Big Cottonwood

by Nanda Currant

I do feel that nature is always speaking to us and calls us to attention. The other night I felt fixed on a large cotton wood tree by the bank of the river. It is one of the few trees left standing out of a whole grove after the floods. The light kept changing and becoming more and more gold and full on the tree as the sun was going down. I took several photos of it, first at quite a distance and then I moved closer and each branch banked up to the edge of the frame and soon the entire format was riddled with the bare arms of the tree. The roots of the tree are exposed and the soft soil has moved deeper into the center of the trunk but there it is large and tenacious clinging to the rim of the earth as grasses form the new edge of it's landscape.

It has been several months since I have seen this tree and I am never sure when I come back to the land if it will be there or will have tumbled over. Its size and presence tie into my insides with a knot that I can feel. I don't wish to untie this knot because it holds me steady to the rest of the universe. I can go to this tree and let it teach me just out of its life force and since it teeters on life and death I never take it's presence for granted like I might if it were securely placed amongst a group of brother and sister cottonwoods chattering together as the wind moved through their leaves. Each time I come to this spot I visit my Father who is now eighty six. His heart reaching out to itself has its roots exposed. He has had surgery a couple of times and it has formed a maintenance for his life, a scaffolding for existence to be built on day after day, never quite strong enough to build something really sturdy but like a tree house or a pigeon coop we made when I was a child, it would do. When we built our bird shelter we would get just enough scrap wood and good strong wire and nails. Our finished work supplied those pigeons with a place to come and go, lay their eggs and continue their journeys up into the sky and to gather more nesting materials.

I watch my Father like this tree brilliant with some sort of light that seems to come from without but always glowing so deep so much from his love that you know like the big cottonwood that somehow the sun and the tree are reflecting each other to build this gold aura that calls you to attention. I see my Father very exposed now, he reminisces about music or rocks we gathered or places that we visited. He wonders about himself now, if he takes up air space or if its worth it he keep breathing. he does this again like the big cottonwood not in some depressing reminder that death is near but by just standing there in the light on the edge with everything in view. I can look up to him and see his leaves blowing and look down and see it is hard for his legs to grab enough earth to walk easily but it is in his trunk that I always find him, solid, life giving and full of heart and laughter. The quicksilver of his humor and the questions of faith we all must ask day after day.

I can feel how nature speaks to us, how the rocks I found as a child, the leaves and pebbles I drew as an adult had my Father in them and how they will always keep me like the stars in remembrance of the universe, and let me go more easily to the place where my Father stands on the bank inside that big cottonwood as the brilliant evening light finds its way to that tree at dusk giving it it's due and me a chance to see its dignity and aloneness through all my senses.