“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
— Thomas A. Edison
When we think of persistence, we often think of Thomas Edison and his light bulb. We admire it. We try to emulate it. How does it feel to fail day after day year after year? How do you continue and maintain hope? Thomas Edison started work on his illuminating idea in 1878 and on January 27, 1880 he got his patent for the electric lamp. It is impressive that those 10,000 attempts resulted in a patent in two years.
Could you persist for twenty-five years to reach your goal? Maxcy D. Filer did. He sat for the California State Bar exam 48 times before he earned the right to add “Esquire” to his name. Tenacious, persistent, unrelenting in his pursuit, sixty-year-old Maxcy persevered.
How about sticking it out with a group of losers? Could you show up to support them in their efforts, pay for tickets while they lost year after year? Chicago Cubs fans did. They stuck with the team on a 108-year losing streak, the longest such streak in any major North American sport. Through thick and thin, and dismal times, fans attended games and cheered the team saying, “there’s always next year”.
The last story of perseverance had its start back in the early 1900s. For thousands of years the American Chestnut tree grew in the eastern United States covering an area from Main to Northern Florida and west to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee and Georgia. They said a squirrel could climb a Chestnut tree in Main and travel through the canopy to Georgia without touching the ground. The trees were monsters, growing ten to fourteen feet in diameter and over 100 feet tall, they dominated the Eastern forests.
Chestnuts were the cornerstone of the ecosystem. The nut of the tree was a high-energy food source for both wildlife and humans, high in starch and sugar and low in fat. The wood was rot resistant, lightweight, easy to split and did not wrap or shrink. Those factors made in an excellent choice for buildings, barns, furniture, fences, telegraph poles and railroad ties. High in tannins the bark and was used to tan leather.
In 1904, chief forester at the New York Zoological Garden (the “Bronx Zoo”) Hermann Merkel discovered the Chestnut blight fungus. The American tree had no resistance to the blight. The fungus was catastrophic. By 1940 the Chestnut blight had spread over 200 million acres and killed four billion trees. The American Chestnut tree was functionally extinct. Efforts began in 1930 to conserve American Chestnut root stock and develop a hybrid resistant to the blight while preserving the qualities of the original tree.
Work continues today. The hope is to eventually re-introduce the American Chestnut into the wild. Several organizations including the American Chestnut Foundation are working on backcross breeding, traditional breeding and biotechnical methods to save this tree.
I hope their persistence pays off and future generations of Americans will once again know this great tree.
Keep on writing.
Jo Hawk The Writer