A squirrel buried a butternut, it sprouted, and grew into a promising seedling, the start of a tree. We discovered it when we went to repair the stone wall. This was improbable enough an event—a lot of nuts get buried and don’t sprout—I didn’t want to cut short this miracle of new life. Besides a fungus was overtaking butternuts in the northeast and this was a chance to help the species survive. We were also in a tree planting phase—we had purchased the cornfield behind the house and were bringing in shade.
It will need watering and protection, a workman said. Otherwise the deer will demolish it, a young tender seedling.
I had created a small French parterre vegetable garden just above the wall, the only fenced area, and decided to temporarily transplant the seedling in a corner inside this protected area until I could think of a better location.
That first year, with the help of a delivery of soil called black gold, my little garden flourished and gave us the best heirloom tomatoes: black krims, Berkeley tie dyes, and Prudens Purples. Our poblano peppers were a shiny black green and made fantastic Chile Rellenos. The following year, we decided to move the garden where it would have more sun and space and better fencing.
At first, the small garden continued as a place for herbs, then we moved that too. We pulled up the rotting sticks that had served as fence posts, tilled and seeded the small area, and were mowing it by mid summer. By then the butternut seedling was a cute baby tree. We left it where it was. The only sign of the garden that once was are the chives that continue to grow up amidst the grass, their tell tale fragrance when cut a reminder.
The landscape around the butternut evolved. We had a patio installed, planted trees and shrubs to shade it. A red oak and some birches behind the patio. A pretty weeping cherry on the northern corner, a couple of pink crabs. And shrubs, lots of shrubs. The trunk on the butternut thickened into adulthood, flourished, but for some reason the pretty crabapple nearest to it looked sickly every year, especially the side facing the butternut. Walking past it one morning, I recalled reading something about not planting nut trees near gardens and a quick online search informed me that butternuts were indeed on the list of nut trees harmful to other plantings.
Then the black fungus appeared on the trunk, disfiguring one side. Perversely the tree dropped an inordinate number of nuts that fall, more than the squirrels could manage, which meant we had to do the management. I thought the excess nuts might be an attempt to propagate its species, a will to live. However I no longer wanted this butternut, any butternuts. For one thing, with horses on the property, they were no longer a desirable tree. And its shade or the toxicity of its nuts were hurting the crabapples. Possibly also the weeping cherry. Walking under the butternut one morning after barn chores, I realized that though I had transplanted this tree, cared for and harbored it for twenty-three years, I would now have to cut it down. In the house, I mentioned it to my partner who still doubted that the butternut was hurting the other trees.
I was not at home when our tree guy took it down, and carted the wood away. It was early spring still, before flowering season, and walking up to where it once stood I experienced the relief of open space, air and sun. I was glad for the crabs and cherry. For the grass beneath. It’s August now, and the crab apples have filled out, looking better, the weeping cherry is a deep green. The horses are chewing up the clover we seeded.