The Fleeting Beauty of Horse Chestnuts

There’s a big horse chestnut tree next to the Unitarian church in Fairhaven. I’m sure it was planted when Henry Huttleston Rogers built the church at the turn of the century. This tree is a fine specimen and in the 1970s it was well over 100 feet tall. Every early fall on my way to Brownes Pharmacy, cutting through the church grounds, I would find a few chestnuts. Bright green husks with softish thorns that sometimes had splits that just barely revealed a shiny nut inside. A gentle foot press on the fancy herringbone brick sidewalk opened up the husk and one or two chestnuts popped out. They were slick to touch. The bright red brown wood grain of the nut was like my mother’s dining room table right after she waxed it. I would put as many in my pockets as possible and hunt around the tree to find all the ones that had dropped. Then I looked up. So many! Just hanging there waiting to be knocked down. I’d be back.

Mark Twain was friends with Henry Huttleston Rogers. Rogers helped Twain with investment issues. Twain was famously bad with investments and had lost almost all his money by the time he met Rogers. Twain spent time in Fairhaven and even delivered the dedication speech for the Fairhaven Town Hall and gave a funny speech when they laid the corner stone of the Unitarian Church. Rogers, a “robber baron”, made his money in the early days of Standard Oil. On the streets of New Bedford a woman stopped Twain and said “Mark Twain, how can you be friends with that Henry Huttleston Rogers? His money is tainted!” To which Twain replied, “that’s right ma'am, 'taint yours and it 'taint mine!”

Rogers built several buildings in Fairhaven MA. They are all overly grand for a small town like Fairhaven, a little out of place. It’s a modest town with crazy over the top palace like buildings. Rogers built these buildings for the people of the town. Maybe he wanted to make his hometown grander for ego purposes . . . but I don’t think that was it. Growing up there, you really felt like The Rogers School, The Unitarian Church, The Town Hall, The Millicent Library, The High School, Our Lady’s Haven, etc — they all felt like OUR buildings. Something to be proud of. 

I’m thankful for the chestnuts. The beauty does not last more than a week or so. The shine turns a dull brown and the nut skin cracks. No fancy wood grain can be seen after about a month. If you’re lucky enough to stumble by a horse chestnut tree in early fall — stop and admire the nuts. In a moment, they are beautiful. If you hang on to them, they will fade. Don’t be sad, just know that in another year, under another tree, in another place, you will see that magical fleeting beauty again.

Millburn, NJ Horse Chestnut #1. © Susan Darwin 2019

Millburn, NJ Horse Chestnut #1. © Susan Darwin 2019

Millburn, NJ Horse Chestnut #2. © Susan Darwin 2019

Millburn, NJ Horse Chestnut #2. © Susan Darwin 2019

Hollywood Series #12 2017  © Susan Darwin 2019

Hollywood Series #12 2017 © Susan Darwin 2019

Unitarian Church Fairhaven, MA

Unitarian Church Fairhaven, MA

The Town Hall. My mother worked there for many years. Fairhaven, MA

The Town Hall. My mother worked there for many years. Fairhaven, MA

The Millicent Library. Fairhaven, MA

The Millicent Library. Fairhaven, MA

The Unitarian Church Horse Chestnut Tree. Fairhaven, MA

The Unitarian Church Horse Chestnut Tree. Fairhaven, MA

Not quite ripe horse chestnuts.

Not quite ripe horse chestnuts.

Sidewalks in Fairhaven, MA. Old and lovely.

Sidewalks in Fairhaven, MA. Old and lovely.