Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall

Perhaps you have noticed that even
in the very lightest breeze,
you can hear the voice of the cottonwood tree.
--Black Elk

The big old cottonwood tree has had a supporting role in many a photo on the County Line.
As we've taken cattle in and out of the pasture we call "Palmer's," it has stood as a sentinel to our comings and goings just beyond the southwest gate. Its stance at the bottom of a cottonwood-tree-lined hill made it the focal point for photos as Randy would go back to close the gate and I'd step out of the pickup to document its fall or summer "outfit."
But a mighty wind felled the mighty cottonwood Friday night.
The weather ticker at the bottom of the TV screen Friday night said there were 58 mph winds at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. That gave a definition to the howling I could hear outside my living room windows. I'm always a little concerned when the wind screams ferociously. Our house is nestled among many old trees. Someday, I envision one of them crashing into the roof. This time, our homestead trees survived. But one of my favorite cottonwoods did not.
The cottonwood stood just across the dirt road from this Quivira National Wildlife Refuge sign, "Headquarters, Visitors Center, 1 mile." (You can see the old cottonwood's leaves in the upper righthand corner of this photo from 2010.)

But it will no longer stand at attention as visitors drive to the refuge or as we make trips to the pasture. Look closely at the photo below and you'll see Randy in the center.
 That gives a better gauge of the massive size of the old cottonwood tree.
The tree snapped apart and completely blocked the road.
Randy didn't think our loader tractor could do the job of moving the massive trunk, so he called the township board. They already had it taken care of by Sunday evening.
We can't believe it didn't squash the fence when it crashed to the ground.
You can see how massive it is. Randy is in the lower right of this photo, hidden among the leaves.
More cottonwood trees line the road to the east. They survived this round of storms. As I stepped through the fallen branches, I realized that the cottonwood leaves that I'd used to frame many photos on the lefthand side were now framing the righthand side of the shot. .

Here the old cottonwood was decked out in its fall finery during one of our trips to take cattle to the pasture.
I have a lifetime love of cottonwoods. At my childhood home, an old cottonwood stands near the south driveway. The cottonwood tree has been one of the first things visitors see as they approach the farmstead and one of the last things you see silhouetted by a sunset sky at night.

Mighty cottonwoods form a canopy down many a country road in rural Kansas. Early Kansas settlers found the native trees as they arrived from the eastern U.S. When the Kansas Legislature chose the cottonwood (Populus deltoides) are the state tree in 1937, the proclamation read:
"Whereas, if the full truth were known, it might honestly be said that the successful growth of the cottonwood grove on the homestead was often the determining factor in the decision of the homesteader to 'stick it out until he could prove up on his claim'; and Whereas, The cottonwood tree can rightfully be called 'the pioneer tree of Kansas.' "
They are like the old family patriarch - tall, stately, but maybe a little rough around the edges after years of standing through the changing seasons. Just like the road to the Palmer pasture, many a country road is lined with these big old trees, which seem to wave a friendly greeting in the Kansas breeze. On early morning or late evening trips to check cattle, the cottonwood's leaves rustle and birds serenade from their branches. Their attire changes with the seasons - whether clothed in green for summer or in yellow finery for fall or stark and drab in winter's solemnity.

In 2011, the Kansas Cattle Drive herded longhorns down the road and past the cottonwood as they traveled to Quivira for an overnight stay.
The old cottonwood had towered over the longhorns and the riders as they traversed the dusty road.
You know that old saying, "The bigger they are, the harder they fall."  Yes, and the bigger they are, the harder to watch them fall, too.

Goodbye, old friend. It's been good to know you.


  1. Sorry to see it go! That was a beautiful tree!

    1. It was. I hate seeing the old trees die.

  2. Wonderful and sad story Kim. I wish I could write like you do. the words are in my head but all that comes out are a couple of words and I am done. We all love our "family" trees. You surely are going to miss this one. a real focal point to an image or story. We had a huge Locust fall in our pasture and we missed it too. But that was years ago.
    Remember the show Northern Exposure? We my girlfriend raised cows in a small town east of us (Sultan Wa)She had a huge tree out in the pasture called a Monument tree and the producers of the show approached her and wanted to use the tree in the show periodically--She said OK. But before they could use it a second time one night lightning split it apart. The people were upset---so it goes.

    1. Thanks, Mary Beth! We had wind (and rain) again today. I hope there aren't more casualties!

  3. It is so difficult to see a fallen giant after all the storms that have lived through. It would be especially so with this one.
    Walking in rainforest on Wednesday, we saw one or two new up ended falls. As always, we were surprised at how shallow their root mass was. Wide but not deep. How had they held on for so long?

    1. I'm guessing that the roots on our tree are probably fairly substantial. But the years and/or disease probably weakened the interior of the tree itself. I suppose that trees, like us, can only grow so old. Still, it's hard to see some of our favorites succumb.

  4. The cottonwood was such a big old tree that the longhorns seem dwarft by it. It is sad to see such landmarks as this one fall. I bet you are glad that you have documented it so beautifully over the years.

    1. Yes, I'll miss it. It was just "there," so I may have taken it for granted - at least a little. But I really do try to appreciate the beauty around me, as do you! We are fortunate in that way, I think.