Bigtooth Aspen: the Hospitali-tree

Bigtooth AspenI witnessed something new during hunting season this year. The tree stand I was hunting in one particular evening happened to be located in a stand of Bigtooth Aspen, also known as Large-toothed Poplar. A rather common tree on our land, Bigtooth Aspen is one tree that had me “wondering as I wander out under the sky”. It seemed to be a rather useless piece of creation. It holds no use as firewood or timber, it is insignificant as a wildlife food source, and its fall color is rather drab, unlike its “Quaker cousin”. Its bark is an entirely normal gray-brown. The wood is so soft and light that 8-ft. Aspen stumps: common sightthe life of a Bigtooth Aspen usually ends when the wind blows and the tree snaps in half, leaving a tall, ugly, ragged stump. Can it get any worse? The tree does provide some pollen to honeybees, but at the same time as countless other trees. To its merit, when you stand among its large trunks growing close together in the forest, they do give a wonderful sensation of being in a deeeep dark woodland. Other than that, what’s their use?

A hole in a Bigtooth AspenSo as I sat there on my stand, I began to notice holes in the trees around me. Some of them were natural holes made when branches had fallen out while others had been deliberately carved. Then it struck me that all of the holes were in the aspen trees. Not a single one was in the nearby Red Maples or Tulip Trees, although both are known for soft wood. That was interesting. As it grew dark, I watched a Flicker land on one of the trees, hop down, and disappear into one of the holes. A Pileated WoodpeckerSoon a Pileated Woodpecker noisily swooped in and landed on a larger Aspen. It hopped around to the opposite side and into a bigger cavity. When it was almost dark another flicker flew in, looked into the same hole as the first had entered, but did not go in. It hopped to another hole and looked in, but would not go in there either. It flew to another tree and looked around. Finally it went to the top of yet another tree, looked in a hole, hopped in, looked out a few times, and then disappeared from sight. Before I left the stand I watched a Gray Squirrel scamper up another Aspen tree and crawl into another hole. There were several holes at which I had seen no activity, and began to wonder what cozy critters might be inside.

A Gray Squirrel's hide-outI trudged back to the house with a new appreciation for the Bigtooth Aspen. I knew of four other little creatures who might also be grateful. It strikes me that the weakness of the tree is its value. The extreme lightness of the wood, making it of little value for other purposes, is the very thing that makes it able to receive and shelter the animals. Does this remind you of something? A rustic perspective on the manger sceneWasn’t it the big inns that were too full and busy to receive and shelter the baby Jesus, and the lowly stable that ended up welcoming the King of Kings? Wasn’t it the despised publican who was willing to repent of his sin and receive God’s mercy? “Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He hath promised to those that love Him?” If your heart is soft and you understand your weakness, you are The Hospitali-tree.exactly where you need to be to receive God’s greatest gift: “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world”. Now remember that the holes in the tree are not a comfortable thing for the tree. But they serve a higher purpose than the tree itself: higher forms of life. Neither is it a comfortable thing to “take up your cross” and follow Him. But our short, temporary lives were meant to serve a higher purpose, and “this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life”!


  1. Donald December 24, 2007 at 2:24 am #

    Captivating, Michael. Captivating. I was really refreshed with that reminder this Christmas Eve that “when we are weak then we are strong” because of the One who is allowed to reign within. Merry Christmas!

  2. Micaela December 24, 2007 at 4:35 am #

    Merry Christmas to the Staddon family!

  3. James December 27, 2007 at 8:37 am #

    Very powerful Michael. Excellent analogy. I think I remember you commenting on how useless the Bigtooth aspens were this summer. But I can’t believe you saw so many critters using the holes! Now that you mention it, I couldn’t say I hadn’t seen animals using the tree, but not all on the same day!

  4. Don and Donna Staddon January 6, 2008 at 6:55 pm #

    Thank you for the amazing analogy. “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made…” (Rom 1:20)

  5. Michael July 18, 2008 at 1:48 pm #

    Mery Christmas everyone! Every day is like Christmas for the Christian! 🙂 It’s 88 degrees outside right now, but Jesus is still ready to be born in any heart that will receive Him!

  6. Jim January 23, 2009 at 8:39 am #

    I thought I’d share a story of more uses for this tree.

    We had to take down a fairly large, dying bigtooth aspen this past spring. We found someone in town who took the wood, milled it, dried it, and made a beautiful 6’x3′ dining table for our family. Woodworking is pretty unheard of with this tree, but our table is sturdy and stunning. Additionally, we inoculated the stump and some logs with oyster mushroom spawn.

    Two days before thanksgiving, as we were moving into our new house and awaiting the arrival of our new table for our new, larger family (we merged two families), we found oyster mushrooms growing on some of the logs and the stump.

    For Thanksgiving, and our first big meal in our new house as a new family, we ate oyster mushrooms grown from the tree on the table made from the tree. It was a real welcoming home.

  7. Robert January 24, 2009 at 7:03 pm #

    I really enjoyed your story, Jim! What a special memory. 🙂

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