Aspen Markings – #1

As an icon of Western landscapes, aspen trees are famous for their spectacular autumn colors.  However, part of their aesthetic appeal also lies in their equally characteristic white and black trunks.  Blemishes in the bark create unique markings that, so long as they are not so extensive that they harm the tree, give a distinctive character to each and every stem.

Aspen Scar

That white bark also provides an ever-so-tempting canvas for passers-by to leave their mark.  Carving your name and the date of your passing into an aspen tree is almost a required rite of passage for most Westerners.  Officially referred to as arborglyphs, few contributed more to making these carvings an art form than the Basque sheepherders that have tended flocks in the Western US since the 1850s.  Blue Valley Ranch has its own share of arborglyphs, which provide brief glimpses into the past… or at least who has been here in the past.

Arborglyph Ray

Sometimes a full name can be found, sometimes a brand or other identifying symbol, but a date of some kind is nearly ubiquitous.  This one records that Ray passed this way in 1953.

Arborglyph KS

Often, only initials will be documented, and sometimes more than one date.  This is an example of a recent glyph that is still healing.  Virtually anything sharp can be used to make the carvings, but making a clear carving will ensure that it remains legible for years to come.  It is said that few tools work better than a church-key… but we wouldn’t know.

Arborglyph Stylized

Some examples are more stylized than others.

Arborglyph Fading

Unfortunately, unlike petroglyphs, or rock carvings, arborglyphs are not forever.  As the tree dies, the carvings will eventually fade, rot-away, and disappear.  Documenting them with photos helps to preserve these small fragments of history, and it makes them easier to share.

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