Chestnuts of Hope

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At least 10 years ago, I read Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. I think it was in this story that I first learned of the American Chestnut and how the trees had vanished from a blight about 50 years ago. I remember the deep sadness I felt for that loss. Towering trees that had filled the eastern landscapes were gone.

But yesterday I heard a story on the radio telling me that the trees haven’t completely vanished. A few have survived and an interviewer stood under 60 foot chestnuts with the couple who planted them, hoping that the trees might outlive them.  The radio sound of the bees swarming in the pollen of a tree’s canopy filled my car as I listened to the story. It’s a three minute piece. If you’d like to listen, I put a link to the story here:

http://minnesota.publicradio.org/features/npr.php?id=202401666

This article has more information about the comeback and pictures of the ‘redwoods of the east’ with their fuzzy nuts and fat leaves:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/12/13/167142393/sowing-the-seeds-for-a-great-american-chestnut-comeback

I felt surprised at first and then the story of once gone chestnuts returning filled me with a strange hope. How many other ‘gone’ things in my life might come back?

What impressed me, too, was that people had cut down many of the chestnuts years ago when the blight took over. People had lost hope and simply chopped their trees rather than wait to see if the fungus would kill them.

The radio piece was a short story, yet it sits on my mind. I have a mental picture of the couple who planted these trees standing under their leaves, looking up, and hoping. Hoping even as they know that trees might die and giving seedlings away so others can plant and hope, too.

I know that too many people, plants and animals have truly disappeared. The Carolina Parakeet, as far as I know, is never coming back. Many people I have loved are also gone from this world.

But it gave me such a thrill to hear the bees buzzing over the radio at me as they worked a tree I had given up for lost.

At its best, I think life it like this. We know about death. We know we all will succumb. But in the meantime…in the meantime, there is life and bees buzzing to give us that little spark to keep on. I also wonder how many times I have thought something was dead and gone when it was just waiting for the right moment to come back. I wonder. And I’d like to think I can hold off on chopping trees down even though the end may be inevitable. After all, the bees might need that pollen. I know I need the hope.

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