At the edge of our Colorado town, where the plains stretch for miles to the east, and the views to the west showcase the stunning Rocky Mountains, sits a tree.
Not just any tree.
A majestic towering cottonwood with limbs that reach to the sky, and roots that dig deep into the center of the earth. I’ve known this cottonwood tree for 15 years. During that time its appearance has remained constant, with only a seasonal variation as its green leaves turn to gold, eventually fall, and after a dormant winter, the cycle begins anew. There is a peaceful strength that this cottonwood possesses, as it sits in its home just off the trail and beside the creek. If you wrap your arms around it they won’t come close to touching, and the bark has deep, dark grooves that your hand can almost disappear into.
I first went to this tree on trail runs and bike rides in the early years of living in Colorado. I always stopped to put my hand on it as I passed by- always. Often I would stop for a longer visit. While pregnant 10 years ago, I sat on its large roots at the base, thinking about the baby inside me that was getting ready to enter the world. When our son was a toddler, he played in the shade beneath its branches. I’ve shed tears of loss sitting underneath it, and I’ve also smiled basking in the sunshine of the best of times leaning against it. When we moved to a different part of town, I visited the cottonwood less often, and recently I realized there wasn’t another spot in the world for me like it. It was time to go back.
So, I set out on a trail run on a late winter day. At first I wondered why there were so few people out on a sunny Saturday. Then I started slipping and sliding along sheer ice on the trail, punctuated by spots of deeper snow and mud. My shoes were soaked and the practical voice inside me said to turn around. I didn’t start out at a spot very close to the tree, and had miles to go to get there. Yet I knew deep inside that it was time to go visit the tree again today, not tomorrow, no matter what. Over 15 years, this old and beautiful cottonwood tree had become my touchstone – my spot to contemplate the past and future while being in the only place that really matters – now.