— written October 8th, 2021 in SE Michigan —
I don’t think there are all that many people who recognize a cottonwood tree on sight — except perhaps during the time of year that the cotton is floating down, covering the yard or field in little white tufts. Yet these trees made SUCH an impression on me, beginning at the age of 3, that I dubbed them “Mama Trees”. Even the SOUND they make is comforting to me, even to this day!
You may have heard this already, but when I was 3 and 4 years old, I started a lifelong habit of HEALING in nature. I would arrive back home after being abused and I would take my beaten body and soul across the creek and up to MY grove, where I would sit and cry out my suffering, surrounded by my “friends” whom I trusted more than any human: the ants, the breeze, the birds, and the trees.
Eventually, as I sat there, crying and singing songs of despair, taking in all the nature that surrounded me, my mood would change. My infantile song would change from desperation to joy. My tears would stop flowing, and my face would dry. I would start up a happy chatter, “talking” to the trees — especially to the cottonwood trees.
All this would inevitably lead me to a feeling of PEACE, and a comforting awareness of a huge, benevolent presence that I can only describe as “He who OWNS all this”. I imagine it must be similar to when a small child gets hurt and runs to a loving grandfather, who calmly lets her cry it all out, then gives her a big hug and watches her run off to play again, the crisis forgotten. He needn’t say a word. It was his loving PRESENCE that healed the child.
Cottonwood trees MOVE different than other trees. Similar to birch and aspen, the leaf stem attaches to the leaf blade in such a way as to allow them to twist and turn quite a bit, DANCING in the wind. But cottonwood leaves have such a waxy coating that they make somewhat of a plastic-y sound as they twist and bump into one another. It can be heard from quite a distance.
Some cottonwood trees also tend to grow tall enough to stick out ABOVE the other trees. As a child, these emergent trees with their dancing leaves reminded me of a picture I saw in a storybook: the Little Red Hen calls her chicks to come shelter under her wings. It seemed to me that a lovely old cottonwood which stood in my forest was like a mother hen calling to ME, reassuring ME of her nurturing protection.
It wasn’t uncommon for me to attach the prefixes “mother” or “mommy” or “mama” to natural things, nor to derive comfort from inanimate objects. Since I never formed that all-important bond with a human while I was an infant or toddler, I reached out to anything that gave me a feeling of comfort or some measure of temporary safety. I had a “mommy-sister” and a “mommy” in the form of the hybrid wolf T’hara… and I also had one particular “mommy tree”…
Cottonwoods may be “Mama Trees” in general to me, but there was ONE tree that was MY “Mama Tree” — a huge weeping willow that stood at the front of our property. This stately old lady still stands… but she is a shadow of her former self. Here’s a pic of her now, with my Mate beneath her boughs, trimming dead weight: