Even Here, Though, Everything Has Not Been Perfect. One Species That Used To Be An Important Part Of This Forest Is All But Gone. In 1904, An American Chestnut Tree In New York City Was Infected By A Fungus From Asia, And The Dreaded Chestnut Blight Had Begun. Chestnuts, Like All Other Tree Species, Were Already Being Cut Heavily Across The Northeast, And The Spreading Blight Only Amplified The Destruction. Some Landowners Were Cutting Their Chestnuts Quickly To Get An Economic Benefit From Their Trees While They Could; Others Were Advised By Foresters To Cut Them To Help Slow The Spread Of The Pathogen. But The Cutting Didn’T Help.
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In Hindsight, It Might Have Been Better Not To Cut Any Of The Chestnuts Once The Blight Started. Perhaps, Somewhere In All Those Chestnut Groves, There Were Some Trees With Genes That Made Them Resistant To The Blight Fungus. We’Ll Never Know. Because Cook Forest Was Not Logged, It Was One Of The Few Places Chestnut Trees Were Allowed To Take Their Chances Against The Blight. Most Of Them Lost The Battle. Although They Are Long Dead, Gravity Hasn’T Yet Won, And Many Of The Snags Still Stand. Today These Ghosts Have A Unique, Ethereal Beauty. The Bark Has All Been Shed So The Pattern And Texture Of The Wood Shows, But The Pattern Is Not That Of A Tree Reaching Straight For The Sky. It Spirals Like A Unicorn’S Horn.
This Spiral Pattern Is Not Uncommon In Trees, Although We Still Do Not Completely Understand It. Many Trees, Especially Conifers Growing In Harsh Environments, Show Spiraling. Most Of Them Spiral Left To Right, Although There Are Exceptions, And In Some Individual Trees The Spiral Eventually Reverses Direction. Hardwoods Tend To Be More Straight-Grained Than The Conifers, Although When They Do Spiral It Is More Often Toward The Right. We Still Don’T Know If The Spiraling Is Genetic, Environmental, Or A Combination Of The Two. Perhaps Some Minuscule Early Unevenness Becomes Exaggerated With Age. I Recognize This In Myself And Other Aging Humans Why Not Trees?
One Blog About Spiral Grain Says, “If Extreme Spiral Grain Presents Conceptual Difficulties To The Scientific Mind, The Trees Themselves Clearly Have Little Difficulty Adapting To It.” The Chestnut Ghosts I Saw Here Mostly Spiraled To The Right. I Put My Hand To The Grain And Appreciated An Organism That Was No Longer Living But Was Still Influencing The Forest Ecosystem, Slowly Releasing The Resources It Had Gathered And Benefiting Other Organisms. The Smaller, Still Living Chestnuts Give Me Hope For The Future. Extinction Is Forever, But The American Chestnut Is Not Extinct.
The Air Was Absolutely Calm, But Suddenly There Was A Loud Crack, Followed By A Ground-Shuddering Boom. One Of The Ghosts Had Gone From Standing To Supine. If I Hadn’T Paused To Appreciate This Particular Ghost, Might I Have Been Made A Ghost Myself?
There Can Be No Doubt That The Male Of Our Species Has Cut Or Ordered Cut Most Of Our Forests. One May Question Whether This Is Because They Had The Power To Do So, And Whether Women With The Same Power Would Have Made The Same Choices. Or One Might Speculate That Men Are Simply More Prone To Conquest, Either Over Other Men Or Over The Natural World. Whatever The Reason, It Should Be Noted That Men Have Played A Dominant Role In Forest Preservation, Too. Some Men Logged Without Any Notion Of Preservation; Some Preserved Forests Without Doing Any Logging; And Some Played Dual Roles As Both Loggers And Preservationists. It Is Rare For Me To Meet A Man These Days Who Does Both. Most Men I Know See Themselves As Either One Or The Other Timber Beast Or Tree Hugger. The Cooks Of Pennsylvania Were Unusual In That They Embraced Both Roles.
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