The simplified and abbreviated version of the story is this.

Once a vital species, so indigenous to this landscape that nearly one-fourth of the forests in it the northeast united states were comprised of it, the American Chestnut was nearly annihilated when a fungus, against which it had no natural defense, was unwittingly transmitted to it by an introduced species. The trees had been a major source of food for the creatures of the forests in which they thrived, while also adding vital nutrients to the ecology of the soil, but within a few decades, the blight had killed 3 billion trees.

A century later, the wild tree is still unable to survive within its native range beyond 10 year old sprouts of 20 feet or so and none are able to reproduce and bear fruit. Botantists have for decades been attempting to restore the Chestnut , by successively selecting blight resistant trees and breeding them. Some are now being made available for planting and tending by hopeful stewards. The slow and patient passage of time alone will reveal if they will be successful.

A member of our community has been granted and has planted 2 American Chestnut trees. Old photos of the woods surrounding the homes in our community reveal that the Chestnut was once abundant and prolific here, but now, we have these two, small saplings, which we are endowed to tend and protect. .There she is in the photo above, like an infant in a crib, complete with a bow.

There is something so tenderly hopeful about it, and at the same time terribly tragic. To think that something so innately integral, so vital and valuable, can be completely devastated so as to become a stranger in our midst, is mournful. Of course, we have done it before, to human persons as well as animal and plant ones, in both callous and careless ways. The litany of loss is long.

Of course, the mere process of evolution of life on this planet has also caused once vital species to completely vanish. The wide spread of disease, calamity, population explosions and resource depletions, and great shifts in climate have each altered a landscape that may have previously appeared to be ‘set in stone’. What was once steadfast and sure is suddenly slippery.  It can happen in an instant.

Nothing is static. Life is change.  There is life, there is death, there is life again.

When I gaze upon these trees though, I wonder. Was there something in me that may have seemed so innate, once upon a time,  so much a part of who I was that it seemed inconceivable that it could one day be made invisible?

I can more easily name the invasions that would have wiped me out than I can imagine what I looked like ‘before’. One blow, against which I was naturally unprepared and defenseless, but perhaps rallying to survive, followed by another, and suddenly the entire landscape of my life was drastically altered.

I expect most of us have such an experience of life in this place. It seems that life forges us with each happening and we are eternally reconceived in this strange union of who-we-are with what-we-encounter.

Nature. Nurture.

Perhaps we mourn so the loss of yet another expression of life in this place, perhaps we fight so diligently to save it, perhaps it feels so tender to us, because some part of us wants to believe that there is Something eternal. Something unswervingly real. Something innate within us that is timeless and essential and inviolable, that makes us Who we are. We struggle mightily between deep acceptance of the fluidity of life and the yearning for something inviolable.

And perhaps this is an intuition far deeper than simple desire, an ancient soul-wisdom stirred awake in response to a sapling in a cage. That we belong here in this place may be a small part of that awakening, but that we are innately bestowed with value, that we bear an intrinsic and essential gift into this place, is the larger portion.

And when that is restored, it will nourish multitudes.







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