Thursday, November 8, 2012


I was going to write a bit about readying myself for winter, checking the larder and all that, but Cro beat me to it, and his pantry shelves look so tidy. Next, i was thinking of single friends and how they are sometimes viewed like lepers but John wrote about that.

Great minds, eh? Okay, now that i've returned from that momentary self delusion...

Hurricane Sandy went a bit south of us so while we had some rain, high wind gusts, some limbs fall from trees, and a complete tree or two, as well as power outages, there was really little indication here that this was the largest storm ever recorded. We don't often lose power, but the lights can flicker now and again in high winds, and as we are on the coast, high winds are not uncommon.

We were more concerned about the Nor'easter which arrived here last night, bringing snow, and i must say, i wasn't quite ready for it. I usually find the first snow of the season delicious. I welcome the brisk, crisp air, the chance to snuggle under sweaters, and the usual search through the closet for boots and a pair of matching mittens or gloves. But it caught me mentally unprepared this year, and i felt rather gloomy yesterday when i saw that my larder wasn't as stocked as i like it to be by first snow, the second raking of leaves in the front yard didn't happen, and i nearly missed the postwoman's arrival. I was walking towards the letterbox to put letters in for her to take, as she pulled up. Letters. It's been a long time since i sent a proper letter. No, they were cheques, as i really don't like electronic banking.

Over my lunch break yesterday, i went to the grocery store to stock up on some things, and silently clucked when i returned knowing i wouldn't have time to do the last bit of raking before dark as i needed to get back to work. At least i had gotten the first raking done, and that's what got me to thinking about chestnuts.

The trees in our front yard are for the most part old oaks and maples. The garden patch, which the previous owners had sectioned off with green wire fencing, houses a few rhubarb plants, two grape bushes, and cranberry plants (those being planted by me last year). The card that came with the cranberry plants said to mulch around them with leaves over winter. The mature trees in the front make it quite easy for me to do this, and so last year, i raked when half the leaves were off the tree to cover the cranberry plants (they were too small for me to qualify as bushes), and what i didn't use there i used in the asparagus bed on the other side of the yard.

The second raking was good for mulching around some roses, and any leaves i had left went to a leaf pile behind the barn.

This year, newly out of my walking cast, Himself away, and Hurricane Sandy approaching, i thought it best to do another two-part raking, even if it did feel a bit like Sisyphus. I knew what areas i wanted to mulch and was raking leaves for that rather than for cosmetic purposes. Many had already blown down, more than i would need, and i didn't relish having to cart the extra to the other side of the yard behind the barn. Once raked into a pile, i couldn't just leave the pile there.

I was reading through the classified ads of our local weekly paper, and saw an advert asking for leaves. The ad read that the person would cart them away for free if they were in bags or piles. I started raking and called after a bit. If he'd already had enough takers and wasn't interested in my leaves, i didn't need to rake any more for my mulching needs. He answered, was happy to take my leaves and would arrive next day, late morning.

Overnight, of course, more leaves fell, and i hustled outside to add the newly fallen to the piles all over the front yard. I then started to weed the section of the asparagus bed i hadn't gotten to before covering it with leaves. He arrived as i was weeding, and i went over to shake his hand.

"Are you here to help?" he asked.

I liked how he got right to the point, told him i'd be glad to, and we loaded up the piles by raking them onto large tarps he had brought then lifting the tarps into the back of his truck. He wanted the leaves for mulch in his orchard. Oak leaves took a long time to break down, so he loved those for the orchard. He preferred maple for the gardens, since maple leaves broke down faster. His truck had a few bumper stickers on them, one which read, "Dirt Worshipper and Tree Hugger." So his comment about which leaves were best for which purposes didn't surprise me at all.

We collected the piles closest to the road first, and they were nearly all oak leaves. Between the garden patch the previous owners fenced in and the open side yard, there's a thicket of trees--a large evergreen, some straggly maples, and one notched tree that reminded me of ash, although the leaves were a bit different. Always meant to look up what kind of leaf it was but never seemed to get around to it. As we worked our way towards the pile in this open side yard, he grabbed one of the small, yellow, oval leaves.

"This is elm!" he exclaimed. "Where's the elm tree?"

Elm? I knew there was a huge elm by the town office, and as a child i remember the lovely shade they provided on many streets in my hometown, but then Dutch Elm Disease struck. I wasn't very old when that happened, and as i thought on that, i pointed to the tree i thought was ash. A scant handful of leaves still clung tiredly to one of its branches.

"Oh, i thought that was an ash tree when i looked at it," he said. I nodded, mumbled that i had, too, and felt very happy inside. No wonder the leaves didn't look familar to me. I hadn't seen them in nearly 45 years and couldn't remember them clearly enough from childhood to know what they were. I mentioned planting a ginko seedling at my last location. A friend saud that i wouldn't be alive to see it grow to any great height. While i knew that was true, i told him it gave me hope that future generations might.

We talked about his orchard--he's got pears, peaches, a few apples. And chestnuts. By this point, the truck was nearly filled with leaves, and the few piles that were left would be no problem for me to add to my mulch spots. He pointed to the bumper sticker on his car: TACF, the American Chestnut Foundation. He also pointed to his cap, which sported the same logo. He's a high ranking member in the organisation, and through back breeding, they're growing Restoration® chestnut trees.

Chestnut trees were a US staple in eastern forests until about 1950 when an Asian fungus wiped out most of them. The TACF is cross-breeding Chinese chestnut trees, which are resistant to the fungus with surviving US chestnut trees, and when those trees reach a certain age, they take the most desirable ones and cross-breed again with US chestnut trees. Lather, rinse, repeat. The goal is to breed a tree that retains many of the American chestnut characteristics but one that is resistant to the fungus. The Restoration® chestnut trees are 94% American. They use US chestnut trees from the same state where the orchards will be planted, so when they are ready to offer the seedlings to the public, the US chestnut part of the tree will be very similar to surviving chestnut trees in that same geographic area.

In order to have an orchard of them, one needs about 3/4 acre, which would use up most of our open land, so i couldn't offer to be a spot for an orchard. If i want to be a member and pay a higher than regular membership price, i can get two trees. Or more, if wish to pay a good deal more.

The literature he handed me (only after asking if i'd be interested in seeing it) mentioned how chestnuts provide food for all types of wildlife here: wild turkeys, white tailed deer, black bears. I've seen all three in my back yard--even without chestnut trees. It would take several years before the trees would bear fruit. I dug in my asparagus and cranberries last year knowing it would take a few seasons before i could have anything to harvest. Why not add chestnuts to the list?

And so he drove away with a truck full of leaves, leaving me to smile at the elm that somehow avoided a plague that wiped out most of its kin and wondering where the chestnuts ought to go.


  1. Chestnuts are a major part of our local economy. Our gathering season has just finished.

  2. I thought of you, Cro, when we were discussing chestnuts. As a kid, i found them on the ground on occasion, but didn't realize that before the Asian fungus, in deciduous forests here, 1 out of 4 trees was a chestnut. In the stand of trees in our back yard, we have birch, oaks, maples, perhaps another elm. But no chestnuts.