Cottonwood thrives in the white sands of New Mexico.  It is a rather remarkable feat.  When I visited the largest white gypsum sand deposit in the world I came across these small groupings of shrubs growing in the sand dunes.

Cottonwood growing at the White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

What I didn’t realize was that these were not shrubs but rather the tops of 30-50 foot high trees that were buried by the shifting dunes.  The trees strive to keep branches above the sand and as long as they are able to that the tree thrives.  At the bottom of the shifting sand dune, the cotton wood has dug it’s roots 3 feet deep to the water table.

This to me is a metaphor for faith.  The shifting sands, circumstances in our life could indeed bury us but as long as two things are operating we will thrive.  First we need to have our beings rooted firmly in what nourishes us.  So when the winds are shifting / disrupting everything we were once confident in, if we are firmly grounded in what sustains us we will be able to stand.  We might be shaken horribly by what is blown away but these things are not what sustain us.

Second we need to keep our interactions with the world, vibrant, responsive, green.  In other words offering / sharing our hope, our love, our life with others.  Remain engaged in the world.  It might at first seem sense-able to hunker down and allow the storm to bury us / entomb us until it has passed but this is not the way of faith.  Surrendering to the sand storm will mean our spiritual death.   The cottonwood by sending its green branches high above the sands offers shelter, solace, even water to the animals that calls this desolate place  home.  We are called to do the same and even more so when the sands of harsh circumstances blow across the ground of our being.

And when the sands of life have shifted again, we remain as testaments to an enduring faith offering wisdom and hope to another generation. Blessings,

Cottonwood that survived the shifting dunes that once covered it



  1. Neat reflection! Have you read/ordered Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God? Much that you already know but so wise and deep and dense with information and analysis… I am glad that you inspire our community!

  2. Thank you so much, I’m going to add this to my “Cottonwood Contemplation” file. And, may I be so bold as to add another dimension to your faith-provoking meditation? That water table into which those cottonwoods–Rio Grande Cottonwoods, according to my research–is actually an ancient lake bed from the geological period known as the Permian–between about 299-250 million years ago. Cottonwoods as a genus (populus)showed up about 55 million years ago, individual species about 24 mya., but when they appeared, the “deep well” was there. Thanks again.

    Kathleen Cain, author
    The Cottonwood Tree: An American Champion (Johnson Books/Big Earth Publishing. Boulder, CO: 2007).

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