Posted by: Jim E | September 21, 2010

A Road Trip…Cottonwoods And Memories…

I love road trips…I suppose ‘cuz flying has never been one of my loves…oh, I know how “fast” you get there…but I always think of “the getting ready”…meeting all the requirements since 9/11…how early you have to be at the airport before the flight…so with that and a whole lot more, it still takes a whole day to get there, wherever “there is”…even within the States…so it’s a whole lot easier to keep the trip, to a drive…

For those of you who followed Matt Green this summer on the  “imjustwalkin” website…we know how many things he saw, photographed and reported on during his 5 or 6 months of walking across the country from Rockaway Beach, New York to Rockaway Beach, Oregon…we saw and he reported on people he met and towns no one had ever heard about…signs, mailboxes, fields, mountains, ghost towns, abandoned mines, buildings and the minutia of what makes up this great country of ours…so, most important about all that…you would never have experienced it, flying at 30,000 feet…

For example (now remember, I was driving a car not walking, so I was missing what Matt Green would have experienced, but)…how many of you have ever “driven” on U.S. Route 71…

Sidebar: U.S. Route 71 is the north/south highway smack-dab in the middle of the country…from International Falls, Minnesota, on the Canadian/U.S. border, in the north…through Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas (and a wee bit of Texas) and ends in Louisiana at U.S. Route 190…U.S. Route 71 is largely a rural highway…just the way I like it…and we traveled it through a large part of Missouri and some of Arkansas…End Sidebar…

Anyway, have you ever driven on U.S. Route 71 in Missouri…around the town of Nevada, Missouri…and there a sight which you would never see from a plane…a silo with a tree growing up from the inside…now you may say, “Big deal.”…but I say it ranks up with the best mailboxes or signs or abandoned towns in America….

I really don’t know what kind of tree it is…if I had been walking I would know…but throughout America there is one tree that comes into view all the time…the Cottonwood tree…on this trip over and over I saw cottonwood trees…we drove through Minnesota, Iowa the northern half of Missouri, on Interstate 35…and then into Kansas City…where the Kansas River (known as the Kaw) runs into the Missouri River…and where we connected to U.S. Route 71…and in all that route we  saw cottonwood trees…how do I know, you ask???…

I grew up with cottonwood trees all around us…huge trees 60 to 100 feet tall…in the spring showering us with their seed…cotton we used to call it…because it would cover everything…these seeds are very small…and that is why they need moisture…the seeds collect along the rivers, streams and ditches…and if undisturbed will grow quickly…but if disturbed will also die quickly because the tiny seeds have little energy within them to help the tree grow…so if you walk along a river where seeds have landed and allowed to grow…you would see many small trees growing there…

Cottonwood trees played an important part in the history of this country…for those who traveled west they always were looking for water and on the prairie, firewood…and if you were Lewis and Clark, you were looking for the same but also soft trees for dugout canoes and to build a fort…cottonwood trees are a species that “likes to keep its feet wet, so to speak”…so where you see cottonwood trees, you would find water…

All along the Missouri River there are cottonwood trees even today…not the same as in the early days of the country but they are still there…we saw them all along the trip…in ditches beside farm fields, where water collects…along streams, creeks, ponds and rivers…they are related to poplars and aspens…they share the same quaking and shimmering leaves…(one of the sure ways to identify them)…the slightest breeze causes them to put on a show…the light reflects off the shiny leaves and they shimmer in the sunlight…

But they are also beautiful in the fall…the leaves turn a bright yellow…and against a clear blue fall sky, it is a rare sight…we saw many cottonwoods that were about to turn color in Minnesota when we were there…I wish I could have seen them in full color…but we had a great time…with memories of my childhood and also lasting memories of this road trip…seeing family…our kids and grandkids…and also just being on the road…seeing a great part of America…from south to north and back again…and all the things along U.S. Route 71…so on this road trip we saw what it was we wanted to see and those we wanted to be with…what could be better…



  1. Jim,
    Glad to see you had a great trip.I too found myself looking for unusual mailboxes on my trip, or for that matter anything else.We saw a lot of cotton fields in Missouri and coming home actually saw bales of cotton. My cousin had a very strange tree in his yard, it had shed it leaves when the rest of the trees hadn’t. Turns out it was a buckeye tree. Now the strange thing is I lived in Ohio for 15 yrs. and can’t recall ever seeing a buckeye tree.!!
    We stayed in a cabin in the mountains. We were in the Boston Range of the Ozark mountains. Very beautiful, would love to go back when the leaves change, but time and money doesn’t permit.
    I understand why you and your family moved to Arkansas. I think it would be a great place to retire.

  2. A house in our neighborhood just brought down a “gianormous” cottonwood that is right next to their house and very visible from our kitchen window. They are re-roofing their house, and a lot of the damage, I believe, is from the cottonwood. They actually have to replace a lot of the plywood underneath the shingles. The branches just dug holes in it!

    I’ll try to take a picture of what’s left, because even without the leaves and branches, the “trunk” is pretty impressive.

    I won’t miss it…I’m very allergic to cottonwood, and it seems like the “cotton” flies maybe 3 times in a summer. How can that be?

  3. Hi Jim,
    I love your blog and your insight. You are so right – you never would have seen those things from a plane. Since I started following Matt back in the Spring, I’ve definitely started looking at the world around me a lot more. I’m trying to take life a little slower so I can take in everything around me.
    Take care,

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