When I was growing up — back in the day — I loved climbing trees. Maybe that’s when and how my lifelong love of trees began. Things were different back in the day, you know. In the summer, we didn’t sit around at home, we were out playing, and we didn’t stay in our own yard, or even in our friends’ yards. We roamed the neighborhood, stopping to play here or there, and nobody thought a thing about it. Our dogs went along, too. Back in the day, they didn’t have to be on a leash all the time. So they roamed the neighborhood with us. Sure, there were occasional dog fights, but that’s just how it was back in the day.
I had a chance to visit these memories and more when my Inktober prompt words for today — collect, poison, roasted, bait, tree — led me right back to my childhood and Catalpa bignonioides, also known as the Southern Catalpa, Catawba, Indian Bean, Cigar tree, and Fish-Bait tree.
Truly, I had no idea that catalpa worms made good fish bait, but there you go. It’s surprising how little we often know about things that are near and dear to our heart, and that’s a big part of what this post is all about.
I did know that parts of the catalpa tree are poisonous. The roots are “highly poisonous”, and most of the time you’ll hear that the Southern Catalpa has “no edible parts” whatsoever. I’ve heard, though, that way, way back in the day, native healers made medicinal teas from the bark and the seed pods.
I love catalpa trees. I love them for their thick, twisted branches, for their gigantic elephant-ear shaped leaves, for their fragrant flowers in the springs, and for those long, spindly, strange-looking seed pods.
We had a catalpa tree in our neighborhood. It was in the yard of a single man — a lawyer of some sort — and it quickly became “the neighborhood tree”. We all climbed that tree. We held our club meetings there. We sat beneath its cooling shade, and we fashioned silly hats from the leaves. We picked those bean pods, watched the catalpa worms — fascinating black caterpillars — and it was there that we told our stories, thought of our futures, and shared our dreams.
I enjoyed thinking of those carefree summer days from childhood as I worked on this Inktober drawing.
I was far from happy with my drawing, but that was probably to be expected because no drawing could ever truly represent the old catalpa tree with all its memories.
The memory I cherish most of this beloved tree comes from a chance encounter with a young man from Canada. The little town where I grew up — Excelsior Springs — was a world-known spa back in the day. People traveled there to partake of the waters, said to have healing properties. Later, science declared the waters to be a hoax, and the town went into decline. The clinics closed, the doctors moved away, the hotels fell into disrepair. Times change, attitudes change, too, and the town is now undergoing a revival. People are once again “taking the waters” and enjoying the scenic beauty of the town.
But, back to my story.
As my friends and I played in the tree one summer’s day, a young man strolled by. People did a lot of walking back in the day, you know. Or maybe you don’t know. But, yes, walking was a popular activity. The fellow stopped before our tree — as we called it, for it belonged to all of us even if it was in Dick Moore’s yard — and he inquired as to what sort of tree it was. He was from Canada, he explained, and he’d never seen such a tree before.
We looked at one another and shrugged. Although there were probably five or six of us there playing among those thick, twisted branches, not a one of us knew what kind of tree we were in. It was one of those moments of realization in life. How often do we go searching for knowledge about distant times and places, all the while failing to learn about and appreciate all that’s so close to home?
After that, I was eager to learn about the tree, and even now, it’s teaching me new lessons. In making my drawing today, I thought more about the illusions in art, and I learned that some illusions are easier to create than others. I wasn’t sure how to create the illusion of those big, heart-shaped leaves, so I just did my best. Mostly I just thought about being a little girl again, about all the summer days I spent climbing that big old tree with my friends.
Life was different back in the day, but one thing hasn’t changed. The old catalpa tree is still there.
TOMORROW’S PROMPT WORDS:
Cheeky Monkey Mind and I will be back to share more adventures with you then!