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.

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