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Why The “Cottonwood” Center?

Posted On July 6, 2015

As we prepare for the official opening of The Cottonwood Center, I’d like to share the origin of this name. My goal in starting The Cottonwood Center has always been to make a space for individuals and families to find welcome, safety, and encouragement to continue their journeys. The cottonwood tree offers symbols of these qualities in its history, ecology, and biology.

Aldo Leopold called the cottonwood “a buoy in the prairie sea.” (A Sand County Almanac, 1949) . According to naturalist Jim Mason, “When the pioneers crossed the Great Plains on the Santa Fe or the Oregon Trail, they often went for a long time without seeing any trees. The prairie was frequently seen as a very foreign and hostile environment … There is a tree that is well-adapted to life on the prairie, however… That species is the cottonwood tree,” ( The cottonwood is the state tree of Kansas, in part because of this history: “When a cottonwood tree was spotted, thoughts of shade, water, wood and back home filled the minds of weary travelers. The cottonwood gave those traveling … a respite from the summer sun and the courage to continue west,” (

While the expression “Life is a hard journey” has become cliché, it is true that going it alone is exhausting, especially when you don’t know whom to join. Counseling and other therapies are not meant to replace the individual’s or family’s journey: they are meant to be resources for taking stock, considering options, finding mental and social connections that help us on our way. The Cottonwood Center is a safe place to meet other travelers, share stories, and reinvigorate ourselves during our travels. This respite is especially valuable for those who carry the precious burdens of creativity, sensitivity, and intensity that accompany their own and/or their family members’ temperaments.

While cottonwood trees are not ideal for timber or firewood, they are one of the most important habitat providers on the prairie, both during living stages (for xxx) and during decay phases (insect and grubs in snag trees are essential for woodpecker survival). All ages and stages of life can be both painful and generative, although the value of persons is not always recognized in (sub)cultures that value economic or technological contribution above all else. At The Cottonwood Center, we value diversity, dialogue, and safe space for all. We will never all agree – nor should we, for sameness breeds stagnation, not growth. In the words of poet Audre Lorde: “Difference must not be merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic. Only then does the necessity for interdependence become unthreatening,” (Cite). People from all walks of life have much to give, and are invited to explore, connect, and grow at The Cottonwood Center.

And what about those pesky cottonwood seeds that fluff and fly for miles in May and can still be found in the window screens in July? To this I say: life is messy! (Especially with children.) If we can survive and even thrive through the mess, great trees can grow from tiny seeds. In the right social and emotional environment, with the right mental and existential nourishment, growth happens.

Welcome to The Cottonwood Center.