I lived the first seven years of my life in Greensburg, Indiana, where the great majority of my family members live, provided I’m not counting ex-, step-, and ex-step-family. It’s a sweet little place, although they did just put in a Honda plant so it’s rapidly growing up. It’s the very picture of small-town rust/grain belt, where almost everyone—myself included—is at least related to someone who owns a farm and many other people who work at a factory. It’s very pretty, and very sleepy, and it’s home to me in a weird way that’s actually a little uncomfortable whenever I go back. I have a strange relationship with nostalgia.
Greensburg’s claim to fame, and the genesis of its epithet “The Tree City”, is that one day, many years ago, a passing bird must have dropped some seeds on the courthouse tower, which happened to take root among the shingles. Several trees sprang up, and grew rather happily there. Many had to be removed, but a couple were left, and to this day there is always a tree growing from the top of the tower.
The tree is an aspen. The word “aspen” probably does not, to anyone except myself and about 10,000 conascents, evoke small-town Indiana. This particular species, Populus grandidentata, does occur in Indiana, but certainly doesn’t thrive here, and generally withers. This is not its climate. When it does appear here, it is normally well north of Greensburg.
By chance, a bird dropped a seed deep in small town southern Indiana, on a new courthouse. That seed, finding itself in an inhospitable climate and an almost impossible perch, put down roots anyway, and grew into something that simply shouldn’t be where it is. People come to stare at it, marveling a bit, and then they wander away, but the tree endures, and while it may be someplace it doesn’t belong that doesn’t make it any less an aspen tree.
On some level, I think I’ve always identified with that tree.