23. Aug, 2014

Underneath the spreading chestnut tree

       I was sitting beneath a horse chestnut tree (Aesculus hippocastanum ) with a friend earlier today, drinking a cup of sweet tea. The late summer sun still warmed us and above the tree, a red kite teased me. But despite my determination to capture him on camera, my fascination was drawn also to the tree.

       ‘I remember when I was a child,’ I said, ‘the great excitement I had in climbing trees for conkers.’ She smiled and sipped her tea, so I continued,  ‘I would scrape my knees and tear my clothes, but nothing would stop me once I had started.’ My dear friend just listened, or pretended to anyway.

      ‘And let me tell you, that these trees can grow up to 36metres (118 feet) tall. However, I don’t think I ever climbed to the top. Someone would always panic and run for my father.’

      ‘Did he ever catch you up the tree?’ my friend asked. I nodded, so she was listening.

      ‘Once or twice,’ I replied, remembering again the frantic look on his face. But no matter how hard I tried, I could never seem to remember what I could and couldn’t do. So I did it anyway. You see, I really loved those big old huggable trees with branches thick enough to lie on, swing from, sit on and sleep on. I would have lived in one, given half a chance!

       ‘Is it poisonous?’ my friend asked.

       ‘Not to touch,’ I replied, ‘but the young nuts are and they certainly shouldn’t be eaten by yourself or horses!’

        I gazed up at the tree and told my friend about Anne Frank.  I told her that on 23rd February 1944, she wrote about the chestnut tree in her diary.

Nearly every morning I go to the attic to blow the stuffy air out of my lungs, from my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind. As long as this exists, I thought, and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this lasts I cannot be unhappy.

        ‘I’ve read the book many times,’ I said sadly, ‘the tree survived until 2010 when it fell down in the wind. Some of the saplings were taken to America where they continue to grow in memory of Anne.’

         ‘And did you know that during the First World War, there was a campaign for people to collect and donate conkers for the government. They were using them for a source of starch for some method to produce acetone. This was to help produce cordite, which was then used in military armaments. They chose conkers, to save using food as it was scarce enough as it was.’

        My dear friend nodded and I could see that I had probably exhausted her so we sat quietly and sipped our sweet tea. The red kite still hovered above me so I took that long awaited photo. I shall write about it quite soon. But for now, it’s later than you think.