NATUREGRAM | 10 Variations on a West Virginia Ginkgo


Text & Photos by Douglas John Imbrogno


In the Appalachian Autumn sun, the troubled year of 2020 nears its end and two ginkgo biloba trees appear electrified on the former estate of Confederate General Albert Gallatin Jenkins.


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The large brick house, built in 1835, was a mansion in its day. The Jenkins family owned more than 4,000 acres in an area known as Greenbottom, along the Ohio River, in what was then western Virginia.

A roadside marker describes Jenkins as “a brilliant Confederate officer, mortally wounded at Cloyd’s Mountain in 1864.” Far from brilliant were his slave holdings—more than 50 slaves lived on the property in its day.


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Equally inauspicious, Jenkins, a former U.S. Congressman, led a raid of the 8th Virginia Cavalry into Ohio in September 1862, the first Rebels to flap the Confederate flag in that state. The state lies just across the nearby river which the Iroquois dubbed the “ohiyo“—the good or great river.


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These days, the place is a placid one, except when waterfowl hunters are out and about; then you’d be wise to wear blaze orange. Otherwise, nearby traffic sounds trade off with the honks of V-shaped squadrons of Canada geese, skidding to a landing or takeoff across nearby Hoeft Marsh.

A train may hoot through the river corridor on an adjacent track. When traffic on WV 2 subsides, its departure unmasks croaks of marsh frogs and the territorial claims of blue jays, pileated woodpeckers, and red-winged blackbirds.


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It’s a great place to hunt for clouds. And to ponder the lives lived and dreams deferred of those enslaved on this soil for so many years.


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I sometimes rest beneath two companionable ginkgo trees near the old Jenkins house, these trees signifying a yet more ancient story. The Ginkgo biloba, also known as the maidenhair tree, is the only living species in the division Ginkgophyta, all others being extinct, says its Wikipedia page. The tree, native to China, is a scion of this genus, with fossils dating 270 million years.


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Seated beneath and between the companion Ginkgos, I wonder how old they are. And whether those who toiled their lives away on the plantation admired them as saplings or were ever able to climb up into their branches on an Appalachian Autumn day as children.


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When I leave, I say goodbye to the trees and whatever spirits linger on these grounds.


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