June 08, 2021

What is this horse chestnut doing here?


The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.

-Muriel Rukeyser


The days are getting warmer with highs now in the low 80s.  That’s warm enough that Waldo and I have to change our routine and walk in the morning before it gets so hot.  Today, we start at 8:30 and the temperature is a cool 60℉.  Before we finish our six miles, it will be 75℉, hot enough that Waldo will have to suck down a liter of water and I’ll get my shirt wet with sweat.  Waldo will drop his sticks more frequently, so he can pant better, and he’ll look for a path that takes him through shade.  I’ll follow along behind him gratefully.

The plants seem to enjoy the higher temperatures.  Or, maybe, it’s just the increased exposure to sunlight gained by the better insolation of summer.  They are all leafed-out now and their leaves are broad and green, reaching eagerly upwards in search of life-giving energy.

As we start our walk, I notice a broad-leafed plant I haven’t seen before.  It has a branched stem that rises out of the ground up to about six feet.  I pull out my phone and speciate it – it is a young horse chestnut tree.  The thing is, horse chestnuts are not native to the Americas.  How in the world did it get here?  There are no other plants like it nearby that may have spread their seeds.  In fact, it is the only one I’ve seen on the rail-trail.  Their seeds are large and aren’t going to be born far in a wind, even a gale.  I can’t imagine anyone intentionally planted the thing amongst the dense stand of Japanese knotweed that surrounds it.  The seeds are toxic to people, so I can’t believe someone was carrying a seed around (whatever for?) and accidentally dropped it.  Could a squirrel have brought a seed from far away?  Do squirrels even eat the things?  There’s gotta be an interesting story there.

As we continue on our way, I notice there are a lot of chipmunks scurrying across the trail and running into the undergrowth as Waldo and I pass by.  I’ve seen them before, but never in so many numbers.  They hibernate during the winter, but I remember many weeks of late-summer and fall days when it was still quite warm and I never saw any.  Where did they go?  Why have they returned and why in such large numbers?  Did coyotes or other predators eat them?  If so, how did their population rebound so prolifically?  The predators are still around.  Is this an effect of Covid?  Did the increased numbers of people on the trail, in reaction to sequestration and business shutdowns, scare many of the chipmunks’ natural enemies away?  I sense the presence of yet more stories that could be told.

Off to the sides of the trail, here and there, are large granite boulders.  I’ve been told that many were brought here, pushed and rolled along under the ice, by the huge glaciers that once covered this part of America.  As the glacial ice melted, it left these rocks behind.  There are a couple of construction sites near the path where backhoes and excavators have dug into the ground to make foundations for buildings.  The pile of dirt they leave on the sides of the holes are full of rocks of various sizes.  Many of these stones are part of a glacial moraine, their edges smoothed by the grinding of the overlying tons of moving ice.  Even the very rocks around us have a history that can be discovered.

In fact, when I think about it, it’s not just what’s happened to the things around me that make up tales to be told.  The very objects themselves are nothing more than stories I tell myself.  Nature doesn’t draw lines around parts of herself and label this as this and that as that.  No, nature is a continuum, an existence that has no boundaries and every part of it interacts with every other part of it.  Nothing is really separable from anything else because all of the stuff of the universe is intimately connected to everything else.  Man, as the great storyteller, dices up creation into separate stories that he tells himself, it is not the essential nature of existence.

I wonder if Waldo tells himself stories…


Rocks… Show me the sticks!

Leave a Reply