The mighty chestnut that stood beside the hiding spot that Anne Frank lived in during World War II has fallen. The same tree that supported life and hope through it’s very existence has ceased to stand it’s vigil next to the hovel which she inhabited during the writing of her now-famous book. The chestnut, for me, represented very different things. The first time I remember thinking much about the tree, it was not so much the tree itself, but the horse chestnut, with it’s barbed jacket and thick covering. Hurled at me by children who just wanted to throw things at the new kid, it got my attention. They really packed a wallop. I don’t know what was behind the urge to throw them. Perhaps it was their way of welcoming me to their neighborhood. This wonderful shade tree with it’s inedible and non-native seeds, was the source, for many children, of endless hours of collecting, shelling and marveling at the silky smooth, almost oily brown inner skin. I remember tearing into the seed itself and finding all the same parts that we found in beans the next year in science class. I didn’t learn about it’s native cousin, the edible chestnut, until many years later. Ironically, the same trees that I could only view from the ground had a higher meaning to young, Miss Frank.
To this day, the chestnut holds a special place for any landowner who wants to keep flower beds or mowed lawn. They seem to march invisibly in all directions, sometimes hundreds of yards from the closest mature specimen. They seem to bring a state of delight to any squirrels who find them. The squirrel’s instinct is to rush off and bury them in any good dirt he or she can find. I have found the young trees weaseling up through cracks in the sidewalk, nearly on top of the base of another tree’s trunk, right out in the middle of the yard and trying to climb out of neglected pots or buckets that had been discarded in fields. They are truly bent on survival. Never mind that most people detest their “messy” ways. The chestnut could not seem to care less about what we want, or what our idea of a good looking yard or garden might be. Aside from the brief flowering, or broad shade that they cast, little can be said in their defense.
Anne, however, contemplated “hers” quite often. It reached as high as her reclusive perch, allowing a bit of wildlife to scamper up to her eye level. It is interesting to me that we can confer ownership on anything that touches us. Once something has touched us in a deeply meaningful way, we make it our own, even though it may be on property belonging to another. We have a weeping willow in our neighborhood that is like that for me. It has to be the largest tree in the neighborhood and each year or two the owner of the property that it stands on takes a little more off of it. When I moved in, the lacy branches drooped to the ground. One day I noticed him clipping away at them so that no branch would get closer than four feet from the ground. I felt disoriented by the fake looking haircut he had given my ancient friend. Funny, all that tree had done for me was to clean my air and provide me oxygen. Still, I felt at one with it.
So too, anyone who has read The Diary of Anne Frank knew that tree as a friend. It is with a heavy heart that I pass on the news that it has passed. Rest easy in the memory of it and reflect on the many, many more chestnuts that are currently reaching up to the sun, to provide us insight, respite, ammunition and seeds to dissect. Nothing in this world has found a way to last forever, but in our humble writings, and our unique insights that we share with one another, there is a timeless quality to the truth. What was may never be again, but perhaps all that and more will outlive us, just not this one tree.