This past week up at Alta, a dusting of snow has fallen. Hopefully a portent.
I caught this snowflake last February up at Solitude. While it’s true, that no two snowflakes are exactly alike, there are well-defined types. The kind you see here, is a “stellar dendrite”, and only forms in very particular conditions, and make the best skiing. They are so dry, you can hardly make a snowball with them.
You could dig through the billions, maybe trillions of snowflakes that fall in Vermont or New York, and you will not find a one that looks like this. They do, however, abound in Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons. The Utah license plate says “Greatest Snow On Earth”.
The American chestnut tree has played a tremendous role in this country, before we even were a country. In the Appalachians, one in every four hardwood trees was a chestnut, and could live for six hundred years. Averaging six feet across, and over one hundred feet tall, they grew straight, and below fifty-feet, often branch-free. This made their lumber very desirable, and for centuries, most of the barns east of the Mississippi were made from chestnut wood. The nuts were a source of nutrition for animals and income for people.
Then, in 1904, some Asian chestnut trees were imported to Long Island, and with them came a blight to which they were resistant, but to which, American chestnuts have no defense.
Despite an effort to contain the fungus — its spores, spread by air, rain, and animals, couldn’t be stopped. It was estimated that there were 4 billion chestnut trees in the United Sates, and within 40 years, virtually every mature one was dead. In California, and the Pacific Northwest, where settlers had brought seeds with them, and is fungus-free, some stands remain, but in the East, very few trees do, their locations often kept secret. Everything else is a living stump. New sprouts form, but are struck and killed by the blight after a few years. Without the chestnut, George Washington, Daniel Boone, or Mason & Dixon, wouldn't recognize the forests of today.
What once spanned two-hundred million acres, is now almost gone from living memory, but there’s hope. The American Chestnut Foundation has been working to restore this chestnut. By cross-breeding the Chinese chestnut (which is immune to the blight), with surviving American chestnuts, and then back-breeding the trees that survive, the aim is to produce a hybrid that will be 15/16 American, yet blight-resistant.
The blight doesn’t strike until a sapling is five or six years old, so determining whether it has resistance, and then back-breeding, takes years. This effort has been going on for almost thirty years. In 2008, seeds were planted that are hoped will prove viable as adults, though results won’t be known until 2015 – 2020.
I contribute to the ACF, and maybe you’d like to, as well. It won’t happen in my lifetime (or yours, if you’re anywhere near my age), but it will be something for our kids, and their kids, to enjoy — sort of like the Second Avenue Subway.
It’s spring, which means it’s baby-time for the peregrine falcons that live at 55 Water Street. Peregrines like to roost on cliffs, and here in New York, on tall buildings and bridge towers. This pair used to live on Wall Street, then traded up for an unobstructed river view.
There are 4 eyases in the nest, less than a month old. All fuzz and no feathers, so like a lot of New Yorkers, rely on take-out. If no grown-ups are on the webcam, they are out grabbing the food, probably pigeons, which they snatch out of mid-air.
They are the world’s fastest-traveling animals, achieving over 200 mph in a
P.S. My clever and alliterative headline notwithstanding, that’s actually
the East River in the background.