Thursday, July 2, 2009

Checking on the Chestnuts

(belated entry for June 24, 2009)

(I'm catching up!)

Last September, while paddling with Rick on the section of the Hudson River which flows through Moreau Park, I saw a tree with long, toothed leaves along the shoreline. It was larger than any of the American Chestnut sprouts I have ever seen.

Then I saw the brownish burrs.

Of course I knew what it was, from pictures in an old old tree identification book, though I had never seen one before. Lots of people have never seen one – since the chestnut blight has all but wiped out most of the species. Small trees still arise from stumps, but most never live long enough to flower, or produce nuts.

And there they were, hanging over my head like forbidden fruit.

I read of a naturalist who said, “it’s like looking up and seeing a passenger pigeon flying by.”

I was pretty excited about it that day. Since then, we’ve located more mature trees within Moreau Park. Unfortunately, this flowering can be a sign of a tree in distress – the next year, they may be dead. I am just beginning to learn about these trees, once called “the redwoods of the east.” Many knowledgeable people are working on ways to keep the chestnut from going completely extinct, such as the folks at the
American Chestnut Foundation.

June is the flowering time for chestnuts (so that old old book said,) and Jackie offered to accompany me on a river paddle today. I am pretty much of a weenie on big open water, even a pondy section of river like this. So I appreciated her company. It sure was a nice day to be on the river!

We wanted to see if we could spot any blooms on the trees along the river.
Or if there WERE any trees still alive.

Happily we found several in that stretch of shoreline.

Delicate dreadlocks of flowers.

As you drift downriver, passing under a pageant of green banners - oak, ash, hornbeam and maple -- there's another whole forest scene under the water. Long swaying grasses - something that looked like raccoon-tails - little floating plants with gear-like flowers - and unfortunately, the feathery beautiful (but invasive) Eurasian milfoil.

(Jackie ID'd this later. I thought it looked like peacock feathers.)
We continued downriver to a place very dear to Jackie, a beautiful sheltered cove.

In the winter, I had walked across its frozen surface, on a group hike to watch the wintering bald eagles. It was love at first sight, & I vowed to come back in the summer, to explore it by kayak.
This first watery visit was all too brief. It seemed that as soon as we arrived, it was time to leave. I kept apologizing and saying, "sorry, I really have to head back now..."

But you can be sure that I’m planning another visit soon!
Complain as I will about having to stop and go in to work - at least I am grateful that my schedule allows me to be floating in a quiet cove on a sunny day, at an hour when many people are stuck indoors behind a desk.