My earliest memories are of trees and I have been fortunate to surround myself with them wherever I lived. I selected apartments and houses to reside in that were as near to trees as I could manage, unwilling to live in barren places where I could not shelter under the leaves and limbs and shade of trees. The cottonwood tree pictured above is outside the windows of my childhood home here on Dry Creek. After a lifetime of living across the United States, coming home in 2003 was for me a return to my beloved trees.
Ancient lilacs planted so long ago have endured and our memories are filled with them. When the family ranch headquarters was moved to Dry Creek in 1948, the lilacs were here.
This giant elm, believed to be 100 years old, was likely planted when the first homestead was established here on Dry Creek circa 1920. Commonly referred to as “Chinese” elms, they are not native to Wyoming and were planted by early settlers. We grew up here with this old giant, and to finally have to bring it down was like killing a friend. It was becoming dangerous after shedding some huge limbs and causing quite a bit of damage and excitement. It was situated too close to our home and other structures and extensive trimming in recent years did not alleviate our fears. Interestingly, the firms we engaged to trim it stated they had never seen such a giant elm.
The view from below the pond captures some of the autumn color which stretches up and down the old creek bottom. Cottonwoods have grown along Dry Creek forever, sending their tap roots down to water in what we believe is an underground river that flows south to North Fork of the Powder River. Seeps and springs are present in many locations and the water runs in the early months of February through May, enhanced with snow melt and rain.
Spring floods are common in February and March and the willows welcome the water. Unfortunately for the willows, the deer and cows love to eat the young saplings and many of the old growth have died out over a long period of time, unable to regenerate. We welcome the deer and occasional antelope that reside in the area. Very few domestic livestock have grazed the 15-acre tract we call home for the past 20-odd years and it is disheartening to see the loss of trees.
This giant cottonwood towers over any tree for miles. I don’t believe I could bear to ever see it come down, so I have decided I have to go first. It sheltered me with a playhouse in its gnarled roots down along its base, and a childhood swing on a branch that finally fell gave me endless hours of joy pumping the wind to fly high.
I began to take stock last spring as I readied an order for new trees to plant and came up with some astonishing numbers. I divided the cottonwoods into three categories: 1) small -12 inches in diameter; 2) medium- 50 inches in diameter; and 3) BIG. My final tally down in the creek bed was 45 of the BIG cottonwoods; 82 medium sized cottonwoods; 138 small cottonwoods; indeterminate number of willows and 2 silver-leaf poplars. The cottonwoods are both narrow-leaf and plains, which are my favorite. Many more trees are planted around the house, in the orchard, at the barn, and along the entrance from the highway; Ponderosa pine, spruce, aspen, silver leaf poplar, elm, choke cherry, Canadian cherry, boxelder, cedar, lilac, caragana, willow, and a variety of bushes and shrubs.
Of all the things that trees provide, perhaps my favorite is shelter for the birds. Living in a home with lots of windows and trees, I am blessed with a view of birds that change with the seasons. I try to document all the variety of birds that move through the area in migration and those who choose to stay for part of the year (see blog “Birds of Dry Creek.”)
To live among trees, you must be willing to not only care for them but clean up after them (not unlike having a house full of children). Our daily walks include picking up branches and limbs the wind blows down with great regularity. In spring it is usually more intense and requires major cleanup, followed by a bonfire. We cut firewood from the larger trees that fall, split the logs and burn it in our fireplace in colder months.
Baby black birds are a recurring springtime event and I am thankful to the tree that shelters them each year. We have many bird houses, but it seems they are largely vacant. The birds love the trees and seek out their homes in hollows or build their nests in the branches, braving the elements to live high in the tree tops.
Could not count the trips down this lane coming home from whatever far flung place I have traveled or resided in. For me, the sight of the old trees was like a warm embrace, welcoming me back. As I strive to save them and replace them with new trees, I feel I am saving a place that is sacred to me. Hopefully those who follow me will love the trees and all the creatures living within them.