Friday, August 19, 2011

A Single Cottonwood

The strange weather patterns brought little rain to Spirit Creek in this hot and terrible summer. Advancing storms disappointingly split at the west edge of the county to rain north and south of here, grudgingly spilling only a trace of rain on my home. Several times I left the dry and dusty front yard to find pouring rain within one or two miles. The weather radar showing an advance of angry green, red and yellow activity verified this unlikely omission as the storms surged around my valley, one after another.

Nothing in my pasture grew tall this summer. The big bluestem only made it to twenty four inches or so. I can see Ginger the horse wherever she is in the pasture - normally not possible this time of the year. The sunflowers grew enormous leaves and thick stalks but are stunted from lack of rain and the punishing heat. But the prairie is not suffering in this lack of moisture. She merely grows deeper roots when it does not rain.

The immigrant trees are dusty and wilted but the cottonwoods welcome the adversity. Waxy leaves and thick bark protect them from the searing heat, their roots deep into moisture beneath the sod. Cottonwood leaves rattle together in the wind to make the sound of running water. When I dream of the prairies that once were, when the noise of men was occasional and insignificant, I walk for miles toward the sound of water, finding the grace of a solitary cottonwood and shade.

Not many lone cottonwoods rising above untouched soil now. They leave the prairie, crowded out by newcomers and plowed ground and herbicides measured in tons dumped from airplanes. They are hybridized for the city because their cotton seeds clog air conditioners. Their wood is not desirable nor their shade. They go because men no longer care to hear their call of running water.

There is not a cottonwood tree growing at Spirit Creek. It was farmed land. There was a natural spring in Ginger's pasture until it was destroyed by human beings, too. I hold a tiny hope that because I planted the prairie again, prayed for it, rejoice in the beauty of its return, because I take nothing for myself from this wounded soil, perhaps the prairie will place a wild cottonwood where the spring once ran. A human heart would listen again for the song of running water in the wind. It is a small hope.

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