From: Colby Rucker
Sent: Sunday, June 08, 2003 7:27 PM
To my knowledge, cottonwoods aren't native to tidewater Maryland, but I
understand they occur along rivers in the Piedmont. I've only
encountered a few planted specimens.
I recall cutting about four trees, mostly about 20" dbh, all
stag-headed or worse, on a local doctor's estate in the late fifties. It
was a pretty simple job to drop the trees into the field, roll log
lengths back to the edge, and drag the limbs into the woods. The largest
tree was covered with a big poison ivy vine. If I'm fairly sensible, I
can work with poison ivy, but this was a huge mass of long-limbed three-leafers,
which looked pretty threatening on a hot July day.
The doctor noticed my caution, and said that I could drag armloads of
the stuff safely. He explained that he was a homeopathic doctor, made
many of his own medicines, and had made lots of his special poison ivy
pills from that very vine for years. Well, I'd never heard of
homeopathic medicine, but his son was our family doctor, and so I took
him at his word. He soon produced a little green bottle full of tiny
pure white pills - looked like sugar.
I took six as he directed, and put the bottle in the truck. I then
picked up big armloads of poison ivy and dragged them into the woods.
Sawing up the trunk was hot work, especially with a chain saw of the
period - 44 lbs., gear drive. It had a float-type carburetor, so you
kept the engine level, but the drive shaft was front-to-back, so that
the transmission and front handle could be rotated for different angles
Well, I raked up the last of the poison ivy, finished the job, went home
and took the rest of the little white pills as directed, but certain
that I'd soon be scratching all over, or at least have big blisters on
my wrists and forearms. Amazingly, nothing happened. Apparently the
doctor made a number of other medicines, and marketed them. It would
have been interesting to have learned more about homeopathic medicine.
My other memorable cottonwood experience was a big ugly specimen near
a tall brick wall that had once separated two grand colonial properties
in Annapolis. The only access was through a very narrow alley between
two Victorian houses, with almost no working space. We lowered the
branches in small pieces, and carried them out without touching the
siding of the houses. So far so good.
We started to chunk the trunk down in blocks, and encountered a big nest
of honey bees, which delayed things. I've worn a bee suit for German
hornets and stuff, and try to spare the critters, but these bees were
everywhere. An exterminator snuffed them out that night, and we resumed
work the next morning. The blocks were big; four or five feet tall, some
five feet thick.
We carefully winched the blocks out between the houses, and loaded them
on the log truck.
I had an army 6x6 truck with two winches. There were 18-foot booms in
the front, and heavier booms set on top of a tow plate in the rear. The
rear booms could be lowered onto the cab, but the truck still took a lot
of space on the one-way street.
All went well until I was standing in the street, trying to retrieve a
rake that had been left against the log truck's backstop, and was
pinched by a block. The rake projected into the travel lane, and I was
tugging on it. I heard a car horn, but ignored it. Apparently the
driver, an elderly man, was honking at a friend and never saw me. I
heard a big "boom!" and was thrown onto his windshield, which
must have scared the heck out of him. He hit his brakes, and I then
bounced down the street for another fifty six feet.
One of my men was older than I, a hard worker, but henpecked.
Immediately he ran to the nearest house, and pounded on the door. The
door opened, and he said, "Quick! I gotta use your telephone!"
The homeowner asked, "Why? What is it?" My helper replied,
"My boss just got hit by a car, and I gotta phone my wife and tell
her I'm gonna be late."
Well, someone else called an ambulance, and they carted me off. I was
banged up all over, but nothing broken. I worked the next day, and we
finished the cottonwood, but I moved like I was ninety years old - at
So, that's my experience with cottonwoods. Probably a good thing there
weren't more of them around.