Stand near the river with your feet slightly apart. Push your toes down beyond the mud, below the water. Stretch your arms and head back deliberately, until straight lines no longer matter—until the sky from any angle is your desire. Let the skin go grey and split open. If you die a little somewhere the wind will carve the branches back into an alphabet someone will try to remember how to read. Stay this way half a century or more, turning leaves in the half-note tides of the air. Inside, with that blood so slow no one hears it, set buds for spring by each late October. November, December, dream what it means being owl…or star. ~Kathleen Cain, “What This Means, Being Cottonwood” from Times of Sorrow, Times of Grace
According to old Morton Lawrence, the original owner of this farm, this particular cottonwood was a special tree. He called it the “Balm of Gilead” tree for the sticky resin that exudes from its spring buds, which he liked to rub into his dry cracked hands. The scent is memorable, both sweet and green, and invokes the smell of spring ground awakening from a long winter.
The big tree stands apart from the rest of the forest, always a sentinel of the seasons, blowing cotton fluff in the late spring and heart-shaped leaves in the fall, covering the surrounding fields.
The buds may well have healing properties, as described in the Book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament, but it is this tree that I depend upon for its unblinking steadiness through the worst wind storms, the driest summers and our iced-over winters. The cottonwood, in its multi-armed reach to the skies, is balm to my eyes, no matter when I look at it — a dream of the healing I’ll find someday in heaven for all that ails me.
There are no creatures you cannot love. A frog calling at God From the moon-filled ditch As you stand on the country road in the June night. The sound is enough to make the stars weep With happiness. In the morning the landscape green Is lifted off the ground by the scent of grass. The day is carried across its hours Without any effort by the shining insects That are living their secret lives. The space between the prairie horizons Makes us ache with its beauty. Cottonwood leaves click in an ancient tongue To the farthest cold dark in the universe. The cottonwood also talks to you Of breeze and speckled sunlight. You are at home in these great empty places along with red-wing blackbirds and sloughs. You are comfortable in this spot so full of grace and being that it sparkles like jewels spilled on water. ~Tom Hennen “A Country Overlooked”
This cottonwood of five senses stands alone and grace-filled in our lower field, slowly blowing its leaves. It will strip bare in preparation for winter, its skeleton stark in the morning light. The old farmer called this tree his “Balm of Gilead” for its healing qualities, his fingertips rubbing its honey-like sap that weeps from its branches, a scent of sweetness clinging like an aura to him. Now its branches snap in the wind and its leaves twirl down brittle-yellow and crunchy under my boot. It heals me from a distance, and up close. It calls me home. Like a balm, I can nearly taste its honey.
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals the power of your intense fragility:whose texture compels me with the color of its countries, rendering death and forever with each breathing ~e.e. cummings from “somewhere I have never travelled”
I reach for the visual texture of growing things
without touching with my fingers.
My eyes know its softness at a glance;
it is enough for me to embrace and enfold myself within it.
It takes my breath away and then gives it back.