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A Whole World Gone: The Loss of the American Chestnut Tree

Early McAlexander looks through the window of his granddaughter’s car onto a wide open hill fringed by a line of white pines. “All this land used to belong to my father,” Early says in a voice that’s surprisingly steady and strong for a man of 92. His Virginia accent twists and pulls the vowels like taffy. “I was raised up where that house is now,” he adds, looking in the other direction across the blacktop road to a large, modern red-brick house with a quasi-colonial portico. It’s a far cry from the house in which he and his six brothers and sisters grew up: a four-room log cabin built by his great-great grandfather before the Civil War. McAlexanders have lived in this area at the crest of the Blue Ridge in Patrick County, Virginia for generations. Early is a dapper, spry man, with a full head of snow-white hair, hearing aids in each ear and liver-spotted hands that are still steady enough to wield a chain saw or guide a tractor-mower (much to his protective

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