Great catalpa
Kodak EasyShare Z730, 2007

When I was in college and on the air at the campus radio station, a buddy created a lovely program of soft new-age music that aired late every Sunday night. He called it The Catalpa Tree because he liked the way it sounded. “You’re under the catalpa tree on WMHD,” he’d say as he segued into the next movement of relaxing musical ephemera. He thought the name was extra appropriate because he was told that a particular old tree on campus was a catalpa. But he admitted that he wouldn’t recognize a catalpa if he saw one.

Years passed. I graduated college, started my career, got married, had kids, and got divorced. While I waited for the divorce to be final, my church let me live in its vacant parsonage out in front of the church. Out the living-room window you could see the large median between the in and out driveways to the church parking lot. A very large tree stood in it. I had no idea what it was, but it sure was full and lush. In the spring it produced a lot of lovely white flowers with purple accents.

The tree needed trimming, and I had spotted a hole to a hollow spot. It needed an arborist’s attention, and I mentioned it to one of the church elders. “Oh, the catalpa tree,” he said. “That’s a catalpa?!” I replied. “Yes, and it’s easily 150 years old,” he said.

It was beautiful in the spring, for sure, but it was interesting after the leaves fell off in the autumn. Its branches were twisted and knurled like a wild lightning storm, moving up from the ground rather than down from the sky.

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12 responses to “Under the catalpa tree”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    The interesting thing about this entry, is it makes me sad for the lack of a wide range of broadcast programming in most cities. I would have loved to fall asleep on a Sunday night to a soundtrack of soft new age style music. When I moved to the city I live in now, to watch out for my Mom, it had a full time jazz radio station with local jocks, and an NPR station that played old radio programs on Sunday night. In addition, they had World Cafe almost every night. None of that exists here today.

    Sure, I get The whole idea that you can stream anything on the internet; plenty of great jazz stations around the world, BUT, the fact that I need to own an almost one thousand dollar a year internet connection, and at least a few hundred dollar computer of some sort, to get the same thing I used to get for free, on a twenty dollar radio I bought at Target, and with a local “vibe”, well, it’s ridiculous, isn’t it.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I wrote an essay some years ago lamenting the loss of live, local radio. I’ll dig it up and rerun it.

  2. seatacphoto1951 Avatar

    Is the tree still there?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I believe so. It’s been a year or two since I drove down that road, but it was there the last time I passed by.

  3. sonny rosenberg Avatar

    Nice article and photo! I love Catalpa trees, they grow crazy fast here but not very tall. Most Catalpas around here are around 12 feet tall, but get so lush with foliage that their boughs sometimes touch the ground.
    Several years back our neighbor planted a pair of spindly little Catalpas that were so skinny (a couple inches or so) they had to be held up with stakes. In one summer they were 10 feet tall and a foot thick at the base.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oh how interesting! I had a tall but spindly catalpa in my back yard at my last house, and it didn’t grow much in the 10 years I lived there. It was a little choked by many other trees surrounding it, however.

  4. Ted Kappes Avatar

    I have always loved Catalpa trees. My grandmother had one growing at the corner of her lot. Some people complained about it because it would drop many branches. Still I thought it was beautiful. She passed in 1991 and we sold her house shortly after. I didn’t think of the catalpa much, however I was surprised to see it was still there when I went by her old place a few years ago. It inspired me to plant a couple of catalpas myself. So far they are doing great. I am not sure what took me so long to plant them and I hope I am around to see them grow up.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      How awesome that you planted those trees! I’d like to plant a catalpa at our next home. We’re not staying in this one long term so I don’t want to invest.

  5. J P Avatar

    Every 7th grader where I went to school was assigned to do a leaf collection over the summer before 8th grade. My only experience with a catalpa tree was when word spread about a catalpa growing behind a pharmacy in the area. I’m sure lots of us got one of its leaves.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Those are some mighty large leaves!

  6. Martin Jones Avatar
    Martin Jones

    Wasn’t WMHD out of Rose Hulman?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It was indeed!

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