Brian Mittge Commentary: A Flower Grows; Fear Not the Fall


When the phone rings and it’s Michael Dolan, nurseryman extraordinaire and owner of Burnt Ridge Nursery, I know it’s going to be an enjoyable conversation.

Michael called me recently after I wrote earlier this month that a historic tree from pioneer times, a towering butternut tree planted nearly two centuries ago by noted Black pioneer George Bush in present-day Tumwater, had fallen.

“It was probably the oldest document butternut tree in the world and the largest documented pure butternut,” Dolan said. “That makes it doubly unique.”

Several years ago I met Dolan at a fundraiser to build a statue of another Black pioneer with a presidential name, George Washington of Centralia.

One of the items up for auction that evening was a large sapling from the Bush butternut, air excavated directly from the Bush farmstead by arborist Ray Gleason. I was pleased and surprised to learn that evening from Dolan that this prize sapling was not the only one available.

In fact, Dolan sells hundreds of them each year (albeit smaller specimens). They are also taken directly from the Bush butternut, thanks to a unique arrangement. Mark Clark, the owner of the Bush homestead, invites Dolan to come up and gather butternuts that have ripened and fallen from the tree each autumn.

“Mark has been kind enough to let me have the bulk of the crop every year, and I’ll trade him for some plants from our nursery,” Dolan told me.

Dolan sprouts and grows them at his farm near Onalaska and sells them a year later.

I asked Dolan if any of those saplings were available.

Well, he said, they’re sold out for this year, but he has a whole crop of them growing that will be for sale next year.

But, I asked him, now that the original Bush butternut tree has fallen, will this be the last crop?

There’s good news to report on that front.

It turns out that the fallen butternut tree is survived by several naturally sprouted saplings nearby that are now each 20 feet tall or more. They are producing butternuts each year. The lineage continues.

“There will be a continuing crop of George Bush descended butternuts,” Dolan said.

So what is a butternut like?

“It’s a wonderful nut,” Dolan said. “It’s well-named. It has this rich flavor, very high oil content, the kind that’s good for you, like salmon or olive oil. It’s a good-tasting nut even though it is hard to get at because of the thick shell. It takes a special nut cracker or a pair of vise grips and nut picker. Or a rock.”

I’ve already placed my order for a Bush butternut via Burnt Ridge Nursery. If you’d like a bit of delicious history growing on your property, you might want to pick one up as well.

Make sure you say hello to Dolan when you’re there. His nursery, specializing in kiwis and other unusual edible plants, has been a bright spot on the hill above Onalaska for 41 years. I’m confident you’ll find even a short conversation with him to be fruitful.


Who’s a Good Boy?

It’s probably fair to say that most people upon whom a police dog is deployed aren’t particularly pleased to have 75 pounds of well-trained furry fury on their trail.

However, the suspect pursued Thursday night by Jaxx in Thurston County probably is a little more thankful than most. After all, he’s alive thanks to his pawed pursuer.

According to the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, the German shepherd was summoned from home and deployed after a suspect took off running into thick swampland when the vehicle he was driving was spiked during a police chase.

Jaxx tracked the man into the tangle of trees and brush. The dog swam under the muddy water and found the suspect submerged and unconscious.

Deputies and troopers were able to recover the ailing fugitive from the brush after Jaxx located him.

The man survived, thanks to the dogged determination of police dog Jaxx.

Somebody give that police pooch a treat.


Brian Mittge loves butternuts, treats and good dogs. Drop him a line at