Who would have thought all those years ago when I was a tiny bit of fluff wrapped up tight in a green pea-sized form dangling in a earring like chain off my momma tree that I would grow up to be the biggest old cottonwood tree in western Kansas.
I will never forget that warm May day when the temperature, humidity, and timing were just right to create an explosion, kind of like a nuclear explosion I suspect. Anyway, all those other little cottonwood seeds and found ourselves airborne, floating on whatever breeze came by to tumble us along. Back then, there weren’t any houses anywhere around, let alone any window screen or airconditioner filters for us to block. We might have seen a tipi or two or three around, but that didn’t create any problem. The little Indian children would have had fun playing games with us, running underneath us and trying to blow hard enough to keep us in the air. It was fun in a fashion.
By evening, the breezes settled down and they are wont to do, and the Indian children went home to their mommas who stirred nice smelling pots of stew and what not. The day had worn us out, so when the wind let up, a bunch of us settled down into the moist sand along the creek bank. Whooey, did that feel good.
I must have landed just right with my seed end down and my fluff side up. As night wore on, I felt my little seed end kind of taking on moisture and puffing itself up as seed are likely to do when they have enough moisture. By morning, I could feel things changing a bit. Little hairy, cilia like growth had sprouted off my seed end so I could root myself solidly into the creek bank. I know my momma had exactly the same experience. She’d sigh sometimes in the wind, remembering those days when she’d been a little fluff ball floating on the breeze. “Once you’re rooted, you’re rooted.” she’d say, “so enjoy your freedom while you can.”
Mine was pretty short lived, but once those little hairs grabbed hold of the soil and started sucking up every drop of moisture, I felt so good, I didn’t want to go anywhere else. Heck, I was in the bend of a creek that hardly ever went dry, I didn’t have too many other trees around to keep the sun off me, and I hadn’t seen any critters passing by that had a fondness for teensy, weensy cottonwood sprouts. We have a high sugar content, you know, and some of those four leggeds look at us like we’re critter candy.
I noticed some of my fellow seedling got swept away by the morning breeze. It didn’t bother me none. I kind of enjoy spending time with myself. As the summer went on, I could feel myself growing. Every morning, I could hardly wait for daylight just to get a good look see at how far my top was from the sandy creek edge. I must have been chlorophyll cranking machine, for I noticed new leaves unfurling every day. The more of them I had, the more I could make. I wanted to shout to all those other trees nearby, “Just you wait. Someday, I’ll be the biggest tree around.”
Years went by. I didn’t see any more tipis and those darn buffalo quit coming by to rub their coarse hair off on my thick, corky bark. They were particularly fond of cottonwood bark for their rubbing just because it has so much texture to it. They could get a real good scratching in no time. While things I used to see disappeared, I heard the whistle of that iron horse thing going by several times a day. It stopped not too far down the creek to reel out some kind of long device that slurped water out of the creek. I could nearly feel the ripples up my way.
Not too far east, a whole bunch of my kinfolk took root and created a shady grove where the two legged came to frolic. I think I heard ‘em say one time, they were picnicking. Every now and then one of their young ones would climb one of my relation and get stuck up top. Those two legged younguns could squall like nobody’s business. I don’t think I ever heard a coyote or a wolf pup make more noise.
On occasion I’d feel the scratchy wool of a blue uniform coat leaning against me as its bearer snored like an old bear. These soldier boys had a fort up the creek a piece, and some of them would wander my way to toss in their fishing line and spend some time thinking about folks back home. I’d hear them talking to themselves or to each other about whatever possessed them to leave home and come out here where there wasn’t hardly a tree to be found. I suppose that’s why they were so careful around me since I reminded them of their homes and their loved ones.
At the same time, I was provided homes to a host of flying critters of the bird and bug types. I had robins and blue jays and orioles and owls nesting in my branches. Skittish little squirrels stored their nuts in the soft ground under my branches while the squirrels took up residences in my upper stories.
The seasons passed time and again, and finally I noticed someone building a farmstead not too far away. Their younguns would come play in my shade to while away the day. I was glad I was as big as I was by then for they brought some interesting four leggeds with them. They looked a bit like my old buffalo buddies, but their coats smooth and shiny, and heaven forbid, some of them had spots. These critters also like rubbing up against me, but by then I was big enough to handle problems like that.
My bark was good and thick, corky and very good protection from attacks by insects, animals, and worst of all fire. Every now and then terrible storms blew in, whipping my poor branches all about. I felt like I was being torn limb from limb, no pun intended. These storms could brew up some fierce lightning. Huge yellow jags ripped from sky to ground, tearing the air and causing a crashing and booming like you have never heard. Once one got a mite too close and singed me. I’ve worn the scar down my trunk like a badge of honor ever since. I’ve seen what that stuff can do to lesser trees. It will downright annihilate a smaller tree.
Lightning isn’t the only trouble I have faced. On occasion the sky opens up and the rain pours down until the creek, which is normally a placid little thing, rises up and rages over its banks. Man, I have taken a bruising in those storms. Every tree upstream that gets uprooted floats my way and bashes and bruises into me until it either races on by or gets dumped in a pile at my roots.
These days, I am just a big old tree. I am not a pretty as I used to be. Bugs and winds have torn away a few of my branches, and that darn lightning scar keeps widening like a stretch mark on a pregnant lady. One of these days I think it will be wider than I am. But a few folks who know about come by to check up on me and make sure that things are okay. One crazy lady brings a measuring tape every couple of years to see how I am growing. I wonder what she’d think if I was to take up measuring her. I did get even once when she brought her mother along. I took a nick out of the older gals scalp that required six stitches. I’ll bet she’ll be more respectful next time she comes to see me.
Anyway, life is good. I still have plenty to eat and drink. I shade the littler trees, and now its my branches each year that are adorned with those dangling, green pearls that let loose a shotgun blast of seeds to find their own way up or down the creek bed. If one of them is lucky, it will take root as I did and grow into a dandy old tree.