Chester Inn

If the trees could talk …

“Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven,” wrote Nobel prize-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore. We are always struck by the trees that “speak” at Chester…many of them older than the house itself (which was built in 1847). From the giant 300-year-old oak tree that majestically presides over the front lawn (and many a wedding) and one of the largest holly trees on record to the white pines and river birches that quietly provide shelter for many a bird and squirrel throughout the year, each tree has a special place on our arboretum grounds and in our hearts. On hot summer nightsIMG_0129, fireflies congregate in their branches, lighting up the night like a well-choreographed holiday display. Birds take shelter, build nests, and teach their young how to fly. Squirrels store goods for the winter. And we walk among them every day, noticing their changing leaves, their weathered trunks, the directions they grow as they follow the sun …

So when we lose one (or six) in a storm, it is indeed a sad occasion. Yesterday’s storm took, among others, a beautiful Eastern white pine (“pinus strobus” for the arborists among you) that was likely 200 years old. The fragrance from the broken limbs was intoxicating and heart-rending. A scent can stir up memories in such a distinctive way … for me, years of freshly cut Christmas trees, walks in the woods on a cool autumn day, watching a baby bird find its wings, the feeling of soft needles and the discovery of tiny pinecones in their midst. And touching the trunk, rich with its own history of the many things that took up residence on it over the years, reminds me of just how small I am in the world. A bit sappy (yes, pun intended)? Perhaps. But when a tree comes down, it is a life ended, a chapter closed, a piece of history uprooted. A reminder of our impermanence in this world.

But there’s something reassuring about the Eastern white pine, noted by the U.S. Forest Service as “one of the most valuable trees in eastern North America.” It was here before Columbus arrived on our shores. It is the single best tree for reforestation projects. The one that fell here yesterday was already surrounded by its descendants, who will grow to keep the same watch for the next 200 years. And we will walk among them for as long as we can while they “speak to the heaven” and take peace in their shelter, their beauty, and the stories they tell.