It's snowing. In May. The curbs of the cul de sac are edged in white and the sky sparkles with flossy bits, backlit by the fading sun. It's not a freak storm, it's just the cottonwood, doing it's thing again.
Most of the year our majestic cottonwoods shelter our home with lovely dappled shade. I love it when the leaves shimmer and quake in the breeze like soft music. They are stately and steadfast, leaning into storms like tall ships.
Yet at this time of year they create their own weather; a cottony blizzard that tries my soul and tests my patience. But it starts earlier than that. They seem to be the tree that keeps on giving.
Then the real show begins as the female trees throw their cotton. The fibrous seed pods surrounded by fuzzy white fibers take flight. Most descriptions of this process say that the seed clusters, known as catkins are designed to travel great distances, but still they seem to fall mostly in the footprint of our garden. If only they would sail away to some far-off foreign land, anywhere but my garden that goes on tour in July!
Instead they insinuate themselves onto every leaf of every plant, every inch of mulch, sidewalks and stepping stones. They clog pool filters and float on the ponds. And for good measure, when rained upon, they glue themselves to every surface they happen to touch.
This fluff is but the first wave, as the weeks pass, the cotton turns into chunks of brown seeds tangles in larger wads of white filament. At this point it is rakable and remarkably I start to eye the trees from various vantage points wondering how the yard would look without them.
I feel remorse just thinking the thought, after all they are the state tree of Kansas, my last former home. They are tough survivors, native trees not to be taken lightly.
Then I remember how the squirrels scamper from tree to tree all winter and the woodpeckers scurry up and down checking for bugs. Beyond that, they are hospitable hosts to the larvae of manybutterflies; tiger swallowtails, mourning cloaks, red-spotted purples and viceroys. The seeds are food to granivorous birds and you have to wonder how many nests are lined with those downy clumps.
Eventually, like childbirth, the pain fades and the pods become one with the mulch and once more I adore the cottonwoods.