June 6, 2023 | Topics: Stories
It is mid-June, the summer solstice approaches, and, following a disappointingly chilly spring, the weather is finally warm. And it seems to be snowing! Cottonwood seeds, borne on light, cottony wisps, float gently in the still air beneath the forest canopy. In one day every leafy surface in the undergrowth has acquired a fluffy, dust-like mantel that would take years to accumulate in an undisturbed attic. Webs strung fastidiously between grasses have lost their invisibility. The ground is white all around and here on the path it looks so much like drifts of snow that an unchecked urge compels me to stroll through and watch it swirl around my feet.
Rounding a bend, three young teens come barreling down the path on bikes. As I step aside the first cries out, “Whoa, watch out!” Whether his outburst is meant to warn me, or his following friends, or is simply a startled reaction to a near collision is unclear. They all blast on past, not slowing, not seeing the wondrous storm that billows up in their wake. No matter. School is out and summer an inviting door they are just beginning to open. As the cloud of cotton settles again, I wish them many exciting summers to come. Some June day, when they are ready to slow down, the cottonwoods will still be snowing. Maybe then they will venture out into the woods and discover them.
I wrote the brief story above many years ago now. It is included in my first book, Urban Wilderness: Exploring a Metropolitan Watershed, which was published in 2008. I’ve thought about it every year since then as I’ve continued to enjoy the “blizzard” of seeds in June. However, I’ve never thought to stop and try to capture that phenomenon in photos before now. I don’t know why, but I did the other day and was delighted with the images I was able to get, which I share with you here! I found them in two places: along the Oak Leaf Trail in Underwood Parkway and in the same place I saw them so many years ago, Hoyt Park. But you can find cottonwoods in many places. They grow in damp locations, along rivers and other bodies of water, and in flood plains.
Eddee Daniel is a board member of Preserve Our Parks.