Aspect

“Like wildflowers, you must allow yourself to grow in all the places people thought you never would.”    –  Unknown

Living in northern Alaska,  I was acutely aware of my place on the planet. The brilliant, stark, icy, white tundra juxtaposed to the warm, saturated, vivid, technicolor sky was an awe-inspiring landscape of infinite beauty.  Equally as breathtaking was its unremitting harshness – the unforgiving, frigid cold, the months of silent, sustained darkness, the ferocious winds off the frozen sea.  In both tranquility and turbulence, the vast tundra laid bare its unique aspect.  

There are many factors that affect plant growth and development.  Along with temperature, humidity, nutrients, and soil, light is one of the key climatic conditions that determines where a plant may have its best opportunity for growth. Some plant varieties require full-sun exposure for maximum growth and development, others require shade, or partial shade.  Climatic conditions influence the distribution of plant species in different habitats. In the tundra biome, sunlight, temperature, and soil are key factors that limit plant growth.  Depending on the landscape, topographic factors such as elevation, slope, and aspect can also influence plant growth and development and determine the presence and distribution of key plant species and communities in these habitats.  Elevation is the height or depth from a reference point. Slope refers to steepness, and aspect is the orientation, or compass direction that a slope faces.  The simple term for aspect is exposure. In the Northern Hemisphere, a slope that is south-facing orients more directly towards the sun, receiving increased intensity and duration of solar rays.  Solar exposure drives factors like soil moisture and temperature.  South-facing slopes are often drier and warmer than north-facing slopes. The opposite is true in the Southern Hemisphere.  In a deciduous forest, seasonal changes in the tree canopy cover affects the understory evergreen species as they shift dramatically from a low light, low moisture, high temperature environment in the summer months to a high light, low temperature environment in the winter months. The dynamic exposure to light and other elements has created varied and unique microclimates in which particular species thrive, establishing distinct communities of understory evergreens on north-facing and south-facing slopes. As humans, it is our aspect, our position or perspective, that reveals both our beauty and vulnerability and may be the catalyst or hindrance to our growth.

Unlike plants which are stationary in their display, we are able to shift our aspect to what we wish others to see. We limit our exposure for a variety of reasons. Perhaps previous experience has left us feeling fragile, scared, or uncertain. Withdrawn and hidden, our unwillingness to expose our vulnerability perpetuates feelings of shame, unworthiness, and insignificance.  We feel deeply disconnected and lonely. What if we could lean into our vulnerability and feelings of uncertainty, fully exposing ourselves like evergreens growing in the understory on the steepest mountainside or cacti in the hottest desert?  We can stand beautifully exposed, courageous and grateful, in the unpredictable, and acclimatize our thoughts from the shade of seclusion to the bright light of opportunity and growth. As we persistently alter our aspect and lay ourselves bare we become more easily accepting of the authentic self we grow into through our own forgiveness, kindness, and compassion. We cultivate a deep sense of worth rooted in self-love that prepares us to connect more passionately and authentically with others.

Published by Sarah Croscutt

I am the owner and facilitator of From the Outside, LLC, a program that connects people to the natural world, themselves, and each other through plant and nature-based activity, promoting self-awareness, healing, wholeness, and community. In addition, I am an environmental writer with essays included in several anthologies published by Plants and Poetry Journal and Wild Roof Journal (online). I would love to connect here or on Instagram @sarahc_outside.

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