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.

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.

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.

Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) - luxury

Today is Chestnut Sunday! For a relatively short time in the Victorian age, it would be a tradition for families to go to the parks and luxuriate among the horse chestnuts on the sunday before Ascension Day. And yes, luxuriate is the right word here. No tree has bigger leaves, bulkier, sweeter-smelling blooms, or a prouder stance than the horse chestnut. It’s a tree that decorates beautifully while being, like many other luxurious items, almost useless. 

Every part of the horse chestnut is toxic- it is, after all, only vaguely related to the actual Castanea sativa- but its large seeds encased in beautiful pods are beautiful, shiny baubles of the richest, reddest brown. More than just beatiful, they’re the playpieces for a game of conkers; a popular game in England where you hit two “conkers” (think: conquerors) on strings together- the one that cracks is the losing piece.

The horse chestnut also played an important part in the two World Wars: the British government made a call to collect as many conkers as one could, and would pay for one to turn them in. Conkers contain acetone, a necessary ingredient for a number of weapons. But it also brought a modicum of peace: the horse chestnut in the garden of Keizersgracht 188 in the centre of Amsterdam was one of the only things Anne Frank could see from the attic window in the secret annex where she hid from persecution. She describes the tree often in her diary, and it seemed to give her some comfort. This tree may well be a luxury, but far from an unnecessary one. Go see one near you today and feel free to luxuriate.

(illustration and writing by Mira Gryseels)