the chestnut tree

You Can’t Find My House

I just got off the phone with mom, and we came to the realization that my family has lived in a series of unplottable houses for a couple generations now.

-The First Unplottable House is on my dad’s side of the family, in Delphi, Iowa.  The directions to it are the stuff of Buried Treasure:  Turn off the county road with a fraction in it’s name, to the Named Dirt Road, then turn at The Discount Eggs Sign on to the Unnamed dirt road that takes a meandering path THROUGH a corn field, DO NOT take any forks on that road or the farmer will shoot your ass, then take the paved road that dead-ends on ALL the way to the end- No, farther, the road keeps going it’s not a cliff-The only indication that You Have Arrived At The Correct Driveway is that a fat gray pony will charge the car, screaming, then escort you the rest of the way there.

It’s on the side of an enormous river, they’ve owned the property since 1911, and that’s the ONLY route there.

-The Second Unplottable house is in Bedford, Ohio and belonged to my mother’s parents.  It’s at the corner of two side-streets, right across from the tiny Italian grocery store.  Due to strange development decisions, the house is about 30 feet above street level and rendered invisible by a chestnut tree so majestic Hyao Myazaki would probably put it in a movie.  The driveway, however, is VERY visible from any of the surrounding houses, the grocer, or the street.  

At least in theory and old photos, becuase if you actually GO there,  your eyes slide right past it to the neighbor’s lillac bush, or to the retro neons of the grocery store or up the Chestnut tree.  it is literally HARD to look at that driveway, all the world around it wants to pull you away.

-The Third Unplottable house is in Salinas, CA, home of my paternal grandparents.  It is the single most BORING house possible- like, if you were to ask a third-grader to draw a prototypical house, they would draw my grandparent’s house.  Utterly Unremarkable. 

Except for the part where my Grandfather, spurred by his success with the “non-fruiting” peach tree, decided to plant a California Redwood Tree, and it grew to approximately 150 feet over the course of a few short decades.  It is the tallest damn thing for miles around, and SOMEHOW deliveries keep being missed, mail is delivered to the neighbors, and any non-blood family that tried to visit would end up on the other side of town.

-The Fourth Unplottable House was the one I grew up in CA.  The Directions to it are as follows:  It’s the Bright Orange house Right Across From The School.  You know, the one with six flamingos and the Volunteer Avacado Tree.

SOMEHOW, we got everyone’s mail but OURS (we still wonder about the letter from Fort Knox for Mr. Thomas Saxophone), the other kids got lost trying to visit and ended up in Mr.Phan’s yard on the other end of the block.  Officer Brown, Mom and Dad’s friend, who had GPS back in the early 90′s becuase silicon valley, regularly got lost looking for our place.  The Flamingos did nothing.

-My parent’s current house is the second house on the right  after two right turns off the state highway that runs through town.  Sounds easy, right?  

Except that due to a couple small trees and a bend in the road, the house is invisible from the road.  I have to stand out in the road if i want my pizza delivered.  The Mailman is the only person who could reliably find the box, but he drives a subaru that’s older than my sister from the passenger side by leaning over, and delivers mail based on the aztec lunar calendar, so he’s probably not actually human.  I tried to host a party, tied rainbow balloons to the mailbox, and all nine friends had to be waved in from the street.

-My current apartment building Does Not Exist, according to my Bank, medicaid, Google, and City Hall which was a bit exciting when I first moved in and had to call everyone that yes, I was sitting in a building that really exists.   

Unless it’s my classmates, becuase they can apparently come to parties I don’t host. This Friday I had a friend telling me she had a great time at my place last Teusday… when I was home alone.  She assures me that I held a houseparty with “Those polish things you make” (I make great mini klatchky, but haven’t served them to her) and that “You were definitely there, we talked about Carvaggio and you drive me home”

Fun Facts about Plants from Your Friendly Botany Major

• Cacti are some of the only plants to photosynthesize from their stems. Their needles are really just modified leaves.

• Avocados are only around because people pollinate and disperse them by hand. The large seed is indigestible to small mammals now. It was originally eaten by giant sloths who would poop them out far away from the parent tree so they can grow. This is called an evolutionary anachronism.

• Banana candy does not taste like bananas because it was designed to taste like the Gros Michel banana which was eaten in the pre-1950s. It was wiped out by a fungus called panama disease. Since bananas are asexual all of them are genetically identical making it easy to wipe them all out at once. However fungus is sexual so it evolves more quickly. This means eventually we may lose the modern banana, the Cavendish, to it as well.

• There are actually three different types of photosynthesis: C3, C4, and CAM. Which type is used depends on the aridness of the environment, and are increasingly more efficient as listed.

• Moss is amazing. The fuzzy part of the moss is called the gametophyte stage and it is haploid meaning it has one set of chromosomes like a sperm or an egg cell in humans. If you look closely, sometimes you will what look like little tiny seeds on stems coming out of the main body. This is the sporophyte stage and it’s diploid, or has two sets of chromosomes, like our body cells. Moss is the oldest type of plant.

• You can usually tell what animal pollinates a plant by the color and shape of its flowers. Red flowers are hardly ever pollinated by bees because bees cannot see red well. Butterfly flowers have long deep centers. Bird pollinated plants can bear weight and are wide and open. Bat pollinated plants usually smell strongly and are darkly colored.

• Almost all American native elms and chestnut trees are extinct because of fungi. Asian chestnut and elm have replaced them, because they are resistant to the strains.

• There is a type of fern that has over 1200 chromosomes. For reference, humans have 46.

• If you shine consistent low level red light on a plant it will grow extremely tall, because red light tells the plant it is being shaded by and competing with other plants. If you shine consistent green light on a plant it will not sprout or die (if already sprouted) because plants absorb red and blue light to use. This is also why plants are green, because the unused green light is reflected back out.

TLDR; Plants are frickin cool and should get as much love as our animal friends.

🌾September Magic Tips🌾

🥔Produce In Season🥔
apples, apricots, bilberries, butternut squash, blackberries, beetroot, blueberries, cabbage, clams, cod, crab, chicory, cob nut, cucumbers, figs, fennel, flounder, greengages, garlic, gray mullet, kohlrabi, leeks, lobster, new potatoes, onions, potatoes, plums, pumpkin, pears, oysters, salmon, swiss chard, sweet corn, spinach, turnips, tomatoes, watercress

🍄Wild Foods In Season🍄
 beech nuts, bilberry, black mustard, blackberry, crab apples, cherry plums, comfrey, dandelion roots, damsons, elderberries, grouse, hare, hawthorn berries, hawthorn, hazelnut, hops, horseradish, jack-by-the-hedge, juniper, mallard, poppy, rowan berries, rosehips, marsh samphire, sea beet, sea blight, teal, truffles, venison, wild rabbit, wild mushrooms, wild mint, wild plums, wild strawberry

🌰September Correspondences🌰

  • Mabon is September 22 and is the second harvest, symbols include corn dolly, bread, cornucopia, nuts, acorns, and leaves.
  • The Full Moon is September 6th and is known as the Harvest Moon but also goes by the Corn Moon and Singing Moon.
  • Sycamore and Chestnut are the symbolic trees, marigold, dahlias, and loosestrife are the flowers, chamomile and oregano are the herbs.
  • Colors for September are orange, deep red, and brown.

🔮Witchy Ways To Celebrate September🔮

  • This is a good time for protection spells, bringing security and balance in all things; returning to the Earth.
  • Decorate your home and altar with seed heads, berries, and fallen autumn leaves. Burn cinnamon and sage incenses and use orange and red flowers in your decoration. A set of scales or weights can also be used to signify the time of balance.
  • Work with trees in September(all the time). Collection acorns and make simple garlands to hang in the trees as offerings.
  • Cook with autumn berries or fruits that I listed previously! Start to make simple soups to celebrate autumn bounty and the change in season. I’ll personally be posting more recipes soon!
  • Leave offerings for the spirits of the hedgegrow or your harvest gods to thank them for their bounty.

I did some outdoors sketching during a brief glimmer of sunshine, but the on-flowing mysteries past the broad river-bend were barred by a beaked guardian.

Forestry Majors*

By the time they graduate, forestry majors know all the trees, their properties and uses, where they can be found. They know the oldest and wisest trees on campus. They know which ones can walk and which ones harbor dark, rotten hearts.  Each graduating class plants a new tree and puts many blessings in the soil around its roots. Legend has it that as long as the tree lives, at least one member of that graduating class will also. No one has done a study to verify this claim.

Forestry majors know how the paths in the woods can shift. Compass and Pacing is a required course, and Foresters learn to adjust their stride to exactly a meter so they can always measure distances. When compasses fail (and they always do, at one point or another), they have to be able to navigate the woods without the help of iron.

Silviculture is a class reserved for upper level students, and is by application only. Students are screened for their abilities in diplomacy and the depth of their knowledge of trees. They must be courageous as well, to face the beings that inhabit the forest.  They are taught to be careful with words and to avoid tricks of the mind. The exams are rigorous and long. Failing the class is sometimes a relief – these students are excused from missions into the very heart the wild woods.

Many hours of studying are spent learning the true names of the trees, not the Latin ones that Linnaeus developed, but the old names that the trees will listen to. The trees hide their real names almost as well as humans do. Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus, or Chouchun are all the same tree, but none of those is the tree’s true name.

The professors in intro class are careful to explain the proper way to determine if a dryad inhabits a particular tree. The university owns a woodlot where it farms its own trees, so these trees should be safe, but controlling the Others is impossible and they can’t be kept out entirely. Of course, there’s always a freshman who doesn’t listen and is too in love with their chainsaw. The results are usually  … not pretty. If the rest of the crew is lucky, the unfortunate one is just gone. If not, if something is left, then the professors and upper level students have to be called in to deal with the ritual to destroy the chainsaw. No one wants to use a chainsaw that has a taste for human blood.

Another important first year class is firefighting. Fire is a tool of humans, but the enemy of the trees. Forestry majors are expected to be on hand to deal with any wildfire no matter whether day or night, or whether they have exams or papers due.

Tree hugging doesn’t necessarily mean environmental activism to foresters – it means literally hugging trees. The hugging goes both ways – humans seek comfort, peace, and strength from the trees, but they also encourage the trees to grow tall and strong, to endure, to resist whatever danger the forest is facing.

Forestry is a technical field though, and forestry majors also take many engineering courses. The field attracts people with an affinity with either the science end or the magic end. Some forestry majors have both. When you spend most of your time in the woods, it’s hard to avoid the knowledge of magic. No matter how scientifically inclined they may start out, most foresters end up talking to the trees.

Other students (those who have classes indoors in temperature controlled buildings) are wary of the forestry majors – with most of their classes outside, the foresters dress rough, steel-toed boots and layers of flannel, the men with beards, the women with broken nails. They always carry what appear to be weapons – fire rakes, axes, cant hooks, pikes, and chainsaws. Some students who understand the true danger of the school know better, know that the foresters aren’t the worst thing on campus.

The holy grail of forestry is the unending battle to restore the American Chestnut. The chestnut was a beautiful and durable tree, whose wood would never rot. But the Chestnut Blight came and destroyed them all, killing the magic of the chestnut trees. New trees would sprout, but as soon as they reached adolescence, the Blight would attack and the tree would die. Most foresters try to work through science, crossbreeding the American tree with exotic ones in hopes of finding a strain that can resist the Blight. However, all know that the Blight is a magical disease that science ultimately cannot solve. Every American forester longs to restore the chestnut tree, but the price for that would be very high indeed.

Forestry may know too much about trees and may use trees for their own purposes, but they also protect and nurture the forest.  Therefore they are tolerated.

*Many forestry degrees have the words and Wildlife added to the diploma. But Wildlife is an entirely different topic that would require a separate post.

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reddit.com
Reddit Science AMA on genetically engineering American chestnuts
Hi Reddit! We are a team of scientists at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York, and we’ve been working for 27...

TLDR: This project is using genetic engineering to create American chestnut trees that are blight-resistant so they can restore the species to the wild!  It’s really cool and controversial, and if you have ever had questions about GMOs, how they work and whether you should really fear them or not, you should go ask these guys!

The long version:

About 100 years ago, the American chestnut began to effectively go extinct, thanks to an invasive fungus.  Before then, there were about 4 billion of them, and they made up about ¼ of forests in eastern North America, and they produced loads and loads of nuts that made up a large part of the natural diet of North American wildlife.  It was a huge deal, even though a lot of us who were born since then don’t really notice what a massive change it made to the health of the North American environment.

So this team of scientists has been using genetic engineering to create an American chestnut tree that is resistant to the chestnut blight.

It’s controversial work–it would be the first genetically engineered organism to be deliberately released into the wild–but the team has spent 30 years successfully creating this tree, and now they’re spending the next five years running tests to make sure it’s safe and can earn regulatory approval (assuming the federal situation doesn’t go completely bananas in the near future).  Their argument is that this tree is all but identical to native American chestnuts–the only difference is they’ve extracted a single gene from wheat that confers blight resistance and inserted it into the chestnut trees. 

Yes, that does make this tree technically a GMO.  But GMO is actually a pretty complicated thing, and you don’t get the full story either from Monsanto or from the anti-GMO purists.  These guys work for a public college and are not going to patent their work, and they are willing to talk freely about EXACTLY what the process is and what regulatory approval entails and how this technology can be used in both responsible and dangerously irresponsible ways.