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  • Last winter I wrote of Swatworth and the Cottonwood, that magnificent old tree that graced downtown Driggs but was cut down for a parking lot. Its limbs had been sawn off; it had been uprooted with a bulldozer, it’s bark stripped and torn as it was dragged and cast aside to be buried in a pit. For days it lay on its side in the harsh sun. Seeing the stump, still a splendid remnant, Jean thought of how much animals would enjoy climbing it, racing around it, draping themselves upon it.

    He arranged for a backhoe and trailer to bring it to the Wildlife Garden, and set it upright. It just seemed more dignified. There was such a sadness for what had been done to something so old and venerable and stately, yet ultimately helpless. We felt an inexplicable urge to “plant” it against all reason. Did we sense the life force still present? Did it on some level “communicate” to us? In any case, placing soil around it, feeling its immense presence, we realized how much we wanted it to live. So we tried. Just in case. Jean watered it until the snows flew, and first thing in spring he fertilized it. Early every morning he would get up and place the hose just so, go back a half hour later and move it again, until it had been watered all around its massive girth. Each evening as the sun set he would water it all around again.

    There was a single, slender, two foot long twig remaining on the inside of one of the limbs. Several weeks into spring, outlined against the blue sky, we saw what looked like a single swelling bud near the top of the twig. Could it be true?

    We visited that bud several times a day, not quite trusting what we saw. But it was real! We worried. Was it the last gasp of a dying tree or would life take hold? It swelled and swelled and leafed out into a tiny branch with several leaves. Hardly enough to nourish a tree, but we cheered it on. The little bud encouraged us to look more carefully and we discovered another peaking out from an undamaged area. Over the days Jean kept circling the tree, examining the rough old bark carefully. Another day, another bud! Another day, several more buds. Jean would come get me to share each day’s progress. I joined in the counting with growing excitement. Five buds, 14 buds….52.

    They were growing rapidly and starting to leaf out. Would they shrivel up and die? The tree had been so grievously injured. Could the roots grow back to nourish the leaves or was it just drawing on its final reserves? We watched and counted, watered and rooted for it. Some leaves started to turn black. Despair. Most of them continued to thrive. Hope.

    Maybe disease will ultimately claim it, with all its massive injuries. Perhaps the buds are living on remnants of energy but the roots will not be able to nourish the new growth. Maybe it takes huge old trees a long time to die. But as of now it is very much alive, fighting for life, leafing out at an astonishing rate. It brings such joy to watch it continue to survive the odds. It keeps reminding us never to underestimate life.

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