WriteOut Journal Cottonwood


WriteOut 10.10.22 Daily Walk Digital Journal: The Structure of Our World Through the Cottonwood

the mighty and tall Cottonwood along Banks Lake, WA
Cottonwood along Banks Lake, WA

Cottonwoods and People

I have loved cottonwood trees, no matter how people complain of their fluffy puffs floating in the air, ever since I played along the Missouri River near Bismarck, ND while my parents fished for the Northern Pike and walleye. Shade from the trees and the songs of birds from their nests created a fantasy setting as my brother and I gathered up little toads for the evening, letting them go when it was time to leave.

I remember being amazed at the giants– so tall with arms outstretched to reach the sky and provide the cooling shade on hot summer evenings. Sadly, due to the many dams now on the Missouri River that prevent the needed flooding, the cottonwoods are dying and not regenerating. [See Abstract BioScience ]

Cottonwoods along the Missouri River-- Bismarck, ND with state capital in distance.
Cottonwoods along the Missouri River–
Bismarck, ND with state capital in distance.

In 2019, I visited North Dakota and enjoyed my favorite areas along the Missouri River — the On A Slant Village and the Double Ditch site– both lands of the Hidatsa and Mandan tribes. I was fascinated by their ingenuity in living in what can be scorching heat and freezing cold of North Dakota weather. And since today is Indigenous Peoples Day, it’s a good day to share, although we must honor the gifts and stories of native peoples on whose land we live in our daily lives.

I snapped many pictures around the area– the village, the cultural center, the fort, which you can see here in my Google Photo Album: Remember History.

You can see and marvel at the earth lodges they built– which were owned by and mostly built by the women and in which many families lived for ten or more years. The timbers were cottonwood. For more information about the North Dakota cottonwood, here’s the NDSU pdf, as well as information from Arbor Day Foundation.

On A Slant village earth lodge near Mandan, ND-- Mandan Tribe.
On A Slant village earthen lodge with Cottonwood timber

How the lodges were built:

As always, stories of the Mandan and Hidatsa include those of the stars and the cottonwood. Here’s a PDF of the story and a retelling by an elder.

Cottonwoods of Banks Lake and the Missouri River

So today, as I looked at my local cottonwood [at top], I found a photo of a leaf of a North Dakota cottonwood. So, what kind of cottonwood are they? My search began….

yellow Missouri River cottonwood leaf and a green Banks Lake cottonwood leaf atop a picture of the Missouri River cottonwoods.
Comparison of Cottonwoods

The first thing I did was to make sure I had found the correct species: cottonwood. I found a wonderful little tree identification guide from Illinois– but it’s very useful. Get the PDF here.

Then I sketched the leaf from Banks Lake so I could make a comparison better.

Supposedly, these ancient trees are poplars, of which only four primary cottonwood species are spread through our country: eastern, balsam, western, and quaking aspen [Washington State Department of Natural Resources blog]. The same blog explains how important cottonwood are to wildlife and us: What Good Is A Cottonwood Tree Anyway. I also discovered that hybrid species have been developed and probably there is some cross-pollination among the poplars. They hybrid development provides a fast growing tree for pulp and other human needed products. Read about those here at Washington State University Hybrid Research Center.

The Black/Western cottonwood has an elongated leaf– not like my Banks Lake cottonwood, so perhaps ours is a hybrid, because it is not quite like the one from North Dakota either. I know one leaf doesn’t tell the leaf’s story, but do you see the differences?

In case you want to take a walk around Banks Lake, here’s my photo album comprised of the many pictures I’ve taken the last two years, including during the winter and during the horrid fire season: Banks Lake Through the Years.

Daily Create: Fractals into Cottonwoods!

fractal shapes like autumn cottonwoods.
Fractal Shapes into Autumn Cottonwoods
complete with the little reddish brown flower clusters

Today’s WriteOut Daily Create is #DS106  @ds106dc   #tdc3923  #writeout Fractal Trees using the fractal generator. It’s not quite a cottonwood because their leaves and limbs have an alternating structure, but the playing around to make the tree in three versions was interesting and fun.

Cottonwood Poetry

Needless to say, my day has been filled with WriteOut and Cottonwoods– actually, for two days. It’s been a joy to learn about history, botany, and fractals. And here’s my two poems– one for the ancient cottonwood of my area and one from my childhood.

You may also enjoy this interview at The Write Time by the National Writing Project for #writeout with Joseph Bruchac, Native American author.