I visited the chestnut trees yesterday. Nick had been obsessed with them in autumn a thousand years ago. He told me chestnut trees work in pairs by cross-pollinating. In order to have viable chestnuts they must at least be downwind from one another. I go to this spot and see spiky chestnut husks littering the ground. There are shiny chestnut shapes but their bellies are sunken in, empty, infertile. "Perhaps I'm too late," I think, or "perhaps the tree has become cursed.." My black boots wade through the roughage, at least looking for the half-chewed bits dropped by squirrels. I turn on my ears. Rain lightly hits the almond-shaped saw-tooth leaves above. Droplets condense and drop onto the earth in thick patters. I try and listen past this white-noise. I'm listening for something else. A big patter. It happens. Something is crashing from the trees. The leaves make way with a thrush. The quarry hits the ground and I have visual. I run over, black coat swaying with my leaps. A gaping demogorgon face stares back at me when I reach my destination. A shining pregnant chestnut caught in it's splayed mouth with another nearby. I pluck it out and hold it in my palm: is this what Nick loved so much? Is this the "right" kind? When we'd gather under the canopy he would do the procuring. I would eat the squirrel chewed remnants and draw pictures in my journal while he listened and turned over husks. I hadn't paid enough attention.. I'd have to look up how to process these later. Above me a squirrel chitters. Pissed. It has a chestnut in its mouth. It too heard the chestnut fall and sought to swoop it up. "Do you want it?" I ask as it curses me, "come and get it!" It scurries down a low-hanging branch to get closer. I walk over to meet it. It scurries back up, anxious, leery. I gaze up into the canopy. It's enormous. A squirrel village of gathering, preparing, hibernating invisible to my eye. Nick had told me once why some trees have points and other trees are bushy. It has to do with deer eating their tree tips when they're saplings. Conifers have points because they shoot up faster and grow faster than the deer can eat their tips. Deciduous trees are bushy because they grow slower and the deer have nibbled their tips making them branch out. And from an evolutionary standpoint they inherent hormones that make them do this with or without deer nibblings. But this is all based on my memory. Unreliable. And I won't text him for the answers because he's getting married this week. I pocket the chestnuts and keep my ears open. Back then I timed it. When the chestnut would drop. It's like shooting stars during the meteor shower times. One every two minutes I'd say. It's a rush in the same way. You sharpen your senses the best we can be being mostly phone addicted and indoor oriented. Perhaps I'm just speaking for myself. My partially gloved hands crammed in my pockets, my stupidly chosen synthetic socks doing nothing to stave moisture or cold from reaching my core. Stupidly dressed, even for a brief foray into the "outside." Always abysmally prepared, always mildly uncomfortable. Still, inside me I harness my inner wolf and keep my ears perked for the sounds of chestnuts falling. Another. Another. By the time I see three people headed to the chestnut tree with soft bags I have captured five. "It's their turn now," I think, and begin to depart. One of the people headed towards the chestnut tree says to me, "I will be a monkey and climb in the trees to get them." I show them I caught three. I wonder if they are disappointed seeing a white woman clamoring under this spot. An indication that the secrets of the chestnut tree will be exploited in the wider white woman world of over-harvesting, colonization, and commodification. I write this knowing I participate in a wave of white woman bullshit. I want to keep the secrets of the chestnut tree.
It is another day. I break the thick leathery skin of the chestnut with a paring knife. I put the chestnuts in water and let it boil. The skin opens up. I drain the water. Let the chestnuts cool. I pull the soft meaty chestnuts from the skin. I pop one in my mouth. It's soft and slightly nutty and delicious. I wonder if my face will break out because of my food sensitivity to tree nuts. I have another half one. I do little chores around the house. I wonder what the difference is between horse chestnuts and these chestnuts. I look it up online and don't feel satisfied. My stomach hurts. I feel nauseous. I look this up as well. Horse chestnuts are toxic and can make you nauseous, make you vomit. Maybe I'm being psychosomatic. I drink water. I eat a salad. I feel better. "Isn't there only horse chestnuts in the US?" Cazo asked. "Edible chestnuts belong to the genus Castanea and are enclosed in sharp, spine-covered burs. The toxic, inedible horse chestnuts have a fleshy, bumpy husk with a wart-covered appearance. Both horse chestnut and edible chestnuts produce a brown nut, but edible chestnuts always have a tassel or point on the nut," the internet tells me. The chest-nuts I have came from the spiky cased ones, not warty ones. I take this as a positive sign of not being poisoned for now. Who fucking knows though. Smarter people know, I remind myself. This is knowledge that is well-known in certain circles. I'm reminded of the wolf berry alleyway I lived near, and the delicious berries that came from the bush that was carved back constantly. What white people don't know fucks everything up. What white people know and exploit fucks everything up. Wolf berries, goji berries grew in the alleyway, creeping out from someone's backyard. They look like the kind of berries parents slap out of their kid's hands screaming "THAT'S POISON!" as little birds skirt about the bushes stuffing themselves. During times of particular ripeness and abundance someone would take a hack and cut the bushes down. It was disheartening to have a superfood carelessly removed from the ecosystem. It's whatever. Who knows about the secret of the chestnut? Will one be carelessly cut one day to make room for another baseball field thereby losing it's pollination partner? How did these chestnut trees get here? Were they planted? Who willed them? How old are they? Whose stories of gathering are held under their boughs?
I learn by touching. By listening and tasting. I don't know any other way. I worry about my impact. I take from the squirrels. I take from other gathers with greater histories than mine. I must be careful. I poison myself a little every time being curious. I don't have a people of this place. I don't have anyone to tell me the stories. I ask the wind. I ask the internet. I make stuff up. My stomach hurts. My face is breaking out. I am a person experiencing incremental bits of the world and have lived this long to tell about it. Nick is getting married this week and I'm happy for him. Legacy work. I occupy my own small space, my own small story. I tread through memory, I accumulate, I live another day. It's just how it is. How it's gonna be. I wonder if anyone checks up on me. Sees if I'm getting married. Believes one thing or another about where we're at and what it means. We survive another day. We're doing it. I don't know what it means but I'll keep wondering.