Category Archives: Around the Ranch

The Cottonwoods

Barn & Cottonwood

See that big Cottonwood tree on the left? I planted that tree. When I did so, it was a little twig no longer than my arm. Now, about 25 or 30 years later, it stands about sixty feet tall, as you can see in reference to the barn.

Everyone should plant a tree. Somewhere, sometime, whether on your own piece of land or in a park or wild forest. The thrill of climbing a tree you planted!

Originally, there were 7 or eight. Forming a line along the north edge of our property. Two did not make it past the critical “wonder years” for trees, and died off rather young. In their places we tried a little maple one of the kids brought home from school, and in another spot some blueberry bushes given to us by neighbor friends. The little maple also failed to thrive (or was cut down in its “childhood” by a careless mower.) The blueberry bushes are doing fairly well. Who knew it took ten years for a blueberry bush to mature?

When I ordered the Cottonwoods from Gurney’s, I selected “Cottonless Cottonwoods”. The same as other Cottonwoods, but bred to be sterile, and not produce the cotton. If you’ve ever known or encountered a mature Cottonwood, say, in June, you would be amazed and bedazzled and maybe overwhelmed in a literal sense by the bushels and bushels of tiny floating seeds, each wafting about on their own cotton pillow.

I remember going to the Utica Zoo on Kerry’s class trip, Kindergarten or First grade. The zoo was great, but everywhere we went there were foot-deep piles of cotton dander drifting along the walkways, settling into corners. It was a mess, but a magical mess. I knew I didn’t want this all over my yard (and in the house). So “Cottonless” was for me.

One of them did not get the memo. Of all the trees I planted, this one, now big and strong and tall, with graceful sweeping branches that reach nearly to the ground, goes into molting season with all of its little Cottonwood friends. And, it just so happens, it would be the Cottonwood that is perched twenty feet from the only place in the yard where we can put a pool (level ground and not too far from a power outlet for the filter).

So every year we have a pool, I spend eight weeks skimming Cottonwood catkins and dander from the top and bottom of the pool. It will clog the filter basket in a single day. The Cotton blows all over the yard, and when you mow, the cotton invariably flies at your face, goes up your nose, chokes the air intake of the John Deere.

Chuy & the Cottonwoods

A few years ago, the power company came along and said they were putting in lines for the neighbor. My Cottonwood, “Number One”, the first I planted, was in the right-of-way, and had to be removed. Killed. Chopped down. Felled. It wasn’t exactly like losing a pet or an heirloom, but there was a little twinge when I first saw that broad stump at the corner of the yard, that patch of blue sky where yesterday there were thousands of dancing green leaves. Not just a tree, but my tree.

We went to Newport, Rhode Island one year, visiting family between Plymouth and Providence. We toured the “Mansions of Newport”, former denizens of the last century’s American Royalty. They’d hop on their launches on the docks of Manhattan, and motor up the coast to the boathouse at Newport. Check these out on line, or go visit if you can. They are truly remarkable, real mansions to equal those in Europe. Imported marble, dozens of rooms, huge verandas, views of the sea.

At one such mansion, in the side yard, I spotted a familiar-looking tree. It was indeed a Cottonwood, probably near a hundred years old by then. Its branches draped outward and downward, as if it were resting so peacefully, and the tips of the branches reached all the way to the ground. So curious, this tree, like my own, would spend all those years growing, growing, taller and taller, ultimately to reach back down to the Earth from which it grew.

It was at that moment that I fell hard for the lowly Cottonwood tree.

When the summer breeze wafts down the lee side of Victory Mountain, and comes to call at the Crescent Moon Farm, our Holiday House, tens of thousands of leaves rustle a little golf clap for the beautiful weather. When storms roll through, the trees wave their arms, swing low their branches, as if to protect me. After Hurricane Irene, bits of Cottonwood tree were scattered throughout the yard.

Irene at Engleville- flooded road and neighbors.The felled Cottonwood #1 lies at the base of the new power pole.

Hurricane Irene-Bits of my Cottonwoods

On a quiet morning, as the sun throws its light over the barn, the trees are filled with birds. This morning I listened to an Oriole call out. The trunks are dotted with the neat, even rows of drill holes from the Northern Flickers.

Our Cottonwoods provide lovely shade in the yard where there once was none (save the front dooryard under the massive Maples).

Number two sports a wild-growing climbing rose, now reaching up through its host to a height of twenty feet or more. The main cane has a diameter of about four inches. As big around as a coffee mug. From number four hangs a tire swing, going on nearly twenty years, probably. It has swung my children, their friends and their children.

And that old number three, the one with all the catkins?

She’s still going. And this year, it looks like, and I hope, that slow-growing, graceful sweeping drooping branch will reach its goal. It’s only inches away now, and we are kindred, as we ready ourselves for the time we will reach down to our Mother Earth, and touch her once again.

And to be welcomed in a way only a Mother can.

Take care and keep in touch.

Paz