chestnuts

it’s beginning to feel like i spend an unusual amount of time planting trees.  friday ma and planted chestnuts, hazels, and service berries.  yesterday after work i spent another couple hours planting more chestnuts and native plums.  

i’m excited about almost all the trees and shrubs i’ve planted this spring , but the chestnuts i think i’m most excited about.  these chestnuts are in fact hybrids, but unlike most chestnuts you see, they are 100% american chestnut, no european or chinese genetics in them.  these chestnuts are breed from american chestnuts that have shown resistance to chestnut blight. course that doesn’t mean they are all going to make it, they could die still. 

the chestnut has a special place in my heart.  as a child we would take weekend trips to the shenandoah valley to go for hikes and do nature stuff.  one of the things that fascinated me most was the ameican chestnut.  it’s story was like a greek tragedy to me.  the chestnut once was the dominate tree of the appalachian mountains, providing huge amounts of food for game.  early settlers were able to have constant sources of meat because of the large numbers of animals supported.  the wood was extremely valuable both beautiful, rot resistant, and easy to work.  the nuts themselves supported the people of appalachia, they consumed the nut, fatted livestock on i,t and extra nuts gathered and sold were a source of income.  and then the chestnut blight came though and killed just about everyone of them.  i remember staring at the pictures of forests made of ghosts of chestnuts, their bleached trunks naked of leaf or bark.  i can’t imagine what a tragedy it must have been for the people living there.

when i would go for walks i would look for the chestnut, i knew what it’s leaf looked like.  i hoped i would find a rare unaffected tree, be able to sit in it’s shade and collect it’s nuts.  i did from time to time find a chestnut growing, but these were always suckers growing up from tree roots.  the chestnut blight kills back the top growth, but the roots don’t seem much affected, so they can keep on going for a long time sending up suckers.  the suckers of course die as soon as they get a few years old, though they do once in a great while throw off the rare nut.  

so my dream to lounge under the shade of the chestnut and enjoy it’s flesh may still come true, but it will be many years before that happens.

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