Updated: Nov 12, 2021

The message is quite clear. It’s a message to all of us to heed the plight and persist in matters which oft appear hopeless in life. That message is perhaps more relevant than ever in these times. What is remarkable is most people miss the fact that Robert Frost wrote “Evil Tendencies Cancel” in 1936 predicting the parasite (discovered in 1946) that “ended” the blight:

Evil Tendencies Cancel

by Robert Frost - 1936

“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.”

At Michigan State University I had the pleasure on working with Drs. Dutch Weilich and Dennis Fulbright, to help fund their groundbreaking research to return the true American Chestnut (Castania dentata) to it’s dominant position throughout the Appalachians. I also served on the board of The American Chestnut Foundation. It’s where I met “Mr. Chestnut,“ Herb Clabo, resident historian and expert advocate of the American Chestnut in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The American Chestnut was the major source of wildlife food in the forests. It’s tannic acid was the basis of the tanning industry. It was the source of railroad ties because it didn’t rot. Look carefully at the real weathered fence posts in Appalachia. They will be chestnut because they last forever. Many of the trail marker posts along the Appalachian Trail are age-old chestnut. I lived in a house on Bellwood Avenue in Cincinnati that had chestnut woodwork.

There were two factions within ACF research on how to restore this amazing giant of a tree which dominated the eastern United States sometimes 15 feet wide at the trunk and often 100 feet tall: Ours was to restore the tree by discovering a way to defeat the blight with the parasite (virus), just like Frost prophesied; the other was to cross breed the American Chestnut with a disease resistant chestnut. The latter won out and one can purchase disease resistant trees. The new strategy to save the once majestic American Chestnut (very tasty if roasted on an open fire) is to increase the supply and demand for this delicious food source. It is a favorite among chefs. The restaurant may indeed save the Chestnut😉

Compare Frost’s poem to Message from the Chestnut

tom tenbrunsel

Poet Laureate of My Domain


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