Early Settlers of
Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements
Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life
By: Ethelene Dyer Jones
Trees and Their Possible Comeback
The American chestnut tree may have a comeback. Scientists, organizations and an army of interested persons are working hard to restore this giant to eastern forests.
I was a very young child, but I remember picking up American chestnuts and enjoying them as the Mel Torme/Robert Wells song indicates: “chestnuts roasting on an open fire"
The song was
recorded in its original version in 1946 by the famed Nat King Cole, years after the Asian Chestnut blight had
made havoc of the tall, productive chestnut trees that once were so
prevalent throughout the Appalachian region of
We had a short-cut road that led through the forest from our house to my Grandpa Bud Collins' house. It was alongside this road that the largest American chestnut tree I had ever seen lifted its huge trunk from the forest floor. It was to the right of the road on a steep bluff overlooking Town Creek. We could hardly wait until the tree began shedding its burrs, each of which yielded two or three chestnuts. We would climb the bluff up to the tree, gather a few chestnuts, and hurry on across the bridge to Grandpa's house. When we showed our Aunts Ethel and Avery our treasures, we could be sure to entice them back with us and fill the buckets they provided with the nuts from that large tree.
Thinking back now, that large chestnut tree may have been among the last of the American chestnut trees that succumbed to the Asian chestnut blight, a bark fungus, that had, by 1940 or thereabouts, made havoc of the beautiful deciduous trees that had been important to the Appalachian economy since settlers came to the mountains.
I remember hearing stories of how my father and others, when they were children, gathered chestnuts by the sack-full and hauled them to Gainesville by wagon, along with other farm products, to trade for coffee, sugar, spices, shoes, cloth and other items not grown on Choestoe farms. The chestnuts, then plentiful, were a valuable commodity free for the taking to anyone with the industry to pick them up and use them as barter.
In my childhood, the American chestnut trees were less numerous throughout the forest. The large specimen near my grandfather's house was the best-remembered because of all the pleasant associations of our making a game to gather the nuts and to have a party roasting and eating them.
chestnut once dominated forests from
Before range laws were enacted and cattle and hogs were allowed to graze at will in the mountains, chestnuts were an important food for the livestock. Wild animals depended on chestnuts for much of their winter store. Bears fed on them before taking their winter hibernation. And many of the industrious settlers in the Appalachian areas depended on chestnut crops for extra cash. Chestnut trees provided wood for building purposes, fence posts, and making furniture.
More than four
billion trees from
There is hope
on the horizon for the American chestnut tree. Thanks to the "Mother
Tree" Project and extensive efforts of The American Chestnut Foundation
In 2005, Nathan
Klaus, a wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural
Resources, found a stand of healthy American chestnut trees near
The large tree
found by Klaus in
I read with interest that the Union County Rotary Club at the April 2006 meeting heard Dr. Mark Stallings from the Georgia Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation (GATACF) who spoke on plans for restoring blight-free chestnut trees to our forests.
Maybe in the
future we can walk again under one of
Harris Green in the Spring 2006 issue of "The Georgia Sprout" (GATACF) wrote, "Longfellow's loving depiction of the tree inspires us to do what is necessary 'at the flaming forge of life' to bring back that wonderful tree-and maybe some of those missing virtues in the process."
c2006 by Ethelene
Dyer Jones; published
[Ethelene Dyer Jones is a retired educator, freelance writer, poet, and historian. She may be reached at e-mail email@example.com; phone 478-453-8751; or mail 1708 Cedarwood Road, Milledgeville, GA 31061-2411.]
Updated May 2, 2010