Posted by: Dave Neads | July 7, 2008

July Snowstorms

July snowstorms are special.  At the end of a hot, sunny day millions of cotton flakes explode into the air with a majesty and grace unmatched by their frosty winter cousins.  Big, fluffy and delicate they float through the sky, parachutes of life drifting in the warm evening currents.

Those of us who live near the wetlands and rivers of the Chilcotin ARK  are fortunate to have the Northern Black Cottonwood as one of our neighbours.  Topping out at over one hundred feet, these trees have two distinct phases.  Young trees are smooth barked, rather conical in shape, while older ones develop a  ragged look with deeply furrowed bark several inches thick.  Just like people, smooth when young, furrowed when old.

The bears love these trees.  Their sweetly perfumed buds are a favourite treat for cubs and moms alike.  There is nothing more entertaining than spending a warm July afternoon watching a black bear cub slowly creeping out on a limb, several  feet above the ground, licking the buds off the branch tips.  Sometimes this pleasant treat can end in near disaster as the limb cracks and the squealing youngster crashes to the ground.  No harm done, the  little bear stares up at the tree, shakes his pudgy head and moves on.

Lining the steam banks, these riparian soldiers love nothing better than having their roots in  water.  If a pipe is driven into the base of an old tree, water will flow from the hollow heart in copious quantities.  A real treat on a hot summer day, especially when you are not sure of the quality of the water in the creek, the water from the living tree is well filtered and good to drink.  Better than bottled water and much more organic.

The cottonwood also has a dark side.  Known as the ‘widow-maker’, it can drop its limbs unexpectedly,  huge clubs crashing from the sky.  More than one rancher or horse has been killed by this random event.

Even so, horses spend day after day huddled under the great trees, nose to tail, hoping to lessen the torment of mosquitoes, black flies, horseflies and chiggers.  The little puffs of brown dust they kick up as they stamp their feet and swish their tails are a sure sign that early summer is here.  When back lit by the rays of a slanting sun, this sparkling dust mixed with the cotton snow flakes is  swept  up hill in a late afternoon gust,  flowing over the contours, defining the form of the hillside.

Just one tree species, just one little event, just one tiny precious image, fleeting yet recurring for eons.  The July snowstorms are a treat that we look forward to each year. More than that, they remind us of the beauty, the strength, the absolute creativity that abounds in the world around us.  They remind us of the vibrancy, the variety, the sheer force of life in our forests.  They remind us again just how special life in the ARK really is.

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