Appalachia Wildflowers & Trees Of Appalachia

The Old Chestnut Snag

hiking-to-the-chestnut-tree

I heard Pap talk about the old chestnut snag high on the ridge my whole life. In more recent years I’ve heard The Deer Hunter talk about it and I even heard Chitter talk about the tree after a turkey hunting trip with The Deer Hunter. Though I had heard many stories about the tree, I had never seen it till recently.

Just before dinner a couple weekends ago we headed up the ridge aiming to see the Chestnut tree before the end of the day.

To prevent us from having to make the entire trip at a straight up climb, The Deer Hunter led us up the creek a piece and then we began to sidle up the ridge as we headed higher and higher.

Along the way there was much to be seen. Chitter, the rock hound, can never pass up a pretty rock.

Chatter and I kept our eyes out for moss. This time of the year in the open winter woods the lush green moss shines like emeralds through the brown and grey.

As the grade became steeper there were plenty of places to stop and rest while admiring the distant views.

By the time we made it to the Chestnut snag we were so tired we ate before admiring the old steward of the woods.

The last time The Deer Hunter saw the tree it was still standing. He even took a picture of Chitter standing in the hollow inside of the tree.

Amazing the tree is still visible. The longevity of the wood speaks to the massive loss the Chestnut blight caused our people. The Deer Hunter scraped the outside of a piece with his knife and underneath was good solid strong wood.

At some point someone had burned a fire in the hollow of the tree-you can see the blackened wood in the right of the photo above. The Deer Hunter said it was most likely coon hunters trying to smoke out a coon when the tree was still standing.

I’ve wanted to see the Chestnut snag my entire life. I don’t really have a bucket list, but if I did I guess I could cross one thing off after visiting the old Chestnut snag.

Tipper

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20 Comments

  • Reply
    Mary
    February 15, 2018 at 6:46 pm

    Adding to Paw Paw’s comment:

    And the muscles of his brawny arms
    Are strong as iron bands.

    His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
    His face is like the tan;
    His brow is wet with honest sweat,
    He earns whate’er he can,
    And looks the whole world in the face,
    For he owes not any man.

  • Reply
    Mary
    February 15, 2018 at 6:39 pm

    When I was young, there was a field down the road a piece and an old chestnut tree stood right in the center of it. After reading this, I’m going to take a drive one of these days and see if it is still there. Thanks for an interesting read.

    Chitter would love it in northern Ontario. There are millions of rocks up there.

  • Reply
    Papaw
    February 15, 2018 at 3:05 pm

    The woods on our homeplace up on Wiggins Creek was full of dead chestnut trees. Small ones up to a foot in diameter. The larger trees that were good enough for lumber were long gone. Only the snags and the smaller ones in inaccessible places were left. They were long slender trees with hardly any limbs except in the very top. They were always dry and extremely light compared to other trees. We harvested them for fire wood.
    We fashioned ourselves a “pull stick” from a short piece of wood and a cowchain or a stout rope and headed into the woods looking for dead chestnut trees. Upon finding one we would chop it down with an axe, top it, tie it off to our pull stick and snake it out to the road and often all the way to the house. The trees were light and the exterior smooth. A tree of the same dimensions but of almost any other species would be impossible to pull such great distances without a draft animal. In dealing with chestnut boypower served as a substitute for horsepower.
    The wood was almost knot free, therefore easy to bowsaw into stove length pieces and easily split with a small axe or hatchet. We split it into pieces about an inch thick and stacked it for use in the cookstove. Mommy didn’t use chestnut as her primary wood in cooking. It was used in as kindling when starting a fire and for a sudden burst of heat when she need to “turn up the heat” such as browning biscuits. Mommy’s oven door had a thermometer on it but I can’t recall ever seeing it’s little red hand move. Mommy had another method of determining the temperature inside. She opened the door and stuck her hand inside. With that information she knew whether to add more chestnut or adjust the air inlet at the end of the stove. In the absence of chestnut, dried poplar or alder could be substituted but was less predictable.
    As the pickins near home got scarce we had to depend more and more on live poplar. We learned that if we deadened them in the spring before the sap starts to rise, they would be dry and ready by winter. As with the chestnuts these were young trees, perhaps only 5 or 6 or less years old, and primarily sapwood, accounting for the light weight and lack of mass.
    Oak was the primary wood we used for heat along with locust, maple and various scrub trees that were hard to split. Chestnut was only used in the wood heater as kindling when you had to get a fire going quick from a cold start. Pine was never used in either the cookstove or the heater unless there was no other option because of the creosote buildup in the flues.

  • Reply
    Ken
    February 15, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    Tipper,
    You and your family got to see something remarkable, the last remains of the American Chestnut. I’ve heard my daddy talk of this tree, many years ago, but I don’t think I ever saw a Chestnut stump.

    Before my second oldest brother burned our old house, I salvaged some of the old timey Chestnut planks from mine and Harold’s bedroom. I plained them at my neighbor’s place until they looked
    like “new” wood. Back then, I made Walnut Crackers out of it and sent them all over the country.
    That was a long time ago, and since I fell and hurt my back (working on my Mountain Water), I can’t do that anymore. …Ken

  • Reply
    Ann
    February 15, 2018 at 12:41 pm

    What a beautiful day for your family! The tragedy of the chestnut trees is very sad. As a child, one of my favorite poems began: “Under the spreading chestnut tree, the village smithy stands. . .” I used to sit and imagine that beautiful scene and hope to see a chestnut tree someday.

    • Reply
      Papaw
      February 15, 2018 at 3:11 pm

      The smith a mighty man his he
      with large and sinewy hands……..

      from “The Village Blacksmith”
      a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

      I memorized that poem in the 8th grade and recited it for the class.

  • Reply
    Papaw
    February 15, 2018 at 11:38 am

    Did it ever dawn on you that if you had started your blog a few decades earlier the name might be Blind Pig and the Chestnut?
    The old timers turned their pigs out into the woods in the fall to fatten up on chestnuts. They say there was nothing like the flavor of their meat.
    If I had a backpack like them girls have on their backs, I could strike out for Colorado.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    February 15, 2018 at 10:53 am

    Tipper,
    Didn’t mention the Chestnut snag…it’s been years since I’ve seen one…Hope we soon have the great American Chestnut back again. Resistant of the blight that killed them, thru a lot of effort from the tree saver folks…..You know how I love all trees. If it were up to me…there would only be a green patch or two around my house…all the rest would be in trees…

    I am so glad you got to mark this off your “non-bucket list”…I think your way of keeping a “to-do non-list” is best…
    Thanks again Tipper for all you do…

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    February 15, 2018 at 10:39 am

    Tipper,
    I’m so glad all of you had on you “tar-heels” as you “sidled” up that mountain! Otherwise we might be hearing another Don Casada tale…where is that feller anyway…
    By the way…I am so glad you all didn’t cut and take home the “shillelagh” on this gnomes stomping ground!…A friend of a friend (me) that knows a NC gnome told me he has just be waitin’ for the right time to cut this one! For he wanted to pull a prank and drive the Leprechauns crazy. You know the ones that slipped over here from Ireland… and still roam the mountains of North Carolina. Shillelaghs are hard to find in their natural environment nowadays…and it takes a lot of sidling up in the mountains to find them…especially for short-legged Gnomes and Leprechauns like us!
    Thanks Tipper,
    Great post…I wonder if that was stew in the hot cup…nothing like it on a winter hike.
    Loved the pictures…so green in places…us Irish folks love to see this time of year!
    PS…Oh boy…a month and two days til ‘tater plantin’ time…St. Patrick’s Day!

  • Reply
    Nancy Schmidt
    February 15, 2018 at 10:28 am

    My Daddy was raised in Knoxville Tennessee. He often told me how as a boy he and his mother would sometimes take the train out to the end of the local line and pick up chestnuts in a tow sack, a burlap bag. In the 50s he would occasionally around Christmas bring home chestnuts from the grocery to boil as a reminder of the old time. Of course the chestnuts he bought were not at all the same as those he remembered. “Not as sweet or full of flavor”, he’d always remark. He even planted a Chinese chestnut in our suburban back yard to at least remind us of the distinct leaf shape.
    Just a further memory of the giant of the Appalachian forests.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    February 15, 2018 at 10:16 am

    Oh, Tipper! Your post for today is written so, so well—poetic prose, I call it–and so, so reminds me of the huge Chestnut tree that stood up on a bank on the dirt road from my family’s side of “The Ridge”–Collins Knob in Union County–“my” family being that of Jewel Marion Dyer, my father, and Azie Collins Dyer, my mother. Collins Knob divided our house from my mother’s father’s place, where my wonderful Mom grew up. As we walked that forest trail, in sight of Grandpa Collins’s house, we would see to our left on the bank a huge Chestnut Tree. When I was a child, the “chestnut blight’ had not then struck the chestnut trees. And in season, we would climb up to the chestnut tree and gather some from among the burrs, grass and other growth beneath the giant tree. Is there anything quite like roasted chestnuts? If we were spending the night at Grandpa Collins’s house, we could be sure of getting to roast chestnuts in the oven of their “Home Comfort’ wood stove in the big, big kitchen, which was also a “family den” or like our family rooms today. To one end of that large room was a fireplace, with windows on each side. Then the cook stove was to the left of the fireplace. On the “back” wall, opposite the fireplace, was the large “Lazy Susan” family dining table which was large enough to seat 8 to 10 people. Grandpa had made that table in his shop and geared up a “turning pedestal” that went all the way through the layers of floor to the mechanism that turned the top rotating part of that table on which my aunts set the repast for each wonderful meal shared in that house (My wonderful grandmother, Georgianne Hunter Collins, had died 4 years before I was born; so I never had the privilege of knowing her except through pictures and stories, and her wonderful handwork (weavings, quilts, crochet work) left behind to be “divided” up amongst her daughters! I love your story about climbing to the “Chestnut” and the evident sense of togetherness, family camaraderie, and love the four of you in the Tipper/Deer Hunter Family share! Keep up the good work, [email protected]

  • Reply
    Dana
    February 15, 2018 at 9:53 am

    Tipper, you are a wonderful writer/keeper of history. Your photos are great. I have never seen a chestnut tree, but your story brought back memories of the gigantic, beautiful American elms we used to have in Iowa. They lined both sides of many streets and sheltered homes everywhere. I learned the the first Dutch elm beetles came to this country in a ship load of wood from Holland in 1933. They spread their destruction across America and were ravaging western Iowa when I was a young adult in the sixties and seventies.

    I once dug up a sprout from the base of one of the last survivors and planted it in a large pot inside our home. I told people I wanted to have the last elm. Our daughter thought that was amusing and wonderful. Of course, the tree didn’t last more than a couple of years in the house, but it made for great conversations.

    I wonder why botanists, or someone, couldn’t have found a way to kill the beetles over all those years of their ravaging the trees. I also wonder what they ate after reaching the West Coast with no more elms. Did they turn around and start East eating oaks?

  • Reply
    Stephen T.
    February 15, 2018 at 9:17 am

    Hi Tipper,

    This is the second post in as many months you’ve made about Amercian chestnuts. Somehow, that tree still captures our imaginations. I have a chestnut tale to tell too. My grandfather had been an ombudsman for Long Island Lighting Co., (LILCo) for decades before retiring. He loved the job because he never knew a stranger in his life and he genuinely always wanted to help people solve problems. Upon retirement, he took up wood carving as a way to keep active, to earn a little income, but most of all as a way to continue meeting the public at the various arts and crafts shows he exhibited across New England and NY State.

    His favorite wood of all to carve was American chestnut. He would always speak with reverence of the tree’s majesty and the wood’s beauty and how easily chisels plied its surface. What I found very interesting is that the source of his chestnut for carving was LILCo’s old utility poles made of chestnut, which after 100 years or more had finally, but gracefully aged out of service.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    February 15, 2018 at 9:04 am

    You got to see something most of us will never see. It’s so sad to think the chestnut trees are gone forever. We will continue to sing about chestnuts in our Christmas music, even if most of us has never seen one. I have to wonder how many animals and people that tree on the ridge has saved from hunger throughout the years.

  • Reply
    Wayne G. Barber
    February 15, 2018 at 9:02 am

    I cherish your Blog. Please tell the Hunter that I am also the President of the NWTF Rhode Island Chapter ” Swamp Yankee Gobblers” and the host of the award winning “Outdoor Scene” on wnri.com Worldwide Livestream every Sunday at 9:00am

  • Reply
    Wayne G. Barber
    February 15, 2018 at 8:53 am

    Please keep up what you do. I love the slant for your section of our great Country and for the education to us Yankee’s up here in New England with our famous “Chowda”

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    February 15, 2018 at 8:49 am

    In a deep holler under the cliff in Kentucky I saw an old chestnut snag with a patch of bark still on it back about 1980. It was very different bark than any other tree. Chestnut would have been easy to identify even at a distance once the bark showed the mature pattern.

    Finding solid chestnut still makes one want to figure out how to use it before it is all gone. Reminds me of a fella I worked with back in the late 70’s. We would find some very heavy and cumbersome piece of rich pine and he would say, “I’ll give you that if you will carry it out.” (This was on National Forest where collecting rich pine was not regulated.)

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 15, 2018 at 8:39 am

    It’s not so much seeing with the eyes the last remains of the past it’s a feeling to experience their grandeur of what had been, and feel it’s place in this vast universe! In your hike up the mountain you honor your heritage just like Don Casada does when he tramps through the woods and documents the home place remains just before mother nature takes them back.
    You know Tip, people who grow up and live in big cities never get that glimpse of their place in the universe that we get every day!

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    February 15, 2018 at 7:28 am

    That is a great story. I miss the woods so much. Great pictures, too. Of all the things I’ve read here, this may be one of my favorites.

  • Reply
    TMc
    February 15, 2018 at 5:44 am

    Yea, it’s a shame we will never see the woods as they once were, I heard my Grandparents speak of the chestnut trees, I cannot imagine how it felt seeing them in their younger years and with in 40 yrs their gone.

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