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January 25, 2006

Jesse Stuart State Nature Preserve
Greenup County, Kentucky

I've been told that this is a Chestnut barn, but I can't be certain. Back around the turn of the last century, most of the hills around here were covered with tall stands of oak and chestnut, but that was before the blight hit. One old timer told me that the chestnut trees stood a long, long time after dying, showing how strong and rot resistant they were. A lot of word workers recycle these old barns and make the planks into works of art. We have a baby cradle made out of wormy chestnut that's quite nice.

Now our woods are mostly an oak-hickory mix, but just occasionally (well, very rare anymore in this county) there will be a sprout of an old chestnut root that will spring up into a sapling about as high as your head and sometimes, if lucky, it'll make it to be about as tall as a house. Then it'll die too, just like the one before it. When I've been lucky enough to see this, I was first in disbelief then finally in awe that roots can live a century and then, for no reason at all, spring up a tree that will give it another try before being killed by the wind that carries the blight.

This old barn is located on the farm of the author/poet Jesse Stuart. Jesse was a prolific writer, publishing over 400 short stories, several novels, and many poems and essays. He was also a teacher and education seems to be a theme in many of his books. Before his death, he had amassed a farm of over 700 acres and helped turn it into a state nature preserve by working a deal that was part donation and part purchase.