In October of 2009, I walked into the north pasture and sat next to a four-year-old European chestnut tree. I've been back every day since. I watched this sapling reach towards the sky, skew east to avoid the shade of a short-lived alder, shed leaves, and accumulate rows of scars from a red-breasted sapsucker. The tree is a friend. From the knee-high seedling I planted, it's grown to a sturdy tree that doesn't need goat-resistant fencing around it any more.
This year, I scuffled through the prickly seed husks at the base of the tree and found one nut that the squirrels had missed. "It's a rite of passage!" said our friend T-bone when I told him about this first tasty fruit. European chestnuts typically need other chestnuts to pollinate them in order to produce nuts. I looked around to the other trees I had planted, wondering which one contributed springtime pollen to make this nut swell and grow in its velvet-lined husk. It gives me a vicarious thrill to know that the pollen from another chestnut tree blew onto this one. It's a bit like seeing teenagers flirt, that first blush of new romance. My little trees, growing up and reproducing! Hopefully this tree is still flirting in 200 years, reveling in a springtime mist of pollen floating through the neighborhood. I gave chestnut trees to several neighbors, knowing that more pollen increases all of our odds for a good harvest.
I visited a nut tree farmer named Don years ago, when he was still alive. He took me on a tour of his grove, and pointed out a row of walnut trees planted just five years earlier. "I'm 83," he said. "I'm never going to see the benefit of those trees. But someone will be glad I planted them." Young children visit my tree in the fall, laughing as they scoop up elegant chestnut leaves, delighting in the risky venture of stepping on the prickly seed husks. Their great-great-grandchildren might come to these same trees. When my name is long forgotten, I hope the trees I've planted persist. Someone will be glad I planted them