Edmond Oklahoma, July 2016
I loved that enormous old cottonwood upon first meeting it; the way its leaves shimmered like golden glitter in the sunny breeze, the birdsong from within its embrace each morning, and I relished being sheltered beneath its outstretched limbs.
I ran my palms over the rough bark one final time and thanked it for its strong presence through the few short seasons I had shared with it, then walked away.
Read background about that here: An Aged Companion
Centennial Colorado, August 2016
All our worldly belongings were delivered to our address in a new state, and I continued the task of sorting and organizing items into our down-sized house for several weeks. The sound of an unusually heavy engine passing by pulled my attention from the unpacking and drew me outside to my front porch. Viewing a construction crane on the street, I remembered a neighbor providing us “warning” that we should be prepared for some noise and activity on this day. The morning was warming in the early sunlight and a small group of neighbors, old and young, had gathered. Welcoming the diversion from my household chore, I joined them to observe the event.
The crane and accompanying crew, equipped with hardhats, climbing tackle, ropes, steel cables and chainsaws prepared for the task of taking down a large tree in the neighbor’s yard. Seeing the fluttering heart-shaped leaves, I recognized the tree was a cottonwood, large enough to be about forty years old. The crane hummed to action, lifting one of the crew on the cables into the top branches of the tree, where he found footing and began his careful assessment for placement of the steel cables around a main limb.
I swear I felt that old cottonwood shudder and sigh, its emerald leaves trembling, as if its heart was worn out there upon each small branch, exposed and vulnerable. The height and breadth of the tree revealed its longevity and proof of resilience; only deep roots could have found the meager water and mineral sustenance for such a large tree in the often harsh existence in the high desert. I overheard comments from observers that there would be no more fighting the cottony fluff the old tree snowed down into the neighborhood each June, and I smiled at the thought of such a prolific effort toward the future. There was a huge black scar in the tree’s substantial trunk, where a devastating lightning strike failed to fell the tree in its youth, but left a hollow area, causing weakness which persisted and ultimately determined its fate. The old tree, crippled by that scar, now wavered to the point that it leaned to one side and winds from a storm might bring the tree down harming someone or something. I knew the task was necessary, but sadness swelled and my heart ached over the tree’s demise.
The climber selected the first branch, one that had matured beyond two feet in diameter, and secured the steel cable around it. His chainsaw roared to life and severed the branch from the trunk, and the crane lifted the branch, pivoted and placed it onto the street, where more workers with chainsaws reduced it to firewood. I noticed that even that branch, while hanging over the street, was as large as some of the mature trees in nearby yards. One by one, branches were sawn free, lifted and placed aside with deliberate care to prevent an accident or other damage….but in my thoughts, the care was to honor the tenacious spirit of that old cottonwood.
The removal was surprisingly swift. What took forty or more years to grow to such stature, was dismembered in two hours. Soon the bare trunk was all that remained, and with a final deadly cut, the tree was separated from its roots a foot above the soil, and laid to rest near the branches in the street.It seemed to me that watching the chainsaws cut up the branches somehow diminished that grand old tree’s spirit, so I quietly said my goodbyes to neighbors and returned to my house.
Back inside, I surveyed a maze of boxes. They held the contents dismantled from years spent in the home and life we had grown in our previous community, those things I now unpacked with deliberate care. There will always be a hollow place that was once filled with that beloved community we left behind. But what remains within us is their love and friendship, strengthening us as we venture forward in this new place; a place where the sun shines with life-sustaining warmth after the storms, and where roots can reach deep with time.
In the backyard, an eighty foot blue spruce reaches upward toward the heavens. Hidden behind it is a rocky depression in the soil. There, I have discovered several small volunteer cottonwood seedlings.