Thursday, September 15, 2016


(Many thanks to my friend Jane Stephenson for the inspiration to write this post.)

As I ponder this pod of horse chestnut conkers encountered on my walk the other day, I’m struck first by the beauty—the contrast between leather-tough, spiny casing, velvety lining and waxy-smooth seeds*; the way the seeds nestle into their cozy little compartments; the pod’s elegant seams allowing it to unzip into perfect thirds.

And then there are those colors—toasty amber, fresh-lemon yellow and my favorite, that gorgeous shade of deep, reddish brown—a color so distinctive that, whether gracing a horse, a garment, a car or anything else, it can be called nothing but chestnut.

       One or two might first catch the eye 
       of someone who’s made room in his day 
        for delight.

Even more fascinating is the process by which these handsome little quads have gestated, grown and finally prepared to propagate. How similar it is to mammalian reproduction. For it too involves ovaries, eggs, sperm and then this pod—though not called a uterus, it acts just like one.

First it stretches to accommodate the new life growing within. Then, when some chemical signal tells it it is time, a combination of the seeds’ growth and their receptacle’s contraction pops them out.

As with all life, the world will have its way with them. Most will be eaten by squirrels, bats or insects. One or two might first catch the eye of someone who’s made room in his day for delight.

And a very few, exactly as allocated in Nature’s accounting of such things, will be carried and buried or just settle into soil, where they will start the whole miraculous cycle all over again.  

* The poisonous, nut-like fruit of the horse chestnut tree is, at least botanically, not considered a nut, but a seed. The pods most often contain from one to three seeds each. The one I picked up, with four seeds, is quite a rare find.

PHOTO: Wikipedia


jean said...

There were 2 trees right across the street from my house when I was growing up. They both finally died but the house owner kept the last one going as long as possible. All of us kids loved to collect them and roll them around in our hands, smell them---a very distinctive smell----and sometimes polish them with floor wax. We also punched holes in them for necklaces. Ah the days when kids found wonderful things to enjoy right outside their doors :) Hope you are recovering from your surgery, Jeff, and getting outside to enjoy the fall beauty!

Jeffrey Willius said...

Thanks, Jean, as always, for your comment. I enjoy your recountings of memories -- and am especially glad to hear that you share my appreciation for horse chestnuts! Yes, I'm recovering beautifully, thanks to a lot of good fortune and the healing hand of Nature. You're nice to ask.

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