By Greg Illes
Cottonwood trees are rugged-looking, charming and (when they’re green) beautiful in all the ways that trees can be beautiful. But they have a dark side….
Cottonwoods are not particularly long-lived, typically reaching 50-100 years of age. Some species last a bit longer, but the general trend is for “rapid turnover.” Out here in the West, the Kelly-green foliage is easily used to spot desert drainages, often when there’s no surface water present. They’re also very common in creekside and lakeside campgrounds, and that is where their more-evil character sometimes presents itself.
Normally a fairly brittle tree, the cottonwood becomes even more so when it dies. Even modest windstorms can break off limbs, and at times really large limbs, which crash down on whatever has the bad luck to be waiting below. Here’s a beefy ten-foot log lying in our camp near Navajo Lake.
Which brings up a (true) story to tell around the campfire.
One day out in New Mexico, we learned of a nearby camp with a storied history. It seems that a man and his son every year made a family pilgrimage to that camp, for a week of loving companionship, fishing and general hanging around the lakeside wooded camp. That year was special – the 20th anniversary of their family camp outing. They had some minor issues getting away from home, and they arrived at their camp a day late. When they went to pitch their tent, they were astounded to find a massive cottonwood branch, some 18″ in diameter and almost 20 feet long, lying across the tent pad. It had fallen there the previous night, around 2 a.m., according to many campers who had heard the noise.
There are two morals to this story:
1. When your number is not up, well, it’s not up. Be thankful, every day.
2. Look up before you settle into camp. There may be a missile up there.
Greg Illes is a retired systems engineer who loves thinking up RV upgrades and modifications. When he’s not working on his motorhome, he’s traveling in it. You can follow his excellent blog at www.divver-city.com/blog