|By Maryann Whitman
And the times … they are a-changin'…
Apologies to Bob Dylan, but duh…that
is the nature of time.
Where I live is a
park of a hundred-and-some acres that encompasses
open fields, woods one may get lost in,
wondrously inhabited hedgerows, and variously
sized marshes, swamps, and plain-old mud holes.
Children bussed from local schools, are ushered
around “stations” where
experienced naturalists help them find
bugs, worms, and salamanders. The children
are enthralled, and invariably, before the
day is done, someone manages to fall into
a mud hole, and is followed by the rest of
the group under one pretext or another. Controlled
mayhem reigns under tolerant eyes of the docents,
time to get back
on the bus.
When I was a child, falling
into mud holes was not quite as attractive,
because they weren’t all that unusual.
In fact we had one at the “bottom” of
the school yard. In this grove of a half
dozen trees surrounding some cattails,
we found bugs and garter snakes under the
tutelage of the older children, who, in the
spring, also introduced us to the odors of
The lessons were not as calm as those
of the docents in Bear Creek Nature Park,
but Mrs. Gaw, our teacher, somehow managed
to put her own organized stamp on them
when we came in from recess. She told us
how snakes moved though they had no feet,
and explained that ramps were wild onions
that were among the first fresh vegetables
to be had in the spring, and that Indians
and early settlers were always pleased
to add them to their stews.
Somehow we were
able to step through the portal created
by Mrs. Gaw’s stories into the world
of Nature that surrounded us – it made
sense and we became part of it.
bus trips took us to far-away places that
were foreign to our
like the Art Museum
and the Parliament buildings. We knew these
things existed but they had no real impact
how the children who are bussed to Bear
Creek Nature Park feel about their experience,
and where it fits into the greater scheme
of their lives.
Sometimes you settle for
you can get
Known as the “sequoia of
the American chestnut (Castanea
dentata) was once dominant in
forests from Maine to Georgia, a majestic
giant that easily grew to 4 feet in diameter,
120 feet high, and lived for centuries.
Its nuts were an
important source of food for animals
and humans – its rot-resistant wood
prized by timber and furniture companies.
before 1905, a fungal blight was accidentally
imported from the Far East. First noticed
in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens in 1904,
by 1950 it is estimated that 3.5 billion
American chestnut trees – 25
percent of the trees in the Appalachian
Mountains, had been wiped out by the fungus.
recently, fewer than 10 mature specimens
were known to be surviving
in their original area of distribution.
Earlier this year, an actual grove of American
chestnuts was discovered in Georgia. Another
100-or-so mature trees are found growing
in planted hedgerows in Wisconsin, Oregon,
and in British Columbia, Canada, surviving
geographically isolated and out of their
For the last 25 years, researchers
have been cross pollinating American chestnuts
with naturally blight-resistant chestnuts
from China. This has been a tedious task,
as young trees do not bear fruit until
their sixth year, time enough to succumb
to the blight. They now have a tree that
is 15/16ths American chestnut, that will
grow tall and true, with 1/16 Chinese chestnut
resistance. One such tree was planted on
the White House lawn in 2005,
and is still doing well.
By 2010 it is optimistically predicted
that 10,000 blight-resistant, American
chestnut hybrids will be ready for trial
plantings in forests in the Appalachian
Maryann is Editor of the Wild Ones Journal, and comes to the position with an extensive background in environmental matters of all kinds.
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