Related to the willow, today you are most likely to come across the cottonwood tree as a wooden shipping palette. This is a fast-growing tree that only lives for a few hundred years (practically a night for a tree) before splitting apart and falling over, but because of its quick growth and short lifespan, it is vital for the rebuilding of forests and wild areas along rivers and other waterways.
Because of its eagerness to reclaim barren or difficult land, and willingness to drop its branches (especially in a storm), it can be a wonderful companion tree for those living in rural areas who are inclined to carve and build a rapport with wood spirits. Over the years, its bark has been especially favored to carve faces into, creating guardians and gentle spirits of the woodland.
If you are struggling with cultivating your own creativity from what you view as a barren mind, take hold of some shipping palettes, and see what you can make from them (Pinterest is invaluable for this).
Cut a length of branch for a wand and reveal the beautiful star found within, giving rise to legends that stars born deep within the earth come up through the roots of the cottonwood and ascend into the heavens.
Gather the tufts of its cotton-like seeds as they float on the wind to use for fire starting, snowy-colored padding for the funeral beds of loved ones, or as aids to lift your spells up high and carry them to fertile soil.
Marty Robbins sung
“Oh, cottonwood tree, are you waiting for me
Waiting to take me away
I’ve done no wrong, but the town cannot see
And so with my life I must pay.”
Because many old growths had been cleared to provide wood for houses, and cottonwood trees were some of the first and tallest to quickly grow back, unfortunately they were often used as hanging trees. These trees were said to “bear human fruit”, and because of this they have a strong tie to the dead and the land of the death. Make your sacrificial fires for the dead with cottonwood branches, and afterwards blow an offering of their seeds to release the spirits and bid them farewell and new life.
[Written by Ashley Nicole Hunter.]