New Scourge

A tiny yellow speck drifts weightlessly on a warm spring breeze, floating in a neither-here-nor-there state, that hungerless sleep of a spore. The wind pushes the spore this way and that. It lights onto an oak leaf and is shaken free, comes to rest on a twig of poplar, then tumbles loose and resumes its aimless flight. A sharp gust propels it against the branch of an American chestnut tree. As chance would have it, the bark is cracked from the slight scratch of a squirrel's sharp claw. The...

Evil Tendencies Cancel

In 1936 Robert Frost wrote the poem Evil Tendencies Cancel. The poem concerns the chestnut blight, though as the title suggests, it is also about much more Will the blight end the chestnut The farmers rather guess not. It keeps smouldering at the roots And sending up new shoots Till another parasite Shall come to end the blight. Frost scholars don't pay a lot of attention to the poem it's not considered one of his major works. But scientists like Dennis Fulbright do. In six brief lines, the...

Let Us Not Talk about Impossibilities

Pennsylvania governor John Tener looked out over the glittering chamber of his state's House of Representatives. Every leather seat was filled, but not by the familiar crowd of legislators. On this late February day in 1912, the hall was packed with scientists and bureaucrats, foresters and businessmen from across the eastern seaboard who had all journeyed to Harrisburg to talk about just one subject a new, fantastically ambitious plan to stop the spreading chestnut blight. The visitors'...