Aspens are wonderful trees. They offer qualities which instruct us to look beyond beauty. Aspens illustrate an effective community.

Rarely is their just one Aspen tree. By their nature, Aspens are not a solitary tree. Their roots spread below the earth’s surface and spring to life others to form a group. Aspens grow as a community; they are interconnected by their roots and share nutrients and resources to support each other.

Underneath, they are survivors. An Aspen’s roots can remain dormant for years. At the right time, they jump to life and re-generate as a community. Aspens have strength and durability, unseen by many.

Beyond their support for each other, they serve others. Animals gain nourishment in the winter months from an Aspen’s trunk while pains can be soothed through their medicinal, aspirin-like value. Even people can gain protection from the sun or relieve a burn by rubbing an Aspen’s bark on their skin. Aspen trees provide a calming beauty while healing cuts and pains and restoring others outside their bonded community.

Too many times, we live in our communities as an individual or as a self-contained family. Connections through Facebook and LinkedIn easily multiple, but the deep-rooted links within a face-to-face community are often absent. Our communities tend to be more solitary or thin surfaced.

How much do we know about the neighbor a few doors down? How do we support each other within our neighborhood block?

It is always amazing to me how superficial we are with our community relationships and, by superficial, I mean the relationship is more “acknowledged” based versus knowing something a little deeper about them – their occupation, their family members, their joys, their concerns… This is not meant to be a Mrs. Kravitz-type relationship, but an Aspen-based – supportive and connected – type relationship.

Another import element to our community needs to be outreach, helping others who may have hit hard by the current economic waves or weather-driven disasters or just need an attentive ear to listen and comfort. Offering a helping hand to other communities is critical in thinking outside our immediate walls and engaging in a larger network of people.

The beauty in this type of human community will outshine what a grove of Aspens can ever produce. Deeper, supportive relationships within our neighborhoods will enable us to lead richer lives and extend our reach more easily to others a mile down the road or in the next state or country. The common thread will be a well-grounded root system which connects and supports us. In other words, the strength of our immediate community will allow us to stretch our helping hand further out.

The decisions we make in how we connect with our community will drive how our society continues to develop. Will we be more insular or more outreaching? Will we be more self-centered or people-centered? Will we be a better society?

The next time you see a neighbor, stop, talk, and listen. Go beyond the surface questions. Ask them what is going on in their job, their family, their life. Make a connection. Develop the roots.

Just as an Aspen community of trees can regenerate themselves after being dormant for many years, the roots of our community need to rejuvenate and connect again.