Celebrating the life of a cottonwood | ParkRecord.com

Celebrating the life of a cottonwood

Teri Orr, Park Record columnist

The cottonwood has to go. When the tree man walked my yard a few weeks ago, that was his verdict. It is very, very, very tall. Last year it grew eight feet – he could see the growth lines. But from the base to the top – maybe six stories high, or seven – the only growth had occurred in the top 30 feet. The rest of tree is dead. And should it fall, he pointed out, it could do substantial damage to my house. Or my neighbor’s, or …

Thirty plus years ago, when I moved into this little house, all the trees were no more than saplings. I am the second owner of the home. The first owner bought the tract house on the corner lot in the Park Meadows area when it was nothing more than flat, treeless land on the outskirts of town. I moved in about four years after that. And in three corners of the yard there were little branch-looking things stuck in the ground that could one day be trees. I paid them little attention.

I was busy as a single mom, most of those years, working two jobs to keep things afloat. The trees were on their own.

There was a pair of cottonwoods out back and we hung a hammock between them in the summers. It was in the back corner of the yard, farthest away from the street and the house. We all took turns sneaking away there. Just lying in the shade. Reading a book. Sometimes looking at the night sky.

The kids went to college and my son announced, after graduating and spending time in the work world, that he was ready to get married. But about a month before the wedding, my neighbor, who watches out for such things, said one cottonwood had died and really needed to come down before there was an accident.

I have those two events together in my mind: the wedding, and that tall tree with the fabulous fall foliage being cut to a raw stump. There was no longer a place to hang the hammock, so the next year, for Mother’s Day, my now-adult children bought me a free-standing hammock. Which was a lovely thought. I tried to adapt. But it was never the same.

The pine out front had shot up beyond recognition but it was healthy, even with the twice-split branches that grew apart as the tree grew up. The Japanese maple became substantial, providing shade and funny helicopter pods in the spring that fell from the tree and twisted in the air like little helicopters as they fell to the ground.

There was an ash in the side yard that seemed never to grow and then, one year, became a real tree overnight. Out front, the willow lasted until about nine years ago and died the same time a dear friend did. Another friend replaced that willow with a beautiful flowering crabapple. It was to match the tiny one in the backyard my adult kids had given me one year for Mother’s Day. It died. So I replaced it. Twice. I learned it would do better if there was another tree nearby, so I planted an apple tree. And for years I had tiny green apples.

Last year the Grands helped me pick out a giant lilac bush and a weeping crabapple tree to put on the side of the yard that was treeless. The trees struggled through the winter but now are producing blossoms.

The aspens just keep connecting and growing all over the yard. I remove some and encourage others. And yes, I know they are all connected as a single organism. And I do feel slightly guilty when I snip out those little tree tries that pop up in the lawn.

All in all, I am surprised how the trees have grown and flourished despite all my years of benign neglect. And when I drive through Park Meadows, the old part in the flatlands, I am surprised at all the shade trees that have matured from the saplings good-hearted folks took time to plant and nurture back in the late ’70s and early ’80s. And now I feel responsible for my trees in a way I never did before. For the past decade, I have had a tree man come out every two years and tell me who needs to sprayed and trimmed back and fed more and now sadly, taken down.

Being the steward of a tiny corner lot in a subdivision in the older part of new growth of the late ’70s in a nothing-special tract house, I feel responsible for the dozen or so trees in my yard. They have developed personalities, or maybe I have developed them for them. Regardless, we have hung in together here for three decades of remarkable changes in the town, the subdivision, and human lives that now number in the hundreds who have sat under those trees for a spell and expected shade, or a place to hang lights at the holidays and bird feeders year round.

The trees and I, we will mourn and celebrate the long life of the poplar tree who steadfastly reached so high for the sky. Year after complicated year. I’ll work on a proper passing-of-the-trunk ceremony to honor the tree. Maybe I’ll sit out on the old stump of the former companion tree and think about how we’ve all grown, matured and learned to appreciate the passing of the seasons as seen through the leafing and blooming and falling of the leaves. Maybe I’ll do that this very Sunday in the Park …

Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.


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