months prior, I had separated from my partner of seven years. In the grieving,loss, and betrayal, I had shut down my capacity for vulnerability. I was in an emotional drought. But the act of honest storytelling shatters all barriers to vulnerability. Through this shattering we reconnect.  

With Terry and my fellow Uplifters, I told a story of a solo night spent in the shadow of Pikes Peak. As I lay awake under golden aspen leaves and a speckled sky, the word “forgiveness” kept resurfacing. Aspens, with complex and interconnected root systems, define connection. Just like a supportive community, aspens inspire forgiveness.  Terry called my story “The Forgiveness of Aspen.” 

At the 2016 Uplift Climate Conference, we hope people will find connection—whether that’s through time spent in the forests of the San Juan Mountains, action planning with our growing community, or reflecting on your story of self. Our conference is outside, because we believe in connecting to the places we must protect. We’ll spend the last day in regional action planning groups: We hope Uplift inspires a sustained climate action community that goes far beyond three days in August.

We engage in storytelling, art, and music, because we believe creative vulnerability is the truest pathway to reconnecting with ourselves. 


The act of reconnecting reminds me of a day I spent observing the Jordan River flow past.  The orange sky filled the peripheral vision of my left eye. I shifted my perception from observing nature, to nature observing me. I felt compelled to look down. I looked at my feet, where my body made contact with the ground, to the fallen leaves and drying grass on the riverbank. I found myself asking, “Does it hurt?” I felt silly, recognizing the anthropomorphism. But then I thought, maybe it isn’t silly after all. By asking, “Does it hurt?” we make space for compassion.

By asking, “Does it hurt?” we make space for compassion.
A dam on the Jordan River in the Jordan River Narrows, Salt Lake County, Utah (circa 1901). Photo: Unites States Geological Survey.

A dam on the Jordan River in the Jordan River Narrows, Salt Lake County, Utah (circa 1901). Photo: Unites States Geological Survey.

Community helps us to process the overwhelming injustices and pain we witness everyday—from those in our own communities to the constant images flashing across our screens. Rather than resorting to numbness, we can embrace vulnerability. 

I feel most alive when I reconnect—whether that’s time spent observing nature observing you, or finding communities that dig deep.  

What connects us across the Colorado Plateau? From the aspen groves of the La Sal Mountains to the ponderosa forests of the Kaibab Plateau; from the rush of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon to the headwaters in Colorado’s high country; from the arrogance of Glen Canyon Dam to the spilling mines of Silverton and the toxic power of the Four Corners Power Plant. We are a community connected through our shared love and abuse of the Colorado River and the lands that depend on its life. 

I can’t wait to uncover what other connections exist. Maybe we’ll even find some aspen.