One week ago, on my morning walk, I discovered that this huge old cottonwood tree had been cut down. It stood out in a field, on the edge of former farmland (I think there once was a house nearby, as there’s a covered wellhead). That field has been awaiting the chance to sprout houses since before I moved to this neighborhood. I wondered if perhaps developers are about to move in, or perhaps the tree was partially damaged in a recent monsoon storm. Regardless of the reason, it was cut down, and all that remained was a substantial stump with one small branch of green leaves.

I walked back the next day, and the substantial stump had also been torn out and cut up, and the old wellhead concrete broken up and piled nearby. Clearly, this is the work of preparing the land for a new field of houses. I took some more photos (I’ll share them over this coming week on Instagram), appreciating the various patterns in the half-rotted old stump and bark of what once was a magnificent and sheltering tree.

Cottonwood trees bring precious memories for me. They filled the Rio Grande Valley where I grew up in New Mexico. I have climbed them in my youth, photographed them in my adulthood, and found faces in their bark while on retreat. I have reveled in the June “snowstorms” their cotton-encased seeds engender, and even set piles of the fluffy cotton on fire in my younger days.

I heard once that cottonwood makes perfect popsicle sticks; that makes sense, as the trees themselves are pretty fragile. They can, however, grow tall and majestic under the right conditions. Recently, an artist friend, Melanie Weidner, painted one such iconic cottonwood tree and shared it with her friends on Patreon, and now with everyone else on her blog. The Center for Action and Contemplation also has an iconic cottonwood tree at its visitor center (where I once worked), and its image forms the cover background for one of Richard Rohr’s many books (which I edited).

The cottonwood’s leaves turn a majestic yellow color in autumn. Perhaps this fall I will share on Instagram some of the many autumn cottonwood images I captured when I lived in Albuquerque. Meanwhile, I am grateful for trees, and grieve the loss of another cottonwood tree in my life (there aren’t many here in the Sonoran Desert!). I also recognize that, in a season where hundreds are dying every day from COVID-19 in this country, my grief is small. It’s real, but not life-changing. The grief of another friend, who has just lost her father to the coronavirus, is much stronger.

What are you grateful for, and what are you grieving, in this season? How might you hold others in prayer whose grief is much stronger in this time?

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