Sunday, July 28, 2013

Those Old Cottonwoods

There must be an east/west fault line on our place where the water table is higher than usual. How else to explain the presence and vitality of a line of six cottonwood trees north of the granery. The three featured in this article and shown in the photo were tall, healthy trees in 1972 when we moved in. Forty years have passed since then I’m guessing these trees are at least seventy years old, perhaps older, for a woman who lived here as a child in the 1940s, a daughter of August Gross, remembers watching lightning strike near the trees. There is an irrigation ditch that runs along the eastern edge of our property which may provide seasonal water to the roots of the tree closest to the ditch but the other two have also thrived despite years of neglect. I can’t explain that.

The plains cottonwood species is native to Colorado, often seen growing along creeks and ditches out on the plains. The trees usually live to about eighty years of age before succumbing to fire, high winds, or interior rot. The leaves quake with the slightest breeze and the sound of wind blowing through the branches in summer lulls one’s senses like waves on a beach. In early summer the female trees release millions of small brown seeds aloft on fluffy white, cottony parachutes. That cotton sticks to everything and makes our yard look like it’s been TP’d by teenagers. For that reason some Colorado cities insist only hybrid, seedless cottonwoods be planted in town.

I’ve never named these three cottonwoods but think of them as the old cottonwoods. They have become more beautiful with age for their trunks have such character as the bark thickens and crevices open, then widen in uneven furrows.

Our old cottonwoods have always been popular with crows and squirrels and they now support a swing for the grandkids and provide shade for summer parties. But we know better than to camp beneath them when the wind blows for those heavy branches sometimes let go with no warning and crash to the ground below. I hope they live past their average lifespan of eighty years for that is approaching soon just as I am fast approaching mine.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Our Best Friend, Bill


Bill West has been friends with Bob Russell since the fifth grade when the Russells moved to the Wellington area. That was 1953. Only a few months apart in age, they attended school together, joined the Boy Scouts, and became teenagers interested in cars, girls, and airplanes, not necessarily in that order.
When I came on the scene in 1971 Bill was married to Carol and they had two sons and owned their own home. Bob was married too but I was soon to become wife number two. When we married in January of 1972 Bill and Carol stood up for us at our wedding and hosted a party for us in their home that evening. Their boys became friends with my son, Patrick, and over the next forty years we have shared many experiences together as families.
Just this week Bill spent a few days in the hospital trying to get his erratic heart beat back in sync and it caught me by surprise, reminded me that I take Bill and his friendship with us for granted. I don’t want to do that any more, not with Bill or any of the people I love.
I feel lucky to be accepted by both Bill and Bob as their friend, someone privy to the conversations they often have ranging from astronomy and archaeology, to ham radio and bird migrations. I love the way their intellectual curiosity leads them to study science  and mathematics when a lot of guys are content with TV and beer. Watching them launch off on a new field of study is like watching a couple of Boy Scouts with their first telescope.
So Bill, if you read this, please know this is not written because I think you are on your last legs. Quite the contrary - you have taken very good care of yourself, golf several times a week, probably weigh the same you did in high school, and Lord knows your mind is sharp and your wit keen. I look forward to many more years of life, laughter, and good times with you. No, I’m writing this because I’ve never told you how grateful I am to you for your wonderful friendship. It is a rare gift. Thank you. You’ve done a lot of things really well in your life but none better than being our Best Friend.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Our Trees Are Like Old Friends

Our Trees Are Like Old Friends

In 1972 when we bought our place here in the country the house had not been lived in for many years and those who lived in it last, seasonal Mexican migrant workers, probably did not water the grass or the trees. In fact, there were only seven trees on the three-acre parcel, four fruit trees on the south end and three cottonwoods behind the granery. The first photo shows just how dry and barren the place was when we decided to remodel the house and move in.
Over the next forty years we planted trees, lots of trees, and that was the easy part. Keeping them alive in this arid climate was the hard part and we lost some real beauties, but to date there are over sixty mature trees and many more young saplings on our place. Most of them have a story. Recently as I walked among them with our son and daughter-in-law I talked about where each came from, when it was planted, and what it means to me. They suggested I write it all down, for who will remember if I don't?

I used a map that Bob had drawn years ago to plot the buildings on our acreage; I added the trees. Eventually I'll number all sixty of the mature trees on the map but if I wait until that is done to write my story it will never get done. The first tree I'll tell about is just south and west of the dome - I labeled it with a blue number 1.

Tree number one is a honey locust that I call the Kingsey tree, named after our local weatherman Jim Wirshborn, nicknamed Kingsey. Back in about 1979 or 1980 we were visiting Kingsey at his home in Fort Collins when I spotted some long brown seed pods on the ground by his driveway. I brought them home and started the seeds in pots. One survived my transplanting and grew to be a big beautiful honey locust tree. It is one of the few trees I've grown from seed and that's a big part of why it is so special to me. It shades the yard, overhanging the sidewalk and provides a lovely welcome to those who enter the front gate. In fall the small leaves turn golden and when they fall to the ground they stay there and become a part of the soil, no raking necessary.

I didn't know when I planted the seed that honey locust trees are recommended for our area. They are drought tolerant and not fussy about soil conditions. There are varieties which do not produce thorns but ours is not one of those, unfortunately. That is the only feature of this tree that is "thorny."