A people living with nature, and largely dependent upon nature, will note with care every natural aspect in their environment. Accustomed to observe through the days and the seasons, in times of stress and of repose, every natural feature, they will watch for every sign of impending mood of nature, every intimation of her favor and every monition of her austerity. Living thus in daily association with the natural features of a region some of the more notable will assume a sort of personality in the popular mind, and so come to have a place in philosophic thought and religious ritual.
The cottonwood [the Plains Indians] found in such diverse situations, appearing always so self-reliant, showing such prodigious fecundity, its lustrous leaves in springtime by their sheen and by their restlessness reflecting the splendor of the sun like the dancing ripples of a lake, that to this tree they ascribed mystery. This peculiarity of the foliage of the cottonwood is quite remarkable, so that it is said the air is never so still that there is not motion of cottonwood leaves. Even in still summer afternoons and at night when all else was still, they could ever hear the rustling of cottonwood leaves by the passage of little vagrant currents of air. And the winds themselves were the paths of the Higher Powers, so they were constantly reminded of the mystic character of this tree.
Melvin R. Gilmore, Uses of Plants by the Indians of the Missouri River Region, qtd. in Least Heat-Moon, PrairyErth.
It’s a measure of my Midwestern and Great Plains personality that I have always loved the cottonwood.