The aspen sapling reached up from the mountainside, stretching its branches to the sun and rain. It grew and opened bright green leaves and replaced bark and lower, tender branches that fed the deer and elk and smaller creatures in the lean months. It was pruning so that it could rise above the shade of the other trees.
When the winds howled down the mountain, the young tree held firm to the rocky earth, its roots part of the long chain connecting it to the rest of the grove. They were a vast system spread wide and anchoring dozens of trees, young and old against the storms near the treeline. Heavy snows bent branches low at times, but the interlocking branches of the grove were as supporting as the roots. A few were lost, but in the long run this strengthened the tree and the entire aspen grove.
The grove thrived and sheltered many birds in their chattering leaves and swaying branches. Below the branches dropped might become part of the nests of birds or marmots or ground squirrels. The windbreak of the grove helped the rest of the forest survive, as well.
Above the trees the snow packed and iced. The rocks cracked in the cold winter and then the warmth of the sun. Spring came and the melt was like a river beneath the heavy white blanket. A wide stream of water trickled through the aspen grove and then became a torrent in the channel formed by years of seasons changing. All was well. The process followed its slow progress.
Then two unwise backcountry hikers passed over the shelf of snow. Out of bounds and unaware, each step tapped the treacherous ledge until in one colossal roar it slid down the mountainside, pushing giant rocks ahead and shearing off trees at the ground. The slide cleaned a mile long path more than a quarter of a mile wide and buried the hikers amid the splintered aspen.
The sun rose and warmed the bare earth. Light snow fell and then rain. Some of the earth was washed away because the bracing trees and shrubs had been scoured from the hillside, but the roots of the aspen grove were there below the surface. Warmed by the sun and nourished by the snow and rain, again the shoots pushed up and reached for the sky.