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Aspen: Blazon of the High Country by Ann Zwinger

Review by Jeanne Englert

Trees – May 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine

Aspen: Blazon of the High Country
Text by Ann Zwinger
Photographs by Barbara Sparks
Published in 1991 by Peregrine Smith Books
ISBN 0-87905-324-0

OKAY, so I’m a yellow-bellied sapsucker for a book named Aspen, my home town, named after the tree, and the text is written by Ann Zwinger, a well-respected nature writer whose Downcanyon book about her experience as a volunteer for the National Park Service to study the impacts of the Glen Canyon dam on the Grand Canyon riverine ecology I enjoyed.

So why am I so bored?

For one thing, Zwinger felt compelled to use every adjective in her lexicon, and I don’t mean the technical, biologic stuff about how the yellow-bellied sapsucker bores into the tree to make his nest, aspen tree reproduction, or that aspen tree bark photosynthesizes in winter. We expect to learn stuff like this in a nature book.

I mean: “On this beautifully bleak day as I stand, standing on rough rocky soil that glistens with moisture, I visualize a pear-shaped, sesame-sized seed finding a damp, protected microsite one suitable summer millennia ago.” Huh?

For the other thing–the photographs by Barbara Sparks. “Why there’s nothing in here but trees,” said my husband, thumbing through the book. Not that we have anything against trees, but most of the photos reproduced in this book are ones we amateur photographers would throw away, wondering, “Why did I take that picture?”

Tree trunks, San Juan Mountains; tree trunks, Sawtooth National Forest; tree trunks, White River National Forest; tree trunks, Mt. McLaughlin, Oregon; tree trunks, Ute Pass; tree trunks, Kebler Pass… Well, you get the picture.

Then there are the leaves. Aspen leaves at Fish Lake National Forest, Utah. Virtually identical picture of aspen leaves, La Sal Mountains, Utah. These photos could be taken anywhere.

Occasionally Sparks gives us a view, but what did the book editor do? Put virtually identical photos of the Sangre de Cristos, and the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona back to back, the latter having about a dozen token aspen in them, the former taken on what must have been the haziest day in Valley history.

There is a good one of Hoosier Pass, one of the few in this pricey book– $17.95–where you can figure out where you are. It would have made a nice postcard, which is about as much as I’d be willing to pay.

— Jeanne Englert