The broken down old Cottonwood tree south of Emporia, Kansas has taught me much. Thousands of admirers pass by her gallantly standing, wounded but majestic, along the turnpike that weaves through the Flint Hills. Early one morning, I finally found that right moment to stop time and capture light to create a keepsake. This photo is portrait rather than nature photography.

Each time I ask the old tree how she’s doing. I don’t know why she’s a “her” and not a “him,” but she’s just so pretty. Guys aren’t pretty. The broken branch poses like Raphael’s “Madonna and Child,” so it seems proper to imbue maternal traits.

She’s answered back a few times. And this is what she says to me:

  • Nothing stays the same
    • Whether you like King Solomon’s version or the Beatles, there is a “season that turns, turns, turns.”  I long to hurry through harsh winters and take luxurious naps in the spring, but time decides its own pace and life is lived in moments, not days or weeks or months.
  • Stand tall
    • The howling north wind strips her naked in the winter and the singeing summer sun peels her skin like a bad burn.  But she still remains erect, resolute and honorable.
  • Broken things become beautiful if you look at them at just the right angle
    • What looks like a child adoring her is actually a part of her.  Those fractures she has endured from storms and stress essentially advance her beauty. Beauty is not always symmetrical.
  • Be unique
    • I could not describe one other of the thousands of trees along the turnpike, but when I talk about her, most people immediately know the tree of which I speak. She has learned to stand out among the others.
  • Be beautiful, no matter what your surroundings
    • Drought and parched pastures around. Barren branches in a blizzard. Hellacious thunderstorm bowing her in the wind. Yellow leaves tumbling to the ground. White puffs of cotton sailing away from her branches. She’s always beautiful.

I drove by today and the broken branch was lying down on the ground.

I told her I was sad. She told me that nothing stays the same.

And keep standing tall.

Are there places or things like this that speak to you?

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