The tree is magnificent.
So immense it is, that all I can see of it through the plate glass window is the gnarled, scarred, weathered, gray bark of the lower trunk. At the place tree meets soil, the earth is convoluted in waves where deep roots have developed. If the height of a horse is measured in ‘hands’, we measured around the trunk of that old cottonwood in ‘arms’….four adults standing around the aged giant with arms outstretched toward one another could barely touch fingertips to fingertips.
When I step outside and walk below the tree gazing up through the branches, I see golden leaves shimmering in the autumn breeze, some tinged brown, preparing to let go, while others already crunch underfoot. A few limbs sway leafless, spent and lifeless for the past several seasons; they will be wrenched away to the ground when harsh storms blow in next spring. I make a mental note to contact an arborist, one who knows how best to attend to the health of such a living treasure.
I am drawn to this tree like moth to light. From the first moment I saw it and recognized its steadfast presence…it lured me as if offering loyal companionship.
I imagine its beginning…. a tiny fluff of cotton, floating across the Oklahoma prairie, landing among the tall grass and grazing bison. Perhaps it was one of those massive beasts who stepped upon the seed, driving it downward, pressing it into the mud. Rain and sun and time coaxed it to sapling.
This red land is not always a nurturing environment: unforgiving gusts can easily snap those that do not bend with resilience; torrential downpours cause flash floods, sweeping away all whose roots do not grasp tightly enough, then years of drought with unrelenting summer heat wither everything less than robust; bitter winter cold freezes those lacking hardiness; wildfires pushed forward on the fierce winds devour everything in its path for miles… leaving ashes all the way to the horizon.
Could it have been providence? Maybe it was luck….somehow that little sapling clung to the soil, a survivor through its early years. And still, more perils must have threatened its tender growth … whitetail deer, hungry following meager winter rations could have stripped limbs bare or stampeding buffalo might have trampled it, breaking it beyond recovery or insects may have found little resistance in the soft thin bark. Persisting, that young tree thrived and grew to provide rare prairie shade so that pioneers chose to rest beneath its cool green branches instead of hatchet them down for firewood. During my girlhood days, builders purchased and cleared acres of land north of a bustling city and wisely yielded to the tree, leaving it in place to shade the house where I now reside. In this land of possibility and risk, the generations-old cottonwood remains.
Everyone who has lived halfway into their fifth decade has experienced seasons of plenty and ones darkened by storms. I wonder sometimes, when considering my laugh lines in the mirror and my own scars and broken places…both the surface ones and hidden ones….how to remain faithful…how to maintain strength and courage if given more time, more seasons still ahead of me?
I ponder how this tree, once a mere wisp of a cottony seed drifting on the June breeze has endured …and a thought from scripture comes to mind: Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples and closest friends was known as ‘the Rock’, a solid, firm foundation on whom Jesus could depend for the times yet to unfold. In Galilee and the surrounding desert area, a rock would certainly be a symbol of permanent strength amidst shifting sands.
But here on the red dirt plains of Oklahoma, it is a magnificent old tree, stalwart and unshakable, that embraces the changing winds as it reaches heavenward toward the light….
…and stands strong and resilient, showing me the way.