I just returned from a 4000 mile tour of Utah, Wyoming, and South Dakota on my motorcycle. Our small group of riders visited the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Badlands, Big Horn, Yellowstone, the Tetons, the Rockies and countless national forests and state parks. It was in Custer State Park that I came across a cluster of Aspens, which, from a moving motorcycle, are difficult to discern from the Birches that are naturalized there.
The Aspen cluster stood clumped together as they were surrounded by Pines. It was just one of those moments when a metaphor strikes, and what stood out to me were some of the parallels in this current forest compared with the story of Custer and his famous “Last Stand.” It inspired the following poem, “The Stand.”
In a clearing of outcroppings-granite, I’m sure
one happens upon a grouping of trees
clustered together for reasons unseen,
mustered to weather the elements’ fury.
Aspens they are-their quaking betrays
their poise and their glimmer, so huddled they stand,
flustered, perhaps, by events now at hand,
like Custer’s battalion in war’s final fray.
Their white trunks a contrast to Pines on their flank-
cinnamon tones on their noon day bark:
a majestic mix in this national park,
but the species appear to muscle for rank.
Surrounded they are by these Pines in convergence,
outnumbered by trees so inclined to defend;
both Aspens and Pines too rash to pretend
that majesty offers them both a defense.
The standoff continues now as before
when Custer’s small band encroached on the Sioux
with visions of grandeur perhaps in his view-
whose bravado was spun to heroic lore.
Which tree belongs in this paradise found?
Is it the upstart or the established life?
One from the lowlands, one from the high,
will they now revere this middle ground?
There is such a place where these trees don’t resist.
I’ve seen it first-hand, it is beauty unmatched.
What will they stand for in this forested patch?
It appears they are choosing to coexist.
© 2011 Brandon Scott Elrod