Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Trees Speak: A Chestnut Tragedy

I have observed that trees tend to be quite gregarious; they frequently call out to me for admiration and attention. I have had quite a few meaningful relationships with various trees all over the world, and am friendly with countless others. To my deep honor and great sadness, I have often been befriended by trees who are nearing the end of their lives, a fact that they are clearly more aware of than I ever am (at least until they are gone).

One of the more significant friendships I have shared with Tree People was with a small stand of chestnut saplings that lived near my home on Johnnycake Mountain a few years ago. When I first moved there, the 65 acres next to the house offered a high elevation meadow where cows grazed and the view was wide and expansive. The pasture sloped down into a forest where a section of the CT Blue Trail meandered; it was a popular path for hikers and I would stroll around the field and forest frequently. It wasn’t too long before real estate developers infiltrated this peaceful vista, and soon a dirt road circumnavigated the once unspoiled farmland.

It was disheartening to watch the steady encroachment of modern civilization. Summer afternoons became punctuated by the rhythmic tapping of the carpenters hammering nails into the frames of new construction. The sharp smell of fresh tar wafted on every light breeze for months after they paved the road. Blast alarms would ring out moments before the ground would rumble and shudder from the dynamite ripping ancient boulders asunder. It was impossible to block out, yet I continued to walk my circuit, in spite of the assaulting asphalt and mushrooming mcmansions. 

Regularly, I would engage with the chestnuts; even if it was just a nod and a cheerful hello. I was excited that they grew there, as the chestnut blight decimated nearly the entire population of this once incredibly prevalent species early in the 20th century. An introduced species of chestnut from Japan harbored the disease that wiped out this critical food source for humans and animals alike, drastically altering the entire ecosystem. The trees that tenaciously cling to life these days generally succumb to this fungal infection before they are mature enough to produce a viable seed. 

This small, but sturdy stand along my route had actually begun to produce chestnuts, lots of them, and upon discovering them for the first time, I was exultant. This was incredibly rare, so I snipped some specimens to mail to The American Chestnut Society, but it was for naught. As I was passing them one afternoon, I offered my usual greeting, to which they replied, “Goodbye.” My heart leaped into my throat and I protested. “No! Not goodbye! I’ll see you on my walk tomorrow!” I hurriedly pushed away my apprehension and trudged on.

I didn’t take my usual walk for a couple of days after that, and as I approached the place where the chestnuts lived, a feeling of dread grew within me. I rounded the bend and saw them. They had been bulldozed. Stuffed unceremoniously, crown-first into the earth, their roots upended, dried dirt still clinging in clumps to their withering roots. I cried out in grief and pain and rushed to their supine forms, feeling their nearly extinguished life fading, no sense of consciousness reached out to me. I screamed and wailed and beat the ground; my tears fell onto the dust until I was exhausted from the anguish. 

I now understand that when a plant or tree bids me farewell, its death is imminent and as much as that causes me profound heartache, I feel privileged that one of the Elders would even be bothered to make friends with me, as humans are so frequently ignorant and detestable. I feel like a Lorax, shouting for the trees. Please, don’t just listen to me; try listening with all your heart… to THEM.

“HerbaLisl” Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG) is a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a Reiki Master an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer who has enjoyed a successful private practice for nearly twenty years.
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