Henry David Thoreau on the American Chestnut
The Blog of Henry David Thoreau features a daily excerpt from The Journal of Henry David Thoreau. I’ve found the blog and its excerpts to be fascinating. Thoreau’s entry on October 23, 1855 in particular stuck out to me. He spoke of sympathy for an American Chestnut tree:
Now is the time for chestnuts. A stone cast against the trees shakes them down in showers upon one’s head and shoulders. But I cannot excuse myself for using the stone. It is not innocent, it is not just, so to maltreat the tree that feeds us. I am not disturbed by considering that if I thus shorten its life I shall not enjoy its fruit so long, but am prompted to a more innocent course by motives purely of humanity. I sympathize with the tree, yet I heaved a big stone against the trunks like a robber,—not too good to commit murder. I trust that I shall never do it again. These gifts should be accepted, not merely with gentleness, but with a certain humble gratitude. The tree whose fruit we would obtain should not be too rudely shaken even. It is not a time of distress, when a little haste and violence even might be pardoned. It is worse than boorish, it is criminal, to inflict an unnecessary injury on the tree that feeds or shadows us. Old trees are our parents, and our parents’ parents, perchance. If you would learn the secrets of Nature, you must practice more humanity than others. The thought that I was robbing myself by injuring the tree did not occur to me, but I was affected as if I had cast a rock at a sentient being,—with a duller sense than my own, it is true, but yet a distant relation. Behold a man cutting down a tree to come at the fruit! What is the moral of such an act?
I wonder how much more extensive his regret would have been, had he known what laid ahead for the American Chestnut?