I’m sitting outside this evening writing this blog. The land around me is green and alive, and I feel as though I’ve hit the visual jackpot from the Midwest’s weather slot machine. The same one that had me depositing begrudgingly patient quarters all winter. The wind is steady but soft, and reminds me of time when the touch of my Mother’s fingers through my hair was enough to feel content. (Inset internal large sigh here) It’s Memorial Day…Monday, 8 PM CST, and the late Spring sun is fighting its way down through the birch trees for the evening, I suppose like so many children around the country who aren’t quite ready for the holiday weekend to end. A time that for many marks the official start of Summer, but for me and many others is a day to reflect on those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom. If you’re reading this blog, and have lost a patriot, just know that there are so many people you have not met, and may never meet, that so deeply appreciate the commitment to, and love of, country shown by your fallen and your family.
As a child, I lived outside. Partly by choice, and in part due to the fact that my three brothers and I shared one bedroom…which meant things tended to get a little sticky during the Summer. The official start of the season for me wasn’t the Memorial Day weekend, or any other weekend for that matter. For me…it was all about a tree. In the front of our yard stood a majestic Cottonwood tree. The kind of tree you only see in movies, like the mighty Oak in The Shawshank Redemption. She was tall, strong and perfectly proportioned. If a tree could be of regal bloodlines she was most certainly a Queen, and every June when she initiated the “Summer Snow” the season could officially begin.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Cottonwood tree, it has some unique characteristics. The female tree sheds a cotton-like substance in the early Summer that when released into the air literally looks like snow. Every June, our lawn would turn a veiled white with this signature offering. Like a natural confetti celebrating the commencement of Summer, the display, especially in windy conditions was impressive. It’s hard to believe that in some places ordinances are passed banning the planting of female Cottonwood trees, as the “Summer Snow” is deemed a public nuisance. Also unique to the Cottonwood is the shape of their petioles, (The stems that connect the leaves to the tree) they are flattened a bit, which means the leaves of the Cottonwood tree appear to flutter in the wind. This distinct movement of their leaves makes the tree look as though it is shimmering in even the slightest of winds. In a field of Oaks, Maples, Birches and the like…the movement of the Cottonwood trees means it always has something to say. I guess you could say it speaks, or at least it did to me. And in the early morning, while other trees were still awakening from the evening’s sleep, the sound coming from the Cottonwood would softly announce its eagerness to preside over the fun and frivolity that might take place on any given Summer day.
So as the sun sets on this long Memorial Day weekend, and the reflection of Summer’s past seems completely appropriate, it becomes clear to me that the iconic seasonal images of our youth can take many forms. And that remembering the people, the places and the patriots that shaped those Summers is what gives this holiday such special meaning.