“You don’t talk much about cottonwoods,” he said.
“I know,” I replied.
“Don’t you like them?”
“I love them,” I said.
“Well talk about them.”
“Even though they are big and beautiful,” I said. “They aren’t the trees people mean when they say the City of Trees. People think of elms and sycamores in neighborhoods.
“Cottonwoods pretty much grow along our rivers. My favorites are along the Sacramento off of 35th Avenue. So many of them growing tall with all that space for light play fit the wide expanse of river there. Everything is majestic.
“I feel I am in a different world. It’s quiet, especially when leaves flutter in the wind.
“I like to sit looking at the reflections of the trees in the shady water, then to the sky beyond the levee.
“It’s a place to live the moment, sitting with your feet in the water watching the river flow, thinking of your failures as you feel lucky to be surrounded by what is most important. You imagine you see your kids on the other side of the river standing on the levee going off to pursue their dreams, or returning from the big sky on the other side to tell you how their dreams turned out.
“You think of people who came here who couldn’t wait to see the confluence of our rivers. They’d make their way through the cottonwoods, seeing a big bend in the river in the distance, the sleepy trees and brush leaning over the water.
“They’d wonder what was ahead for them, around the next turn, why life is usually lived going upstream, if they would ever learn to flow and go where their power and beauty takes them.
“At the confluence they’d sit together. They’d see water sparkle and light play on leaves and trunks. They would wonder if people could merge like this.
“At night in summer they’d walk through the trees to where the rivers meet, turned on by the shape of the cottonwoods’ trunks. They’d smell damp earth and dry grass. ‘The kids will love it here,’ they’d whisper.
“They’d walk faster, horny from heat and hanging vines, loving crickets and the stars between trees.
“You think of what it must have been like when they saw the water through the trees, how badly they wanted to come together.
“From the edge of the trees they’d sit and talk things over, about what it means to merge, to create something basically like you but greater and more beautiful. All night they’d linger, their future twinkling in the sky. They’d watch water from the mountains ease toward them. They’d let their past flow away in the dark.
“They’d dream of giving everything they have, of being there forever for each other.
“It must have been scary, trusting on something as fickle as nature, knowing that things could not always be contained, that they would surge over the boundaries, that some years one flow would trickle and only one of you would sustain everything.
“There must have been times when they’d wander alone along one of the rivers wondering what happened, grateful for their children, walking until the stars came out, until dawn, when they were as far from the confluence as they’d ever been.
“The strong one left behind would look to the mountains for strength, asking why they all weren’t there with the mountains and rivers and trees – everything you could ask for.
“I ask myself all the time why a freeway is over the confluence, why we call the merging Discovery Park when it’s too noisy to discover love and permanence, things that are most important and we desperately need.
“I think of the weak one wandering back to the confluence, the passion they both felt as they watched the mountains, vowing to be true to themselves.
“They’d think and dream about the kids, knowing time was moving on like the rivers, hoping everybody would age like cottonwoods.
“It’s difficult,” I said, “to feel graceful like cottonwoods when I watch the river flow and see the mountains. My dreams were huge.”
Copyright © 2023 by David Vaszko